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QUIROZ v. U.S. POSTAL SERVICE

January 5, 2004.

JORGE A. QUIROZ, Plaintiff, — against —, UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE and WILLIAM J. HENDERSON, Defendants


The opinion of the court was delivered by: CONSTANCE MOTLEY, Senior District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

Plaintiff Jorge A. Quiroz brings this action against the United States Postal Service ("USPS") and its Postmaster General, for alleged violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. ("Title VII"), in the form of discrimination on the basis of national origin. This matter comes before the court on a motion by defendants for summary judgment, or, in the alterative, to dismiss for failure to prosecute. For the following reasons, defendants' motion is denied.

I. BACKGROUND

  Plaintiff is an Ecuadorian male, employed as a mechanic by USPS currently and at all relevant times. On December 26, 2000, plaintiff filed the complaint in the instant case, alleging that he had been subjected to discriminatory treatment by defendants on the basis of his national origin, and to retaliation for his having filed complaints with the Postal Service Equal Employment Opportunity ("EEO") office regarding his treatment. On May 9, 2001, plaintiffs counsel sent a letter to Judge Batts, before whom this case was pending until its transfer to the undersigned on October 15, 2003, requesting that the action be placed on the suspense calendar. The letter stated that on or about March 9, 2001, plaintiff had filed new EEO claims of discrimination and retaliation, and requested that the instant action be placed on the suspense calendar "until the Agency issues a Final Decision regarding plaintiffs new claims so that they can be brought under the jurisdiction of this court." The letter also stated that upon the issuance of a Final Decision plaintiff wished "to file his claims in federal court and consolidate all matters." Despite defense counsel's objections, Judge Batts granted this request on May 23, 2001. Page 2

  On January 28, 2002, plaintiff signed a Settlement Agreement with his union and USPS. The agreement referenced four grievances, and included the following sentence: "It is understood that this agreement is in full complete settlement of all outstanding administrative EEO complaints or appeals, in this or any other forums, filed by the grievant."

  In a letter dated February 14, 2002, Mitchell Sturman, the manager of EEO Compliance and Appeals with USPS, New York Metro Area, wrote a letter to plaintiffs counsel, attaching the settlement agreement. The letter quoted the portion of the agreement that we quoted in the previous paragraph, and made the following statements: "A check of our records indicates that there is one complaint, case no. 1 A-103-0022-01, filed on October 18, 2001, which was pending a determination to accept or dismiss the complaint when the above mentioned agreement was executed. It should also be noted that I have been advised that during the settlement discussion that your client was in fact in telephone communication with you and that the agreement signed [sic] with your concurrence. Based on the foregoing, case no. 1A-103-0022-01 is now closed as is any other complaints [sic] initiated prior to January 28, 2002. If you disagree with any of the information set forth, you are afforded 7 calendar days from receipt of this letter to respond. Absent any response, this matter will remain closed with no rights of appeal." Neither plaintiff nor plaintiffs counsel responded to the letter.

  On December 10, 2002, plaintiffs counsel wrote a letter to Judge Batts, which was apparently not copied to defense counsel. In that letter, he noted that "[p]laintiff requested that this matter be placed on the suspense calendar due to other pending EEO matters filed with the postal agency," and stated that "Currently, I am awaiting the issuance of the Agency's Final Decision so that plaintiff can file the additional claims in federal court." He repeated his intention, upon issuance of a final decision, to "request that the above referenced matter be placed on the active calendar" and to "move the court to consolidate all cases." He concluded that "I expect to received [sic] the Agency's Final Decision by January 31, 2003."

  On June 3, 2003, defendants' counsel wrote to plaintiffs counsel, enclosing a proposed stipulation and order, dismissing the instant action with prejudice. The letter referenced the January 28, 2002, settlement, and asked that plaintiffs counsel sign the stipulation "in order to administratively close this matter." Plaintiffs counsel did not respond.

  On July 18, 2003, plaintiffs counsel made the following statements in a letter to Judge Batts: "The court placed this matter on the suspense calendar because of outstanding administrative complaints pending in the Postal Agency's EEO. Such outstanding complaints have been recently disposed of. Currently there are no administrative EEO matters pending. Accordingly, I respectfully request that the court order the above referenced matter be placed on the court's active calendar and schedule a conference to set up a discovery schedule." By an order of the same date, Judge Batts directed the Clerk of the Court to remove the case from the court's suspense calendar.

  By letter dated July 23, 2003, defendants' counsel requested permission to move to dismiss the action, or, in the alternative, for a pre-motion conference. The settlement agreement and a failure by plaintiffs counsel to prosecute the case were given as twin reasons supporting dismissal. Page 3 On October 15, 2003, the case was reassigned to the undersigned. On the same day, the court ordered the parties to appear at a pre-trial conference on November 3, 2003. By order dated October 27, 2003 the court granted defense counsel's request for permission to move to dismiss the action. In the court established a briefing schedule for the motion. Plaintiff's counsel failed to appear at the November 3, 2003, pre-trial conference, at which the court set November 14, 2003, as the date by which defendants' counsel was to serve and file the motion to dismiss. In a fax dated November 3, 2003, plaintiffs counsel informed the court that in the light of the court's October 27, 2003, order granting leave to file a motion to dismiss, he had "assumed the conference would not proceed as initially scheduled."

 II. DISCUSSION

  A. Summary Judgment

  Defendant has moved for summary judgment on the ground that plaintiffs claims in the instant action are unambiguously waived by that portion of the settlement agreement that reads "It is understood that this agreement is in full complete settlement of all outstanding administrative EEO complaints or appeals, in this or any other forums, filed by the grievant." Plaintiff argues in response that the settlement does not apply to the instant action.

  A settlement is a contract, that once entered into is binding and conclusive. Janneh v. GEF Corp., 887 F.2d 432, 436 (2d Cir. 1989), cert. denied, 498 U.S. 865, 111 S.Ct. 177 (1990), abrogated on other grounds, Digital Equip. Corp. v. Desktop Direct, Inc., 511 U.S. 863, 114 S.Ct. 1992(1994). The proper interpretation of a contract is a question of law for the court. Harris Trust & Sav. Bank v. John Hancock Mut. Life Ins. Co., 970 F.2d 1138, 1147-48 (2d Cir. 1992); see Walk-In Med. Ctrs., Inc. v. Breuer Capital Corp., 818 F.2d 260, 263 (2d Cir. 1987) ("The determination of whether a contract term is ambiguous is a threshold question of law for the court."). "Where the intention of the parties is clearly and unambiguously set forth, effect must be given to the intent as ...


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