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Haynes v. District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit

May 17, 2019

Larry Haynes, Appellant
District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority, Appellee

          Argued September 12, 2018

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (No. 1:16-cv-02086) David A. Branch argued the cause and filed the briefs for appellant.

          Alison N. Davis argued the cause for appellee.

          With her on the brief was Meredith L. Schramm-Strosser.

          Before: Henderson and Griffith, Circuit Judges, and Williams, Senior Circuit Judge.


          Griffith, Circuit Judge.

         Larry Haynes had worked at the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority ("D.C. Water") for nearly thirty years when his position was eliminated as part of a reorganization. D.C. Water offered Haynes a new position, but he was unable to obtain the license that position required and lost his job. Haynes alleges that he was treated differently than other employees affected by the reorganization due to his race, age, and learning disability, and that D.C. Water refused to accommodate his disability when it set deadlines for him to obtain the new license. He brings claims under various federal and D.C. civil rights statutes. The district court granted D.C. Water summary judgment, Haynes appealed, and we affirm.


         D.C. Water is an independent agency of the D.C. government that provides water and sewage service to the District of Columbia. Haynes v. DC Water is Life, 271 F.Supp.3d 142, 145 (D.D.C. 2017). Haynes started working at D.C. Water's predecessor organization in 1988. He was an "Electrical Equipment Repairer," grade "11/CDL." D.C. Water had long required Repairers in that position to hold a Class B Commercial Driver's License (CDL) and an apprentice electrician license, both of which Haynes possessed.

         In 2014, D.C. Water consolidated several departments. Many positions were to remain the same after the reorganization, but some, including Haynes's, were to be eliminated or replaced. D.C. Water also discovered during this reorganization that D.C. law requires individuals holding apprentice electrician licenses-such as Haynes-to be directly supervised by master electricians. Problematically, D.C. Water did not employ enough master electricians to supervise all the Electrical Equipment Repairers holding apprentice electrician licenses, and, by mid-2014, determined that it would not be feasible to hire enough master electricians to do so. D.C. Water thus concluded that the Electrical Equipment Repairer position would be replaced by an "Industrial Journeyman Electrician" position, and that individuals employed in the new position would be required to hold a more advanced journeyman electrician license that permitted additional unsupervised work.

         After negotiations with the union representing affected employees, D.C. Water set a March 31, 2015 deadline for current Repairers to obtain their new licenses. Repairers who obtained the proper licenses on or before that date were to be retained as Industrial Journeyman Electricians, and those that did not would be fired. Beginning on September 2, 2014, Haynes and other Repairers attended training sessions offered by D.C. Water. Haynes alleges that around this time he told D.C. Water's Human Resources Department that he was dyslexic and needed more time to prepare for the exam, particularly because the training was a "refresher" course "not meant for first-time test takers." Haynes, 271 F.Supp.3d at 148-49 (quoting Am. Compl. ¶ 8). Indeed, a journeyman electrician license generally requires years of training and supervised work. Id. Haynes, who is over fifty and black, alleges that younger, white electricians employed by D.C. Water received accommodations, including being given more time to obtain their licenses, not being subjected to the heightened license requirement, or being allowed to return to school for additional training. In contrast, D.C. Water refused to offer Haynes additional time or any other accommodation. Haynes completed the training offered by D.C. Water on December 9, 2014, but still felt unprepared for the license examination. Shortly thereafter, he began attempting to get medical documentation of his disability.

         As of March 31, 2015, Haynes had failed to take the journeyman electrician exam and been unable to get medical documentation of his dyslexia. The next day, D.C. Water sent him a letter explaining that his failure to comply with the licensing deadline meant that he could no longer perform any electrical work. D.C. Water did, however, give him sixty more days (until May 31, 2015) to pass the examination. Haynes was able to meet with a clinical psychologist on May 13, who diagnosed Haynes with a "[r]eading [d]isorder with impairment in word reading and reading comprehension," and a "[w]riting [d]isorder with impairment in written expression and spelling." Joint Appendix ("J.A.") 157. The psychologist concluded that it would be "reasonable" for Haynes's "current job . . . to accommodate for [these] reading and writing disabilities." Id. The record is silent as to whether Haynes presented this documentation to his employer.

