Moses v. State Farm Insurance
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge Madeline Hughes Haikala on 1/29/2015. (KEK)
2015 Jan-29 AM 10:54
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
STATE FARM INSURANCE,
Case No.: 2:14-cv-00146-MHH
In this opinion, the Court considers defendant State Farm’s argument that
plaintiff Barry Moses’s discrimination claims against the company are time-barred
because Mr. Moses waited too long - more than 180 days - to file a discrimination
charge with the EEOC.
Mr. Moses’s discrimination charge concerns his
contention that State Farm demoted him when he returned from medical leave.
Mr. Moses filed his EEOC charge, at the earliest, on April 1, 2013. Mr. Moses
contends that October 12, 2012 is the trigger date for the 180-day filing window.
If he is correct, then he filed his EEOC charge on time. State Farm contends that
either May 24, 2012 or September 12, 2012 is the trigger date; either date makes
Mr. Moses’s EEOC charge untimely. For the reasons stated below, the Court finds
that State Farm has the better end of the argument. Therefore, the Court will grant
State Farm’s summary judgment motion.
Standard of Review
“The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is
no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as
a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). State Farm moves for summary judgment
on the basis of an affirmative defense for which State Farm bears the burden of
“If the movant bears the burden of proof on an issue, because, as a
defendant, it is asserting an affirmative defense, it must establish that there is no
genuine issue of material fact as to any element of that defense.” International
Stamp Art, Inc. v. U.S. Postal Service, 456 F.3d 1270, 1274 (11th Cir. 2006)
(citing Martin v. Alamo Community College Dist., 353 F.3d 409, 412 (5th Cir.
When considering a summary judgment motion, the Court must view the
evidence in the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Hill v.
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 510 Fed. Appx. 810, 813 (11th Cir. 2013). “The court need
consider only the cited materials, but it may consider other materials in the record.”
Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(3). For the purposes of summary judgment, courts are to
review job discrimination claims no differently than any other kind of summary
judgment motions. Chapman v. AI Transport, 229 F.3d 1012, 1025 (11th Cir.
2000) (quoting St. Mary’s Honor Ctr. v. Hicks, 509 U.S. 502, 504 (1993)).
Factual and Procedural Background
Mr. Moses began working for State Farm in 2005. (Doc. 11-2, ¶ 2). After
suffering a heart attack in early 2012, Mr. Moses took medical leave. (Doc. 11-2, ¶
3). At the time of the heart attack, Mr. Moses worked as a claim processer in
Birmingham, Alabama. (Doc. 11, p. 2). While he was on leave, State Farm
notified Mr. Moses that his paid medical leave would end on April 11, 2012 and
that he could either return to work then or take unpaid medical leave. (Doc. 11-2, ¶
3). Mr. Moses chose to return to work. (Id.).
Shortly after Mr. Moses returned to work, a doctor set work restrictions for
Mr. Moses. (Doc. 11, p. 2). Mr. Moses advised State Farm of the restrictions.
(Id.). State Farm’s ADA committee met and decided that while the restrictions
were in place, Mr. Moses could not perform his job with or without reasonable
accommodations. (Doc.9-1, p. 1 ¶ 5; Doc. 8, pp. 2–3). On May 24, 2012, Angela
Palmer, a State Farm employee, notified Mr. Moses that State Farm’s ADA
committee had determined he was no longer able to perform his essential job
duties. (Doc. 11-2, ¶ 11). State Farm put Mr. Moses on leave while the company
attempted to find a job that he could perform with his medical restrictions. (Doc.
9-1, ¶ 5).
On September 12, 2012, State Farm offered Mr. Moses a job in Atlanta.1
(Doc. 9-1, ¶ 6). The job paid less than the job that Mr. Moses held before he
suffered a heart attack, and the job required Mr. Moses to move from Birmingham
to Atlanta. (Doc. 11-2, ¶ 17). Mr. Moses claims he was “advised that he would
have to take a demotion to ‘P A 2’ from his current position as a ‘P A 3’ in Atlanta,
Georgia, as well as, he was advised of the associated loss in pay and benefits from
that demotion.” (Doc. 11, ¶ 5). Mr. Moses acknowledges that he told State Farm
that he would take the job. (See Doc. 11, ¶¶ 5–6).
