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Wright v. Carfax, Inc.

United States District Court, Fourth Circuit

December 3, 2013

CARFAX, INC., Defendant.


JOHN A. GIBNEY, District Judge.

THIS MATTER comes before the Court on CarFax's Motion to Partially Dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Dk. No. 3.) The plaintiff, Charles Wright, seeks relief under the Age Discrimination and Employment Act ("ADEA") on three bases: disparate treatment, failure to promote, and retaliation. The defendant, Carfax, Inc., has moved to dismiss Wright's failure to promote and retaliation claims, asserting that Wright failed to exhaust administrative remedies for either claim.

The Court dismisses Wright's retaliation claim because the allegations contained in his charge to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") do not reasonably relate to a retaliation claim. Consequently, Wright failed to exhaust all administrative remedies. In contrast, Wright's failure to promote claim does bear a reasonable relation to the allegations in his charge. Accordingly, the Court denies the motion to dismiss his failure to promote claim. That said, due to the ADEA's statute of limitations, Wright's failure to promote claims will be limited to a certain time frame, as discussed below.

I. Statement of the Facts

The following facts come from the plaintiffs' complaint and will be construed in the light most favorable to Wright, in keeping with the appropriate motion to dismiss standard. In September 2008, Wright began working at Carfax's Centreville, VA location as an Account Executive in the Inside Sales Department. At the time, Wright was 62 years old and the oldest sales employee at the Centreville location. Wright was an experienced salesperson before coming to work at Carfax. During his employment there, he was consistently one of Carfax's top earners, and he received high marks from his superiors. In November 2009, Wright applied to become a National Account Manager within Carfax's Outside Sales division. Although the hiring manager called Wright highly qualified for the position, Carfax eventually hired a younger candidate.

Several months after being turned down for the National Account Manager position, Wright asked Tim Curtain, one of his superiors at Carfax, whether his age had been a factor in the position going to another candidate. This inquiry subsequently caused a rift between Wright and Brian Tercero, his direct supervisor. Shortly thereafter, Tercero began "a campaign of unwarranted criticisms of [Wright's] performance." (Dk. No. 1, at ¶ 29.) Tercero specifically accused Wright of not following company sales procedures by failing to record, in the company system, every call he made to clients, a practice Wright claims was common-place.

In spring 2011, Wright again applied for a new position with Carfax as a Senior Account Executive in the Business Development Department. This position also went to a "significantly younger" candidate. (Dk. No. 1, at ¶ 31.) After his rejection, Wright spoke with several people about why he did not get the new position. Justin Johnson, a hiring manager for CarFax, told Wright that Tercero had purposely prevented him from obtaining the position. Wright later spoke with Katrina Finfrock, a recruiter within Carfax's Human Resources division. Wright asked Finfrock whether Carfax had rejected him for the Senior Account Executive position due to his age. Finfrock denied the accusation, although Wright characterizes her demeanor as meek, noting that she responded while "glanc[ing] at the floor. (Dk. No. 1, at ¶ 35.)

After Wright's conversation with Finfrock, CarFax began advertising for a Sales Representative position in the Inside Sales Department, Wright's position at the time. In September, 2011, Wright approached Tercero and asked him whether he would accept referrals for the open position. Tercero responded that he would only take referrals for candidates "in their twenties, " although he later claimed to be joking. (Dk. No. 1, at ¶ 38.) Days after this conversation, on September 19, 2011, Carfax terminated Wright's employment.

On December 16, 2011, Wright filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") alleging that CarFax had violated the ADEA. (Dk. No. 7, Ex. A, at pg. 2) In his charge, Wright checked only the box alleging"Age" discrimination by CarFax. He did not check the box labeled "Retaliation." After investigating the claim, the EEOC issued Wright a "Notice of the Right to Sue" on April 30, 2013. (Dk. No. 7, Ex. A.) Wright subsequently filed suit in this Court on July 15, 2013, alleging violations of the ADEA for disparate treatment, discriminatory failure to promote, and retaliation.

II. Standard of Review

A motion made pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) challenges the court's jurisdiction over the subject matter of the complaint. If a defendant disputes the truth of the jurisdictional facts in the complaint, "the Court may look beyond the jurisdictional allegations of the complaint and view whatever evidence has been submitted on the issue to determine whether in fact subject matter jurisdiction exists.'" Virginia v. United States, 926 F.Supp. 537, 540 (E.D.Va. 1995) (quoting Capitol Leasing Co. v. FDIC, 999 F.2d 188, 191 (7th Cir. 1993)); see also Adams v. Bain, 697 F.2d, 1213, 1219 (4th Cir. 1982). Consideration of evidence outside the pleadings does not necessarily convert the motion to one for summary judgment. Evans v. B.F. Perkins Co., 166 F.3d 642, 647 (4th Cir. 1999) (citation omitted). The plaintiff always bears the burden of proof to preserve jurisdiction. Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac R.R. Co. v. United States, 945 F.2d 765, 768 (4th Cir. 1991).

III. Discussion

Before filing suit under the ADEA, "a plaintiff must exhaust [his] administrative remedies by bringing a charge with the EEOC." Smith v. First Union Nat. Bank, 202 F.3d 234, 247 (4th Cir. 2000).[1] Once a plaintiff has exhausted his administrative remedies, the administrative framework "plays a substantial role in focusing the formal litigation it precedes." Chacko v. Patuxent Inst., 429 F.3d 505, 509 (4th Cir. 2005). The EEOC charge "limit[s] the scope of any subsequent judicial complaint." Id. (citing Evans v. Techs. Applications & Serv. Co., 80 F.3d 954, 962-63 (4th Cir. 1996)). Federal courts lack subject matter jurisdiction over any claim for which the plaintiff has not exhausted administrative remedies. Jones v. Calvert Grp., Ltd., 551 F.3d 297, 301 (4th Cir. 2009).

The exhaustion requirement ensures that the employer has notice of the alleged violations. Miles v. Dell, Inc., 429 F.3d 480, 491 (4th Cir. 2005) (citing EEOC v. American Nat'l Bank, 652 F.2d 1176, 1186 (4th Cir. 1981)). This helps facilitate the resolution of such matters out of court if possible. Id. The "touchstonefor exhaustion is whether plaintiffs administrative and judicial claims are reasonably related.'" Sydnor v. Fairfax County, Va., 681 F.3d 591, 595 (4th Cir. 2012) (quoting First Union, 202 F.3d at 247). The plaintiff may advance claims in his subsequent civil suit so long as a reasonable relation exists between the claims in his judicial complaint and his EEOC charge, which can be ...

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