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Maurice Robinson v. Gary Locke

March 28, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Paul A. Crotty, United States District Judge:


DOC #:


Maurice Robinson ("Plaintiff") seeks damages against his former employer, the United States Department of Commerce, for unlawful discrimination against him on the basis of his race, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 200e et seq. ("Title VII"). In his Complaint, filed on April 1, 2011, Robinson alleges that shortly after he was hired in April, 2010 by the United States Census Bureau*fn1 (the "Census Bureau") as an enumerator for the 2010 Census, the Census Bureau terminated Robinson's employment because he is African American. On April 19, 2011, the Court referred this case to Magistrate Judge Deborah Freeman for general pretrial and dispositive motions. (Docket No. 8.) On July 11, 2011, Defendant Gary Locke, Secretary of the Department of Commerce ("Defendant"), moved to dismiss the Complaint pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). (Docket No. 10.) Defendant asserts that Robinson failed to exhaust his administrative remedies, as required under Title VII, because Robinson failed to allege racial discrimination in the charge he filed with the Census Bureau's Equal Employment Opportunity Office ("EEO") on July 1, 2010. Robinson contends that he did not learn that his termination was based on race until after he filed his EEO charge.

On February 1, 2012 Magistrate Judge Debra Freedman issued a Report & Recommendation ("R&R"), recommending that the Court deny the motion to dismiss. (Docket No. 21.) After receiving an extension, Defendant filed objections to the R&R on March 13, 2012. (Docket No. 28.) The Court has reviewed the R&R and Defendant's objections in their entirety. For the reasons that follow, the Court adopts Magistrate Judge Freeman's Report and Recommendation. Defendant's motion to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint is therefore denied.


In February 2010, Plaintiff took a qualifying test given by the Census Bureau to be hired as an "enumerator." On March 23, before he was hired, Plaintiff was arrested for trespassing on the Columbia University campus with a friend who was a Columbia student. Following the arrest, Robinson and his friend appeared in court and were told that the charges would be dropped if the friend could produce his student ID.

Prior to his next court appearance on May 6, 2010, Robinson received a call from the Census Bureau informing him that the Census Bureau wanted to hire him and that he should begin training for his new position on April 26, 2010. Robinson reported for training, and was required to fill out paperwork which included questions about arrest history. Robinson answered the questions truthfully. Subsequently, the Census Bureau informed Robinson that he had been hired for temporary employment as an enumerator. On May 2, 2010, Robinson was told to report for finger-printing. He was told that he would begin work shortly thereafter.

On May 6, 2010, Robinson returned to court, and the charges against him were dismissed. The next day, Robinson was informed by the Census Bureau that he had been terminated on the basis of his criminal history. He was told that the Census Bureau would consider rehiring him if he produced a certificate of disposition of his criminal case. Robinson provided this certificate to the Census Bureau, but he was not rehired.

Robinson's letter of termination from the Census Bureau informed him of his EEO rights and advised him as follows: "If you believe the decision to terminate your appointment was motivated by discrimination on the basis of race, color . . ., you may pursue a complaint through the Census Bureau's [EEO] complaint process." The letter further advised Robinson that he had 45 days from his termination date to contact the Census Bureau's EEO Office. On June 3, 2010, within the 45-day period, Robinson completed an EEO intake form and alleged that the Census Bureau had wrongfully terminated him by not following its own procedures during his background check. Robinson did not allege wrongful termination based on race or state that he was African American.

On June 29, 2010, the Census Bureau sent Robinson a Notice of Right to File, which explained his rights under Title VII. On July 1, 2010, Robinson filed a formal complaint (the "administrative charge") with the EEO Office, in which he claimed that he was unlawfully discriminated against by the Census Bureau as a result of his arrest for trespassing and the subsequent criminal proceeding. Robinson did not check boxes on the form to indicate discrimination based on race, however. On October 1, 2010, the Census Bureau dismissed Robinson's administrative charge for failure to state a claim because he did not allege discrimination under Title VII.

On Nov 6, 2010, Robinson appealed the agency's decision to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). He was then represented by counsel. In his appeal, Robinson alleged-for the first time-that he was African American and that the Census Bureau discriminated against him based on race. He argued that at the time the agency issued its decision, the Commerce Department employee who dismissed his complaint, Kathryn H. Anderson, knew about a Title VII class action filed against the Census Bureau*fn3 in which plaintiffs alleged that the agency's screening policy for new hires was racially discriminatory. Specifically, Robinson contended that Anderson had previously corresponded with his counsel regarding the Johnson class action, and that she was therefore aware that his claims were cognizable under Title VII based on a disparate-impact theory. On February 7, 2011 the board dismissed his appeal.

On April 1, 2011, Plaintiff commenced this action, alleging that he was unlawfully discriminated against under Title VII on the basis of his race when he was terminated from his job at the Census Bureau. On July 11, 2011, Defendant filed a motion to dismiss the Complaint, arguing that Robinson had not exhausted his administrative remedies with the Census Bureau before filing his Title VII claim.

On February 1, 2012, Magistrate Judge Freeman issued her R&R on Defendant's motion to dismiss. Magistrate Judge Freeman found that Robinson failed to claim race discrimination, and normally one would conclude that neither the Census Bureau nor the EEOC was put on notice of Plaintiff's Title VII claim. Nonetheless, she found that Robinson's Title VII claims were reasonably related to the allegations in his administrative charge. Magistrate Judge Freeman reasoned that, in light of the class action allegations pending against the Census Bureau in Johnson, as well as other relevant facts, "both the Bureau and the EEOC could have been expected to consider and investigate the ...

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