Briley v. Carlin, 98-1545

Decision Date31 March 1999
Docket NumberNo. 98-1545,98-1545
Citation172 F.3d 567
Parties79 Fair Empl.Prac.Cas. (BNA) 1630 Carol BRILEY, Appellant, v. John W. CARLIN, Archivist of the United States, Appellee.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Eighth Circuit

Gwen Caranchini, Kansas City, MO, argued, for Appellant.

Charles M. Thomas, Kansas City, MO, argued, for Appellee.

Before McMILLIAN, FLOYD R. GIBSON, and HANSEN, Circuit Judges.

HANSEN, Circuit Judge.

Carol Briley appeals the judgment of the district court 1 dismissing her Title VII sex discrimination case, which was based on three separate Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaints. Specifically, she challenges two orders of the district court, one dismissing her claims due to her failure to comply with an agency deadline and one granting summary judgment to the defendant on her claims arising from her second and third EEO complaints. We affirm.

I.

Since 1974, Briley has been employed as an archivist by the National Archives and Records Administration at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library in Independence, Missouri. This discrimination lawsuit is based on three EEO complaints she filed, alleging discrimination and retaliation on the basis of her sex. The agency dismissed the first complaint (No. 9503) as untimely because Briley failed to consult an EEO counselor within 45 days of the alleged discrimination. Briley appealed the dismissal to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which initially remanded the complaint to the agency but then granted the agency's request for reconsideration and affirmed the dismissal.

The agency certified offers of full relief on Briley's second and third EEO complaints (Nos. 9505 and 9511). Briley rejected the agency's offers because they did not satisfy her requests for a promotion and compensatory damages. The agency dismissed her complaints due to Briley's rejection of its certified offers of relief. Briley appealed the dismissals to the EEOC, which affirmed them and denied her any relief.

Briley brought this Title VII lawsuit in federal court on claims arising out of her three EEO complaints. The district court dismissed Briley's claims based on complaint No. 9503 for lack of jurisdiction on grounds that she had missed the 45-day deadline and that no equitable tolling principles applied to her situation. The district court granted summary judgment to the agency on complaints No. 9505 and No. 9511, concluding that Briley's rejection of a full offer of relief and her failure to participate in good faith in the administrative process amounted to a failure to exhaust her administrative remedies, which precludes her right to bring a Title VII lawsuit. Briley appeals both orders of the district court, arguing that the principles of equitable tolling apply to EEO complaint No. 9503 and that the agency did not offer full relief on complaints No. 9505 and No. 9511.

II.
A.

We turn first to the issue of equitable tolling. The agency dismissed complaint No. 9503 because Briley failed to timely consult an EEO counselor within 45 days of the alleged discriminatory act. See 29 C.F.R. §§ 1614.105(a)(1); 1614.107(b) (1998). Briley does not contend that she timely consulted a counselor. The only issue is whether she is entitled to equitable tolling of the 45-day limit.

It is well established that "Title VII claims may be 'subject to waiver as well as tolling when equity so requires.' " Hamilton v. West, 30 F.3d 992, 993 (8th Cir.1994) (quoting Zipes v. TWA, 455 U.S. 385, 393-98, 102 S.Ct. 1127, 71 L.Ed.2d 234 (1982)). "[E]quitable tolling is a remedy reserved for circumstances that are truly beyond the control of the plaintiff." Shempert v. Harwick Chem. Corp., 151 F.3d 793, 798 (8th Cir.1998) (internal quotation omitted), cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 119 S.Ct. 1028, 143 L.Ed.2d 38, (1999). Equitable tolling will extend a deadline missed due to an employee's excusable ignorance, but the doctrine is precluded once it is shown that the employee was generally aware of her rights. Hamilton, 30 F.3d at 994. Equitable tolling is not available when it is shown that the employee has "general knowledge" of the right not to be discriminated against or the means of obtaining such knowledge. DeBrunner v. Midway Equip. Co., 803 F.2d 950, 952 (8th Cir.1986).

Briley contends that she was not aware of the 45-day time limit for consulting a counselor and that there was no EEO process in place during 1993 and 1994 when she was having the problems asserted in complaint No. 9503. She asserts she never saw any posting of EEO counselor names or of the 45-day time limit.

