Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey
(D.C. CivilNo. 94-CV-03207)
Before the district court, the Postmaster filed a motion to dismiss, or in the alternative, for summary judgment. The Postmaster argued that the complaint should be dismissed because Williams had not exhausted the administrative remedies required in Title VII actions in a timely manner. In particular, counsel for the Postmaster maintained that Williams did not satisfy 29 C.F.R. Section(s) 1614.105(d) because her administrative complaint was not filed until December 1, 1993, well beyond the 15 day window that complainants are allowed to file their complaints after being notified of their right to do so by an EEO Counselor.*fn2
Argued Tuesday, November 4, 1997
This is an appeal from a post-trial order of the district court. The jury had returned a verdict for the plaintiff Williams in the sum of $44,000. The defendant Postmaster General Marvin T. Runyon's Rule 50(b) motion was then granted on the ground that the plaintiff Ms. Davon Williams had failed to exhaust her administrative remedies in a timely manner, thereby denying the plaintiff any recovery. We will reverse and remand.
Plaintiff Ms. Davon Williams, a former postal employee, filed a complaint under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1991 in federal court on July 6, 1994 against Postmaster General Marvin T. Runyon ("the Postmaster"). *fn1 Ms. Williams alleged in her complaint that when she was a postal worker, she was the victim of sexual discrimination, sex harassment, a hostile work environment, constructive discharge, and retaliation in response to her complaints.
According to the Postmaster, Ms. Williams had been sent a written notice of a final interview and a notice of her right to file a complaint by certified mail on September 14, 1993. When the letter was returned unclaimed, EEO Counselor John Morrison sent a second letter on October 6, 1993. On October 21, 1993, Williams' newly hired counsel, William K. Fugee, Esq., informed Morrison that he was representing Williams and that all correspondence should be directed to Fugee. Morrison sent Fugee a third notice of a final interview and a notice of right to file an individual complaint, which he received on November 1, 1993. According to the Postmaster General's motion to dismiss, November 1, 1993 was the day that the 15 day filing period was triggered. Because her complaint was not filed until December 1, 1993, a month later, the Postmaster argued that the complaint was not timely filed and that Williams' action in federal court had to be dismissed. *fn3
In her brief in opposition, Williams maintained that she had not been notified of the filing requirements on November 1, 1993. Although it was uncontroverted that a letter from Morrison was received by Fugee on that day, Williams argued that there was no evidence that the letter included a notice of right to file. In addition, Williams claimed that even if a notice was sent, the mailings had been insufficient to make Fugee aware that the 15 day filing period had been triggered. Williams maintained that the 15 day filing period had not begun until November 22, 1993, when Fugee received a letter in response to his inquiries informing him in specific language that the 15 dayfiling period had begun. At the very least, Williams maintained, there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether she had exhausted her remedies. Mr. Fugee had since died, and important facts relating to whether and when he was put on notice were not known.
On April 24, 1996, some four months before trial, the district court denied the Postmaster's motion for dismissal for failure ...