E-Alert Case Updates
Settlement Agreement Barred EEO Claim That Had Arisen but Had Not Been Filed As of Date of Settlement Agreement
Lester Blount v. Jeh Johnson
In a recent opinion, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia held that a Settlement Agreement signed by Plaintiff that waived “any” employment-related claims that Plaintiff had as of the date of the Settlement Agreement served to bar an employment-related claim of which Plaintiff had learned, but not filed, prior to signing the Settlement Agreement.
Plaintiff, an African American man, was employed by the Secret Service beginning in 1997. Beginning in 2003, he served as a canine technician in the White House canine detachment along with his assigned canine. Plaintiff was consistently rated as “successful” or better on his performance reviews, and was recognized on several occasions for his dedicated service. In 2012, he used 265 hours of approved leave to care for his seriously ill spouse. Later that same year, Plaintiff’s canine partner suffered an injury and was retired from service. As a result, Plaintiff was transferred to the Vice President’s security detachment, and earned less night differential and overtime pay. His supervisors, however, assured Plaintiff that, due to his excellent performance, he would be included in the next canine training course so as to return to his previous position. In October 2012, Plaintiff applied for a vacant position in the canine training course. On January 8, 2013, Plaintiff was informed that he had not been selected for the course.
On January 9, 2013, Plaintiff contacted the Secret Service’s Equal Employment Opportunity (“EEO”) Specialist and informed her that he believed his non-selection in the canine training course was taken in response to three (3) formal EEO complaints and one informal EEO complaint he had previously filed. The Specialist responded to ask whether Plaintiff wished to initiate a new EEO complaint on these grounds. Plaintiff did not immediately respond.
On January 15, 2013, Plaintiff entered into a Settlement Agreement with the Secret Service as to his outstanding EEO complaints. None of these complaints regarded his non-selection in the canine training course. The Settlement Agreement provided, in pertinent part that “Mr. Blount and the Agency settle all matters, claims, or causes of action arising from or related to Mr. Blount’s employment with the Secret Service as of the date of the signing of the Agreement, including but not limited to all claims raised” in the four (4) complaints described above. The agreement further provided that Plaintiff waived any right to bring any other legal proceeding regarding his employment with the Secret Service that he may have had as of the date of the Settlement Agreement. Plaintiff was represented by counsel and advised by counsel regarding the substance of the Settlement Agreement.
On January 16, 2013, Plaintiff responded to the EEO’s Specialist’s question, requesting that she initiate a new complaint. After some procedural hurdles, Plaintiff did ultimately file an informal EEO complaint relating to his non-selection in the canine training course. At some time later, Plaintiff filed this lawsuit against Jeh Johnson, the Secretary of Homeland Security, alleging with regard to his non-selection that he was discriminated against on the basis of his race, his age, and his decision to use family and medical leave. Defendant subsequently moved to dismiss Plaintiff’s Complaint, arguing that the Settlement Agreement barred this lawsuit.
Judge Rosemary M. Collyer, writing for the Court, granted Defendant’s motion to dismiss. Initially, the Court rejected Plaintiff’s contention that Defendant’s motion amounted to a motion for summary judgment that required discovery. The Court noted that a motion to dismiss is not converted into a motion for summary judgment if it relies on documents that are relied upon by the complaint or incorporated by reference therein. Furthermore, in resolving a motion to dismiss, the Court is permitted to take judicial notice of public records. Here, the Complaint referenced the Settlement Agreement, and the Settlement Agreement was also a part of the public administrative record of Plaintiff’s EEO complaints. Accordingly, Defendant’s reliance on the Settlement Agreement did not convert his motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment, and Plaintiff was not entitled to discovery.
Turning to the language of the Settlement Agreement, the Court agreed with Defendant that the agreement served to bar Plaintiff’s claim. The language of the Settlement Agreement plainly served to waive “any right” to bring “any . . . complaint, charge or action” relating to his employment with the Secret Service as of the date of the Settlement Agreement. The Court rejected Plaintiff’s argument that the Settlement Agreement only pertained to the four (4) EEO complaints he had filed prior to the Settlement Agreement, stating that the above-quoted language clearly waived “any” claims, not just claims that had been previously filed. Here, Plaintiff signed the Settlement Agreement after he had already indicated to the EEO Specialist the basis for his non-selection claim. Because Plaintiff therefore clearly had (and knew that he had) an employment-related claim as to his non-selection at the time he signed the Settlement Agreement, the Court concluded that the Settlement Agreement barred any such claim.
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