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Jarvis v. State

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division

April 9, 2019

STATE OF TEXAS, Defendant.


         Pending before the court[1] is Defendant's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 14) and the responses and replies filed thereto. For the reasons stated below, it is RECOMMENDED that the motion be DENIED.

         I. Case Background

         Plaintiff, Angela Jarvis (“Jarvis”) filed this action for violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964[2] (“Title VII”) against her employer, the Texas General Land Office. In the most recent complaint, Plaintiff explains that after she complained about the inappropriate behavior of a male coworker, who was a close personal friend of the regional director, the male coworker was promoted to her supervisor and subjected her to a hostile work environment culminating in her constructive discharge on March 11, 2016.[3]

         On December 18, 2016, Jarvis mailed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) Intake Questionnaire to the EEOC.[4]The top paragraph of the form cautioned, “REMEMBER, a charge of discrimination must be filed within the time limits imposed by law, generally within 180 days or in some places 300 days of the alleged discrimination.”[5]

         On the form, Jarvis checked the “retaliation” box and further stated, “I reported sexual harrassment [sic] ¶ 2/16/16, then duties were reassigned/removed. The person I reported [to] was then put as my supervisor immediately.”[6] Jarvis also complained that on February 24, 2016, she was reprimanded for her actions of February 3, 2016, while a co-worker who took the same actions was not reprimanded.[7] Jarvis further explained that her co-workers were told to report her activities to her alleged harasser, and, on March 10, 2016, she lost her Marketing Coordinator title and was assigned additional administrative duties.[8]

         Plaintiff filed this action on May 8, 2018. On May 21, 2018, Defendant filed a motion to dismiss alleging that Plaintiff's claims are untimely because she failed to file a formal charge of discrimination within the time allotted by the law.[9] Plaintiff has filed two amended complaints; Defendant has filed similar motions to dismiss directed at each.

         II. Summary Judgment Standard

         Defendant filed a motion to dismiss based on Plaintiff's failure to timely exhaust her administrative remedies. However, as the parties attached numerous documents outside the pleadings on which they expected the court to rely, the court gave notice that it was converting the pending motion to dismiss to a motion for summary judgment on the failure to exhaust administrative remedies defense pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (“Rule”) 12(d).[10] The parties were permitted additional time to submit briefing and documents based on this new standard.

         Summary judgment is warranted when the evidence reveals that no genuine dispute exists regarding any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Stauffer v. Gearhart, 741 F.3d 574, 581 (5th Cir. 2014). A material fact is a fact that is identified by applicable substantive law as critical to the outcome of the suit. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Ameristar Jet Charter, Inc. v. Signal Composites, Inc., 271 F.3d 624, 626 (5th Cir. 2001). To be genuine, the dispute regarding a material fact must be supported by evidence such that a reasonable jury could resolve the issue in favor of either party. See Royal v. CCC&R Tres Arboles, L.L.C., 736 F.3d 396, 400 (5th Cir. 2013) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250).

         III. Analysis

         The State of Texas moves to dismiss Jarvis's Title VII complaint on the grounds that she failed to exhaust her administration remedies within the statutory period. A plaintiff alleging employment discrimination must exhaust administrative remedies before pursuing her claim in federal court. Taylor v. Books A Million, Inc., 296 F.3d 376, 378-79 (5th Cir. 2002). The Fifth Circuit has stated that a failure to exhaust administrative remedies is not a procedural “gotcha, ” but a “mainstay of proper enforcement of Title VII remedies.” McClain v. Lufkin Indus., Inc., 519 F.3d 264, 272 (5th Cir. 2008).

         In Texas, a charge of discrimination must be filed with the EEOC within 300 days of an adverse employment action because Texas has its own state agency to resolve civil rights complaints. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(e)(1). A charge must be in writing under oath or affirmation. 42 U.S.C. §2000e-5(b); Edelman v. Lynchburg Coll., 535 U.S. 106, 112 (2002).

         “The primary purpose of an EEOC charge is to provide notice of the charges to the respondent and to activate the voluntary compliance and conciliation functions of the EEOC.” Ajaz v. Cont'l Airlines, 156 F.R.D. 145, 147 (S.D. Tex. 1994) (citations omitted). “The charge triggers an investigation by the EEOC so, through a conciliation process, voluntary compliance may be obtained and discriminatory policies and practices eliminated.” Id. In making the determination whether a charge exhausted a claim brought in court, the Fifth Circuit has counseled that courts must construe an EEOC charge broadly, “but [ ] will only find a claim was exhausted if it could have been ‘reasonably . . . expected to grow out of the charge of discrimination.'” Jefferson v. Christus St. Joseph Hosp., 374 Fed.Appx. 485, 489-90 (5th Cir. 2010) (unpublished) (quoting McClain, 519 F.3d at 273).

         In this case, Plaintiff's discrimination claims stem from her allegations of a hostile work environment and forced resignation on March 11, 2016. Plaintiff signed and mailed an intake questionnaire to the EEOC on December 18, 2016, within 300 days of the alleged adverse employment action of constructive discharge.[11]Plaintiff later filed a formal charge of discrimination on February 6, 2017, 332 days after ...

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