State Farm extended Mr. Moses’s medical leave through October 2012
because the company could not offer Mr. Moses training for his new position until
then. (Doc. 9-1, ¶ 6). On October 12, 2012, Mr. Moses “was unable to report to
the position in Atlanta[,] Georgia because it was a demotion [and] a decrease in
pay and benefits[.]” (Doc. 11, ¶ 6). On either October 12, 2012 or October 15,
2012, Mr. Moses effectively resigned from State Farm. (See Docs. 11, p. 3; 9-1, p.
Mr. Moses filled out an EEOC intake form on April 1, 2013 and faxed and
mailed the form to the EEOC on April 3, 2013. (Doc. 11, ¶ 7; Doc. 11-1, pp. 1, 4).
Mr. Moses checked Box 2 on the intake form, indicating that he “want[ed] to file a
The parties seem to dispute when State Farm offered Mr. Moses a job in Atlanta. Mr. Moses
claims that he received the offer sometime in August 2012, but the September 12 date is
advantageous to Mr. Moses. Construing the evidence in the light most favorable to Mr. Moses,
the Court assumes that State Farm told Mr. Moses about the position in Atlanta on September 12,
charge of discrimination, and [he] authorize[d] the EEOC to look into the
discrimination [he] described [on the form].” (Doc. 11-1, p. 4). He filed his
official charge of discrimination with the EEOC on May 9, 2013. (Doc. 9-1, p. 6).
Mr. Moses filed this lawsuit on January 24, 2014. He alleges that State
Farm unlawfully discriminated against him on the basis of disability, age, and
sexual orientation. He asserts claims under the ADA, ADEA, and Title VII,
respectively. (Doc. 1). State Farm seeks judgment as a matter of law on all of Mr.
Moses’s claims on the basis of the statute of limitations. (Doc. 8). Both parties
have submitted briefs regarding State Farm’s motion, and the Court heard oral
argument from the parties.
On this record, the Court considers State Farm’s motion for summary judgment.
A plaintiff in a discrimination lawsuit must exhaust procedural remedies
before filing suit.
To exhaust procedural remedies, a plaintiff alleging
discrimination under the ADA, ADEA, or Title VII must file a discrimination
charge with the EEOC. Rizo v. Ala. Dep’t of Human Res., 228 Fed. Appx. 832,
836 (11th Cir. 2007) (to litigate a claim for discrimination under Title VII, the
ADA, or the ADEA, “a plaintiff must first exhaust his administrative remedies,
beginning with the filing of a charge of discrimination with the EEOC.”). Because
Alabama is a non-deferral state — meaning the state has no state agency equivalent
to the EEOC—a plaintiff must file an EEOC charge within 180 days of the
employer’s alleged discriminatory action. Jones v. Dillard’s, Inc., 331 F.3d 1259,
1263 (11th Cir. 2003); see also 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(e)(1) (“A charge under this
section shall be filed within one hundred and eighty days after the alleged unlawful
employment practice occurred.”); Rizo, 228 Fed. Appx. at 836. “The limitations
periods, while guaranteeing the protection of the civil rights laws to those who
promptly assert their rights, also protect employers from the burden of defending
claims arising from employment decisions that are long past.” Delaware State
Coll. v. Ricks, 449 U.S. 250, 256–57 (1980).
