409 F.3d 466 (D.C. Cir. 2005), 04-5267, Scott v. Johanns

Docket Nº:04-5267.
Citation:409 F.3d 466
Party Name:Alfrieda S. Connor SCOTT, Personal Representative of the Estate of Harold Connor, Appellant v. Michael JOHANNS, Secretary of Agriculture, Appellee
Case Date:June 03, 2005
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

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409 F.3d 466 (D.C. Cir. 2005)

Alfrieda S. Connor SCOTT, Personal Representative of the Estate of Harold Connor, Appellant


Michael JOHANNS, Secretary of Agriculture, Appellee

No. 04-5267.

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit

June 3, 2005

Argued March 17, 2005.

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Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. (No. 03cv01560).

Charles W. Day, Jr. argued the cause for appellant. With him on the briefs was Joseph D. Gebhardt.

Charles W. Scarborough, Attorney, U.S. Department of Justice, argued the cause for appellee. With him on the brief were Peter D. Keisler, Assistant Attorney General, Kenneth L. Wainstein, U.S. Attorney, and Marleigh D. Dover, Special Counsel.

Before: GINSBURG, Chief Judge, and TATEL and GARLAND, Circuit Judges.

TATEL, Circuit Judge.

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, federal employees dissatisfied with the administrative resolution of their

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discrimination complaints may file suit in federal court. In this case, we must decide whether an employee who secures a final administrative disposition finding discrimination but who is dissatisfied with the remedy may challenge only the remedy in the federal court action. Answering no, the district court held that the employee must first prove liability, and we agree.


Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., provides that before filing suit, an individual alleging that a federal agency engaged in employment discrimination must seek administrative adjudication of the claim. See generally 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-16. Under EEOC regulations promulgated pursuant to Title VII, the employee (or job applicant) files a complaint with the employing agency. 29 C.F.R. § 1614.106(a). The employing agency then conducts an investigation and, if the employee so requests, refers the matter to an EEOC Administrative Judge ("AJ") for a hearing. Id. §§ 1614.106(e)(2), 1614.108-09. After the employing agency investigates or, if the employee requested a hearing, after the AJ issues a decision, the employing agency must "take final action." Id. § 1614.110. If the employee never requested a hearing, the employing agency's final action must "consist of findings ... on the merits of each issue ... and, when discrimination is found, appropriate remedies and relief." Id. § 1614.110(b). In cases where the employee requested a hearing, the employing agency's "final order shall notify the complainant whether or not the agency will fully implement the [AJ's] decision." Id. § 1614.110(a). Complainants dissatisfied with an employing agency's final action, whether or not issued after an AJ decision, have two options: they may either file suit or appeal to the EEOC. See id. § 1614.110. If a complainant takes the latter course, EEOC's Office of Federal Operations ("OFO") reviews the record, supplements it if necessary, and then issues a written decision. Id. § 1614.404-05. Like the employing agency's final action, the OFO's decision amounts to a final disposition, triggering the right to sue. Id. § 1614.405(b).

This case began in 1997 when Harold Connor and several other African-American employees of the Department of Agriculture ("DOA") filed a complaint alleging (among other things) denial of promotions on account of race. DOA referred the complaint to an AJ who found two claims meritorious: Connor's and that of another employee, Dr. Clifford Herron. After holding a hearing on remedy, the AJ awarded Connor and Herron GS-15 positions, back pay, attorneys' fees, and $10,000 each in compensatory damages. In separate final agency actions--one each for Connor and Herron--DOA accepted the findings of discrimination, as well as the remedies the AJ had awarded.

Following additional administrative proceedings not relevant to the issue now before us, Herron filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia challenging only the sufficiency of his $10,000 compensatory award. Although Connor is now deceased, Alfrieda Connor Scott, his former wife and the personal representative of his estate, filed a similar suit. Addressing Herron's suit first, the district court held that when a final administrative disposition finds discrimination and orders a remedy, the employee may not file suit challenging only the remedial award. Herron v. Veneman, 305 F.Supp.2d 64, 74-79 (D.D.C.2004). Instead, an employee seeking a greater award must start from scratch, i.e., the employee must file a Title VII suit and prove liability along with entitlement to

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relief. Id. Given that Herron requested trial on damages only, the court concluded he failed to state a claim. Id. at 74, 79. Later, observing that Scott's claim raised "the same legal issues" as Herron's, the district court dismissed it "for the reasons stated in the court's ... order in Herron v. Veneman." Scott v. Veneman, No. 03-1560 (D.D.C. June 18, 2004).

Scott now appeals. Because the only issue she presents is legal, our review is de novo. Second Amendment Found. v. U.S. Conference of Mayors, 274 F.3d 521, 523 (D.C.Cir. 2001).


As the district court explained, two types of civil actions may arise from Title VII's federal-sector administrative process. See Herron, 305 F.Supp.2d at 74-75. First, complainants who prevail in the administrative process but who--for whatever reason--fail to receive their promised remedy, may sue to enforce the final administrative disposition. See, e.g., Wilson v. Pena, 79 F.3d 154 (D.C.Cir. 1996) (reversing dismissal of action contending that employing agency used improper performance rating in calculating back pay owed pursuant to EEOC finding of discrimination); Houseton v. Nimmo, 670 F.2d 1375 (9th Cir. 1982) (affirming decision requiring employing agency to provide job training awarded in 16-month-old administrative disposition). In such enforcement actions, the court reviews neither the discrimination finding nor the remedy imposed, examining instead only whether the employing agency has complied with the administrative disposition. See Moore v. Devine, 780 F.2d 1559, 1563 (11th Cir. 1986). Second, a complainant "aggrieved by the final disposition of his complaint, or by the failure to take final action on his complaint, may file a civil action" under Title VII. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-16(c). In a Title VII suit brought after a final administrative disposition finding no discrimination, the district court considers the discrimination claim de novo. Chandler v. Roudebush, 425 U.S. 840, 96 S.Ct. 1949, 48 L.Ed.2d 416 (1976).

Challenging only the...

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