         What is clear is that on May 26, 2015, Haynes went to the Washington Field Office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). There he submitted an intake questionnaire describing what had happened at work and requesting additional counseling about whether to file a charge of discrimination. Later that day, he filed such a charge. On May 27, Haynes received a Notice of Right to Sue from the EEOC, which stated that "[b]ased upon its investigation," the agency was "unable to conclude that the information obtained establishe[d] violations of the" Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. (ADA), although the EEOC did "not certify that [D.C. Water] [was] in compliance with the statute[]." J.A. 173. The notice also contained information about Haynes's right to file a lawsuit.

         Haynes failed to complete the journeyman electrician license exam by the extended deadline of May 31, 2015 and was fired. At that time, there were six other Electrical Equipment Repairers in the same grade ("11/CDL") as Haynes. Five were black and one was white. Two of the black employees already had the necessary license for the new position before the reorganization. Prior to March 31, 2015, one black Repairer and the white Repairer completed the exam. Along with Haynes, the remaining two black employees did not complete the licensing exam by March 31, 2015 and were given the additional sixty-day extension. They also appear to have been laid off.

         On September 29, 2016, Haynes filed a pro se complaint in the district court, alleging that D.C. Water failed to accommodate his learning disability when it set the deadlines for him to acquire a new license. Haynes eventually retained counsel and filed an amended complaint that includes claims for breach of contract, disability discrimination in violation of the ADA, race discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. ("Title VII") and the Civil Rights Act of 1866, 42 U.S.C. § 1981 ("Section 1981"), and age discrimination under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. (ADEA). Haynes brings the same discrimination claims under the D.C. Human Rights Act, D.C. Code § 2-1401 et seq. (DCHRA). Shortly thereafter, D.C. Water moved for summary judgment. Haynes opposed the motion as premature, seeking discovery under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(d). The district court denied Haynes's request for discovery and granted summary judgment to D.C. Water. Haynes, 271 F.Supp.3d at 163.

         Haynes appealed the district court's decision except as to the breach of contract claim. The district court had federal question jurisdiction over Haynes's Section 1981, ADA, Title VII, and ADEA claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. It exercised supplemental jurisdiction over Haynes's DCHRA claim under 28 U.S.C. § 1367. We have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291.


         We affirm the district court because (1) Haynes's ADA and DCHRA claims were untimely; (2) he failed to exhaust his administrative remedies prior to bringing his Title VII and ADEA claims; (3) it was within the district court's discretion to conclude that further discovery on Haynes's only potentially viable claim-the one brought under Section 1981-was unwarranted, given the lack of detail in Haynes's Rule 56(d) declaration; and (4) summary judgment on Haynes's Section 1981 claim was appropriate given the record before the district court.


         We review the district court's grant of summary judgment de novo. Epsilon Elecs., Inc. v. U.S. Dep't of Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control, 857 F.3d 913, 918 (D.C. Cir. 2017). Summary judgment is warranted if the record, viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, demonstrates that "there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Thompson v. District of Columbia, 832 F.3d 339, 344 (D.C. Cir. 2016). We must "draw all reasonable inferences" in the nonmoving party's favor, Thompson, 832 F.3d at 344, and "[t]he evidence of the non-movant is to be believed," Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). A genuine issue of material fact exists when "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 248. And although "the doctrine of equitable tolling ordinarily involves discretion on the trial judge's part," here the district court declined to toll the relevant statutes of limitations "based upon [its] finding that as a matter of law [Haynes's] evidence could not support invocation of the equitable tolling doctrine based upon [his] mental state." Smith-Haynie v. District of Columbia, 155 F.3d 575, 578 n.4 (D.C. Cir. 1998). That means we review de novo that aspect of the district court's decision as well. Id. at 578.

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(d), when a party moves for summary judgment and the "nonmovant shows by affidavit or declaration that, for specified reasons, it cannot present facts essential to justify its opposition, the court may: (1) defer considering the motion or deny it; (2) allow time to obtain affidavits or declarations or to take discovery; or (3) issue any other appropriate order." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(d). We review the district court's denial of a request ...

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