Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (No. 94cv02216)
Before: Edwards, Chief Judge, Henderson and Garland, Circuit Judges.
FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA CIRCUIT
Opinion for the Court filed by Chief Judge Edwards.
Appellant Vimla Saksenasingh applied for employment at the Department of Education ("Department"). After an interview at which she was asked about her religion and national origin, she did not receive a position. Saksenasingh filed an administrative complaint with the Department alleging proscribed discrimination. She subsequently signed a settlement agreement with Department officials that gave her a one-year position at the Department and guaranteed she would be considered for a permanent position at the year's end. When the year had passed, Appellant once again was denied a position. She then brought suit against the Department under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. Section(s) 2000e et seq. for (1) the original denial of employment, (2) retaliation against her during her employment, and (3) retaliation in failing to consider her for a permanent position.
The Department asserted that the settlement agreement barred the suit. The District Court granted summary judgment to the Department on the grounds that Saksenasingh was barred by the settlement agreement from litigating the original denial of employment and that she could not sue for the Department's failure to hire her at the end of her one-year term because she had not exhausted her administrative remedies by appealing to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). Saksenasingh v. Riley, No. 94-2216, slip op. at 5-7 (D.D.C. Mar. 12, 1996), reprinted in Joint Appendix ("J.A.") 8-10. The District Court also dismissed Saksenasingh's remaining retaliation claims for lack of jurisdiction. Id. at 11-12.
We reverse the grant of summary judgment and the dismissal of Saksenasingh's retaliation claims. The settlement agreement did not, as the District Court believed, grant the Department the unilateral right to decide whether it had breached the terms of settlement. Rather, the agreement specified that "[i]f the Agency fails to carry out this agreement ... the complaint may be reinstated." Memorandum of Agreement, J.A. 125. This provision entitled Appellant to a decision by the District Court judge or jury on the threshold question whether the Department had breached the agreement. If it were found that the Department had breached the agreement, then Saksenasingh's law suit on her original claim should have proceeded. She had exhausted her administrative remedies regarding her original claim before the employing agency. When the settlement agreement took effect, more than 180 days had passed without final Department action on her claim. 29 C.F.R. Section(s) 1614.408(b). On the record at hand, there is no doubt that Saksenasingh was not required to appeal to the EEOC as the District Court held.
Finally, because the District Court had jurisdiction over her original claim even if it were found that the settlement agreement barred the claim, the District Court had discretion to exercise jurisdiction over her retaliation claims. Dismissal of the retaliation claims for want of jurisdiction was error. 28 U.S.C. Section(s) 1367 (1994).
Saksenasingh applied for a position as an Institutional Review Specialist with the Department. Following an interview in which she was asked about her religion and national origin, the Department informed her that she had not been selected. On February 22, 1991, she filed an administrative complaint with the Department, alleging unlawful discrimination. J.A. 92. Before the Department had formally completed its investigation, Saksenasingh and the Department entered into a settlement agreement. The agreement, dated January 11, 1993, required the Department to offer Saksenasingh a one-year appointment and to consider hiring her for a permanent position at the end of the year. It also stated:
If the Agency fails to carry out this Agreement, in whole or in part, the complaint may be reinstated, upon the written request of the Complainant, at the point processing ceased.
J.A. 125. After signing the agreement, the Department tried to convince Saksenasingh to amend the agreement to omit the promise to consider her for a permanent post. J.A. ...