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SINHA v. NEW YORK CITY DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION

United States District Court, E.D. New York


April 26, 2004.

KALAWATI SINHA, Plaintiff,
v.
NEW YORK CITY DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION Defendant.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: JOHN GLEESON, District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Plaintiff Kalawati Sinha brings this action alleging employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, and national origin, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. Defendant New York City Department of Education ("DOE") moves to dismiss the complaint, alleging that Sinha's claims are time-barred.*fn1 I held an evidentiary hearing on the issue on April 13, 2004. For the following reasons, the motion is granted and the case is dismissed.

BACKGROUND*fn2

  Sinha began working for the DOE on October 26, 1996, as a paraprofessional in a special education class. (Compl. at [6].) In her complaint, she alleges various discriminatory acts on the part of her coworkers and supervisors (see, e.g., Compl. at [6-8]; Letter from Sinha to Board of Education (undated) (attached to complaint) ("Letter to Bd.")), which I assume to be true for purposes of the instant motion. On June 24, 2002, Sinha was falsely accused of dragging a child across a school hallway. (Letter to Bd., "concerns" 7-14 (note that in concern 10, Sinha incorrectly reports the date as January 24, 2001, but later reports the correct year, 2002, in concern 11).) This accusation formed the basis for a corporal punishment complaint against Sinha. (See, e.g., id. concern 14.) Sinha was terminated on March 20, 2002. (See Def.'s Mem. Law Supp. Mot. Dismiss at 3 ("Def. Mem.").)*fn3 She then filed an internal grievance challenging her termination. (See Letter from Anurima Bhargava, DOE Office of Legal Services, to Florence Duchantier, EEOC, at 1 (Sept. 29, 2003) (attached to complaint).)

  On June 11, 2003, Sinha filed a charge with the EEOC, alleging discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, and national origin. (See EEOC Questionnaire (attached to complaint).) On October 11, 2003, the EEOC concluded that the charge was untimely and issued a right-to-sue letter (attached to complaint). Sinha then filed the instant action on October 23, 2003.

  The DOE now moves to dismiss, arguing that Sinha did not file her charge with the EEOC within the applicable 300-day statute of limitations. It further argues that there is no basis for tolling the statute of limitations in this case.

  DISCUSSION

  A. The Rule 12(b)(6) Standard

  Dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) may be granted only if "it appears beyond doubt that the Plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Walker v. City of New York, 974 F.2d 293, 298 (2d Cir. 1992). A federal court's task in determining the sufficiency of a complaint is "necessarily a limited one." Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974). The appropriate inquiry is not whether Sinha might ultimately prevail on her claims, but whether she is entitled to offer any evidence in support of the allegations in the complaint. Id. In this inquiry, I may consider "documents attached to the complaint as an exhibit or incorporated in it by reference, . . . matters of which judicial notice may be taken, or . . . documents either in plaintiff[']s[] possession or of which plaintiff[] had knowledge and relied on in bringing suit." Brass v. Am. Film Techs., Inc., 987 F.2d 142, 150 (2d Cir. 1993).

  B. The Statute of Limitations

  A prerequisite to filing a complaint under Title VII is the filing of a discrimination claim with the EEOC within 300 days of the allegedly discriminatory act. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(e)(1); Amtrak v. Morgan, 536 U.S. 101, 104-05 (2002). This time period is subject to the doctrine of equitable tolling. See, e.g., id. at 113; Zerilli-Edelglass v. N.Y. City Transit Auth., 333 F.3d 74, 80 (2d Cir. 2003). While courts "may evaluate whether it would be proper to apply" this doctrine, it must be applied "sparingly." Amtrak, 536 U.S. at 113 (citing Baldwin County Welcome Ctr. v. Brown, 466 U.S. 147, 152 (per curiam) ("Procedural requirements established by Congress for gaining access to the federal courts are not to be disregarded by courts out of a vague sympathy for particular litigants.")); see also Zerilli-Edelglass, 333 F.3d at 80 ("[E]quitable tolling is only appropriate in [] rare and exceptional circumstance[s], in which a party is prevented in some extraordinary way from exercising his rights." (quotation marks and citation omitted) (second and third alterations in original)). In determining whether equitable tolling is appropriate, I must consider whether Sinha "(1) has acted with reasonable diligence during the time period she seeks to have tolled, and (2) has proved that the circumstances are so extraordinary that the doctrine should apply." Id. at 80-81 (quotation marks omitted). One such extraordinary circumstance recognized by the Second Circuit is detrimental, reasonable reliance by a plaintiff on erroneous information given to him or her in good faith by the EEOC. See Carlyle Towers Condo. Ass'n, Inc. v. FDIC, 170 F.3d 301, 310 (2d Cir. 1999) ("`Like other courts, we have excused parties who were misled about the running of a limitations period, whether by an adversary's actions, by a government official's advice upon which they reasonably relied, or by inaccurate or ineffective notice from a government agency required to provide notice of the limitations period.'" (quoting Bowden v. United States, 106 F.3d 433, 438 (D.C. Cir. 1997))); Johnson v. Al Tech Specialties Steel Corp., 731 F.2d 143, 146 (2d Cir. 1984) ("In the instant case, the trial court considered the equities of the excuse for delay offered by Johnson: that an EEOC official had erroneously advised him that the complaint could be filed late. This explanation, when substantiated, has been recognized as justification for equitable tolling of the 90-day rule." (citing Ramos v. Port Auth., No. 76 Civ. 312, 1976 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 14468 (S.D.N.Y. 1976))); cf. DeMatteis v. Eastman Kodak Co., 520 F.2d 409, 411 (2d Cir. 1975) ("It would be inequitable under such circumstances, and would frustrate the remedial purpose of the Civil Rights Act, to apply the decision of this court so as to bar the claim of a party who filed suit within the period recommended by the administrative body which had been established to help vindicate such statutory rights.").

  Here, though Sinha's formal complaint with the EEOC was filed well outside the 300-day limitations period, Sinha alleges that Florence Duchantier, an Investigator at the EEOC, instructed her not to file a charge with the EEOC until the completion of her arbitration with the DOE. (See Pl.'s Mem. Law Supp. Mot. Not to Dismiss at 4.) To corroborate her claim that she spoke to the EEOC in May 2002, Sinha attaches to her memorandum of law a letter from Duchantier on EEOC letterhead dated May 14, 2002.

  I held a hearing on April 13, 2004, at which both Sinha and Duchantier testified, to determine whether the facts justified equitable tolling. In testimony that I credit, Duchantier explained that while she has no independent recollection of speaking to Sinha in May 2002, she has never told a prospective complainant to wait until the completion of an internal grievance procedure before filing a charge with the EEOC. I find that she did not make an exception from this standard practice when she explained the procedures to Sinha. Duchantier also testified that she explains the statute of limitations to each prospective complainant, and I find that she explained it to Sinha as well. I therefore conclude that while Sinha acted with diligence, and most likely misunderstood Duchantier's directions (through no fault of Duchantier's), no extraordinary circumstance exists here to justify equitable tolling. Sinha's complaint is therefore dismissed as time-barred.*fn4 CONCLUSION

  For the foregoing reasons, the DOE's motion to dismiss is granted. The Clerk is directed to close this case.

  So Ordered.


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