The district court held an evidentiary hearing on this issue, made findings of fact, and dismissed the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, see Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1), concluding that Briley was not entitled to equitable tolling. We review the district court's Rule 12(b)(1) fact-findings for clear error. Osborn v. United States, 918 F.2d 724, 730 (8th Cir.1990). The district court found that Briley, who had been employed by the same agency since 1974, had filed a successful EEO complaint in 1986 and that Briley had timely consulted with a counselor regarding the 1986 complaint. The court discredited Briley's assertion that she did not know she had talked with an EEO counselor, because documents from that 1986 complaint indicate that Briley knew she had engaged in EEO counseling (the counselor sent her a note saying EEO counseling was complete and Briley checked a box acknowledging that she had discussed her complaint with an EEO counselor). In 1985, Briley ran in the election to be an EEO counselor at the Truman Library. The district court found that Victoria Alexander and Rhonda Cook, who worked at the Truman Library, posted EEO-related notes on the employee bulletin board in the break room and that a list of available EEO counselors has been posted there at all times since 1978. The court further found that in 1993, Alexander posted a notice informing employees to immediately contact the EEOC in Washington if they thought they had been discriminated against, and a 1994 notice contained a statement of the 45-day counselor limit.

The district court concluded that Briley was not entitled to equitable tolling of the 45-day limit. The district court found that Briley had general knowledge of her right not to be discriminated against, as demonstrated by her 1986 EEO complaint and the many notices that had been posted in the break room at the Truman Library throughout the years she was an employee of the agency. We find no clear error in the district court's findings of fact, and we agree with the court's conclusion that the facts defeat Briley's claim of equitable estoppel.

Briley asserts for the first time in this appeal that the agency must prove that she had actual notice of the 45-day limit. See 29 C.F.R. § 1614.105(a)(2) (stating the agency "shall extend the 45-day time limit ... when the individual shows that he or she was not notified of the time limits and was not otherwise aware of them"). Because this argument is raised for the first time on appeal, we decline to address it. See von Kerssenbrock-Praschma v. Saunders, 121 F.3d 373, 375 (8th Cir.1997). In any event, Briley would not prevail on this argument because the facts demonstrate that she was "otherwise aware" of the 45-day limit.

B.

We next consider Briley's argument that the agency did not offer full relief on EEO complaints No. 9505 and No. 9511. The district court granted summary judgment to the National Archives and Records Administration, concluding that Briley's rejection of an offer of full relief in complaint No. 9505 and her failure to cooperate with the agency investigation in complaint No. 9511 precluded her from having properly exhausted her administrative remedies as required to bring a Title VII lawsuit. We review the grant of summary judgment de novo, applying the same standards as the district court. See Lynn v. Deaconess Med. Ctr.-West Campus, 160 F.3d 484, 486 (8th Cir.1998). "Summary judgment is proper if the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, demonstrates that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Id.; Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). See also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).

Title VII prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sex, see 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1) (1994), but also "establishes an administrative procedure which a complaining employee must follow before filing a lawsuit in federal court." Williams v. Little Rock Mun. Water Works, 21 F.3d 218, 222 (8th Cir.1994). In other words, an employee cannot bring a discrimination claim without first exhausting his or her administrative remedies. See Artis v. Francis Howell North Band Booster Ass'n, Inc., 161 F.3d 1178, 1183 (8th Cir.1998). In order to exhaust administrative remedies, the claimant is required to demonstrate good faith participation in the administrative process, which includes making specific charges and providing information necessary to the investigation. See Wrenn v. Secretary, Dep't of Vet. Affairs, 918 F.2d 1073, 1078 (2d Cir.1990), cert. denied, 499 U.S. 977, 111 S.Ct. 1625, 113 L.Ed.2d 721 (1991); Francis v. Brown, 58 F.3d 191, 192 (5th Cir.1995).

A corollary of the exhaustion rule "is that if a claimant obtains 'full relief' as a result of the administrative proceedings then that claimant cannot bring a lawsuit in federal court." Frye v. Aspin, 997 F.2d 426, 428 (8th Cir.1993) (applying the rule to a lawsuit brought under the Rehabilitation Act). Federal regulations provide that the agency shall provide full relief in order to "make whole" an employee who has been discriminated against, see 29 C .F.R. § 1614.501(a), and shall dismiss a complaint if the complainant fails to accept an offer of full relief as settlement...

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