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RIOS v. AT&T CORPORATION

March 11, 1999

CARMELA A. RIOS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
AT&T CORPORATION, A NEW YORK CORPORATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gettleman, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

On November 12, 1997, plaintiff Carmela Rios filed an amended complaint against defendant AT&T, a New York corporation, alleging violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000 (e) et seq. Plaintiff alleges that defendant has denied and continues to deny plaintiff employment on the basis of her race, national origin and sex. Defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing that: (1) plaintiff's complaint is time-barred, and (2) even if plaintiff's complaint is not time-barred, defendant is entitled to summary judgment on the merits. On October 30, 1998, this court held an evidentiary hearing limited solely to the statute of limitations issues. For the reasons set forth below, defendant's motion is granted.

FACTS

The following facts are uncontested unless otherwise noted. Plaintiff began working for defendant on June 9, 1980, and for the next seven years held various hourly technical positions. In November 1987, she was promoted to management. In February 1991, plaintiff became a network engineer and retained that title until her termination. In March 1992, plaintiff was transferred into a new business unit that performed network access engineering, known as the Technical Marketing Access Networking (TMAN) group.

In March 1994, defendant implemented a "reduction-in-force" in plaintiff's department through its Force Management Program.*fn1 On March 31, 1994, defendant notified plaintiff she would lose her job on June 1 unless she found another position within the company or another employee left. Plaintiff did not seek or find another position within the company and was terminated on June 1, 1994.

According to plaintiff, she visited the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") on April 14, 1994, and met with Michael Davidson, an investigator, about her impending termination and her allegations of discrimination.*fn2 Davidson advised her to attempt to resolve her claims through defendant's internal claims procedure, which she agreed to do. Davidson then contacted Carmen Johnson of defendant's EEO/AA office, who initiated an internal investigation. It is undisputed that plaintiff did not file a written complaint with the EEOC on this date. However, plaintiff testified in her deposition and at the evidentiary hearing that she left the office believing that she had filed a charge through her conversation with Davidson. Plaintiff further testified in her deposition and at the evidentiary hearing that she came away from this meeting with the "understanding" that her written charge would be "back-dated" to April 14, 1994. Plaintiff further testified that a few days after this meeting, she spoke to Davidson on the phone, and that he explained during that conversation that her charge needed to be filed within 300 days of the alleged discrimination.

Davidson, as noted above, testified that he does not remember the substance of his meeting with plaintiff. However, he testified by affidavit and again at the evidentiary hearing that he had never told a potential charging party that a charge could be back-dated and that this practice would violate EEOC policy.*fn3 He further testified that at that time he had handled all charges against AT&T and is familiar with their internal complaint resolution process. Davidson testified that it is his practice to explain to employees that they can either use AT&T's internal process, file a charge with the EEOC or do both concurrently, and that he would not tell a potential charging party that he or she could not file a charge. Finally, Davidson testified at the hearing that he "commonly" discusses the 300-day statute of limitations period with potentially charging parties, but does not always do so.

Defendant's EEO/AA office informed plaintiff on June 21, 1994, that it had completed its investigation with a finding of "no cause." Plaintiff claims she called Davidson that afternoon that he told her not to worry and that the investigation of her claim would continue.*fn4 Plaintiff claims that she tried to contact Davidson by phone several times after this, but was unable to reach him. Plaintiff did not return to the EEOC office in person, however, until March 21, 1995, and was told that there was no record of her charge.*fn5 She then filed a written charge with an unidentified EEOC employee. This charge was forwarded to Davidson, who dismissed it as time-barred and issued plaintiff a "right-to-sue" letter.

STANDARDS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

Summary judgment is proper "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Cox v. Acme Health Services, Inc., 55 F.3d 1304, 1308 (7th Cir. 1995). A genuine issue of material fact exists for trial when, in viewing the record and all reasonable inferences drawn from it in a light most favorable to the non-moving party, a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-movant. Hedberg v. Indiana Bell Tel. Co., Inc., 47 F.3d 928, 931 (7th Cir. 1995). Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment. against a party "who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and in which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2552-53, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). Waldridge v. American Hoechst Corp., 24 F.3d 918, 920 (7th Cir. 1994). This requires more than merely showing "there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indua Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 1356, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986).

DISCUSSION

In its motion for summary judgment, defendant argues that plaintiff's complaint is time-barred and should therefore be dismissed because: (1) she failed to file suit within 90 days of receiving her "right-to-sue" letter from the EEOC, and (2) she failed to file a written charge with the EEOC within 300 days of the alleged discrimination in this case. Defendant also maintains that even if plaintiff's complaint was not time-barred, it is still entitled to summary judgment on the merits. Because this court finds that plaintiff did not file a written charge with the EEOC within the 300-day statutory period and that her complaint is therefore time-barred, it does not reach the merits of plaintiff's claim.

I. The 90-day limitation, period

Under 42 U.S.C. ยง 2000e-5 (f)(1), a plaintiff must file suit within 90 days of receiving a "right-to-sue" letter from the EEOC. Plaintiff filed her original complaint on January 31, 1997. Plaintiff initially testified in her deposition that she received her "right-to-sue" letter on October 31 or November 1, 1996. At the beginning of the second day of her deposition, she amended her answer and testified that she received the letter November 4, 1996. This brought her within the 90-day statutory period. Plaintiff testified in her deposition and at the evidentiary hearing that she was not home on the original date of delivery, October 31, and that the Post Office left a notice that they had attempted delivery. The ...


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