United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fayetteville Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Timothy L. Brooks United States District Judge
pending before the Court are Defendant Wal-Mart Stores,
Inc.'s ("Walmart") Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 9),
made pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6),
and Brief in Support (Doc. 10); Plaintiff Porfirio
Rodriguez's Response in Opposition to the Motion (Doc.
13) and Supplement to the Response (Doc. 14); and
Walmart's Reply (Doc. 16).
the Court was initially reviewing the Motion and Response, it
became evident that Mr. Rodriguez had referenced and attached
a number of documents that were outside the pleadings and
could not be considered unless the Court converted the Motion
to Dismiss to one for summary judgment, as per the directives
of Rule 12(d). The Court issued an Order (Doc. 18), notifying
the parties that it intended to convert the Motion to one for
summary judgment, and giving them until February 28, 2017, to
either supplement the record with any further briefing or
evidence they desired, or else inform the Court that they
needed more time to provide a complete record.
March 1, 2017, the Court held a hearing on the Motion. Not
having received any further evidence or briefing, the Court
asked counsel directly whether they agreed that the Motion
should be treated as one for summary judgment, and whether
they also agreed that the summary judgment record was
complete. Counsel voiced their agreement, and the Court then
entertained oral argument on the Motion. After oral argument
concluded, the Court granted the Motion from the bench and
has prepared the following written opinion to memorialize its
reasoning. To the extent anything in this Order conflicts
with pronouncements made from the bench, the Order will
lawsuit was filed on October 27, 2016, by Mr. Rodriguez, a
former employee of Walmart. He alleged that Walmart violated
the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") by
discriminating and retaliating against him due to his
disability, as well as by refusing to provide him with
reasonable accommodations for his disability. (Doc. 1, p. 6).
The parties agree that Mr. Rodriguez was terminated on
November 12, 2013, and that his attorney filed an untimely
charge of disability discrimination on his behalf with the
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC").
The EEOC's rules require that a charge be submitted
within 180 days of the date of the alleged discriminatory or
retaliatory act-which in this case was the date of Mr.
Rodriguez's termination. Accordingly, the EEOC charge was
due to be filed no later than May 12, 2014, but Mr. Rodriguez
did not file his charge until June 30, 2014.
Mr. Rodriguez's counsel admits that he missed the
deadline to file the EEOC charge, his only argument in
opposition to summary judgment is that the doctrine of
equitable estoppel should apply to toll the deadline. In
particular, he argues that "Plaintiffs delay in filing
his charge was the result of Defendant's counsel's
own conduct during pre-EEOC settlement negotiations, which
lured Plaintiffs counsel into the possibility of a resolution
without having to file Plaintiffs EEOC charge." (Doc.
13, p. 9).
the Court's hearing on the Motion, the parties stipulated
that the only evidence of their settlement negotiations was
found in the letters and emails attached to Mr.
Rodriguez's Supplement (Doc. 14). In reviewing those
letters and emails, the Court has constructed a timeline of
events. First, there appears in the file a letter dated March
26, 2014, written by a Walmart Project Manager and addressed
to Mr. Rodriguez's counsel, Terrence Robinson.
See Doc. 14-4. The letter advised Mr. Robinson that
Walmart was in the process of "reviewing the allegations
set forth ... so that we may formally respond, " and
then recommended that he get in contact with Walmart's
in-house attorney, Cynthia Scott, to discuss the matter
further. Id. The next letter in the file is dated
April 9, 2014. See Doc. 14-5. The letter, which was
written by Ms. Scott, informed Mr. Robinson that Walmart
disputed his client's claim of disability discrimination
or other wrongdoing, but was willing "to confer with
[Mr. Robinson] to determine whether we can resolve this
dispute amicably." Id.
next letter in the file indicates that Mr. Robinson and Ms.
Scott spoke by telephone on or about April 18, 2014, and at
that time, Mr. Robinson told Ms. Scott that he would shortly
send her a formal settlement demand. See Doc. 14-6, p. 1.
That settlement demand was made in the form of a letter
addressed to Ms. Scott, dated May 2, 2014-ten days
prior to the EEOC filing deadline. Id. In the
demand, Mr. Robinson warned Ms. Scott as follows:
Should this matter not settle at this early stage, Mr.
Rodriguez intends to file his charge of discrimination with
the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and thereafter
file suit in U.S. District court to recover all damages
available to him, including, back and future wages,
compensatory damages, punitive damages, and attorney's
fees. However, prior to engaging in costly and time-consuming
litigation, Mr. Rodriguez is open to discussing resolution.
Id. at 2.
clear that in the next several days leading up to the EEOC
filing deadline, Walmart did not respond in any way to Mr.
Robinson's written settlement demand. Eleven days
after the EEOC filing deadline had passed, Mr.
Robinson's assistant placed a telephone call to Ms.
Scott, asking for a response to the demand letter. Seven days
after that, still not having received a response from
Walmart, Mr. Robinson sent a letter to Ms. Scott that stated
in relevant part:
As of today's date we have not heard from you. Please let
me know if you intend to continue with settlement
discussions. Prior to engaging in costly and time-consuming
litigation, Mr. Rodriguez is still open to discussing a
resolution, however, we cannot continue to wait on a response
from Walmart for much longer.
Therefore, if we do not hear from you by Wednesday, June 4,
2014, we will assume that Walmart is not interested in
settling the matter at this time and we will move forward
with filing Mr. Rodriguez' charge of discrimination with
the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and thereafter
filing suit in U.S. District court to recover all damages
available to him, including, ...