The parties dispute whether Mr. Moses filed his EEOC charge on time. To
resolve State Farm’s motion for summary judgment, the Court must identify the
date of the alleged discriminatory act that triggered the 180-day filing period and
the date that Mr. Moses filed his EEOC charge. Mr. Moses contends that October
12, 2012 and April 1, 2013 are the respective dates. If he is correct, then his EEOC
charge was timely because he filed it 171 days after State Farm took the last
adverse action against him. (Doc. 27, p. 12). State Farm argues that the last
adverse action against Mr. Moses occurred on either May 24, 2012 or September
12, 2012 and that Mr. Moses filed his EEOC charge on May 9, 2013. (Doc. 8, p.
5). Each party wins half of the argument, but State Farm prevails overall because
Mr. Moses filed his EEOC charge more than 180 days after State Farm notified
Mr. Moses that he could return to work only if he moved to Atlanta and accepted a
A. Governing Dates
The 180-day EEOC filing clock starts when an employee receives
unequivocal notice of an adverse employment decision. Stewart v. Booker T.
Washington Ins., 232 F.3d 844, 849 (11th Cir. 2000) (citing Grayson v. K Mart
Corp., 79 F.3d 1086, 1100 n.19 (11th Cir. 1996)). “[D]iscrete discriminatory acts
are not actionable if time barred.” Bennett v. Chatham Cnty. Sheriff Dept., 315
Fed. Appx. 152, 161 (11th Cir. 2008) (quoting Nat’l R.R. Passenger Corp. v.
Morgan, 536 U.S. 101, 113 (2002)). “A discrete retaliatory or discriminatory act
‘occurred’ on the day that it ‘happened.’” Morgan, 536 U.S. at 110.
Mr. Moses’s 180-day clock began ticking on September 12, 2012. On that
date, Mr. Moses received unequivocal notice that because of his health restrictions,
State Farm would not allow him to perform the job that he held before his heart
attack. (Doc. 11, p. 2). On that date, Mr. Moses learned that State Farm planned
to transfer him to Atlanta and to pay him less than he earned pre-heart attack.
(Doc. 9-1, ¶ 6). Although State Farm scheduled the transfer for October 2012 to
accommodate the company’s training schedule, the decision to transfer was
complete on September 12, 2012, and State Farm communicated its decision to Mr.
Moses on that date. Therefore, September 12, 2012 is the trigger date for the 180
day window for filing an EEOC charge. See Stewart, 232 F.3d at 849 (discussing
the standard and holding that the filing period had not begun when an employee
was informed that the employer might take action, contingent on future events).
As for the charge filing date, although Mr. Moses did not file his official
charge with the EEOC until May 9, 2013, he completed an EEOC intake form on
April 1, 2013 and appears to have sent the form to the EEOC by April 3, 2013.
(See Docs. 9-1, p. 6; 11, p. 3; 11-1, p. 4). “[A]s a general matter an intake
questionnaire is not intended to function as a charge[.] . . .” Pijnenburg v. West
Ga. Health Sys., Inc., 255 F.3d 1304, 1304 (11th Cir. 2001) (noting that no
exceptional circumstances in the case warranted departure from the rule). The
exception that proves the rule is this: an intake form may constitute a charge
“when the circumstances of the case would convince a reasonable person that the
charging party manifested her intent to activate the administrative process.”
Wilkerson v. Grinnell Corp., 270 F.3d 1314, 1321 (11th Cir. 2001); see also Clark
v. Coats & Clark, Inc., 865 F.2d 1237, 1241 (11th Cir. 1989) (holding that the
informal intake questionnaire constituted the “charge date” for purposes of the
For purposes of State Farm’s motion, the Court gives Mr. Moses the benefit
of the doubt and treats April 1, 2013, the date on his EEOC intake form, as the
EEOC charge filing date.2 Even so, Mr. Moses’s charge is not timely because 201
days elapsed between September 12, 2012, the date that State Farm announced its
adverse decision, and April 1, 2013, the date that Mr. Moses completed an EEOC
B. Equitable Principles and the Procedural Bar
To the extent that Mr. Moses seeks to toll the limitations period, he fails to
persuade the Court that equitable tolling is warranted. Mr. Moses contends that the
real issue is “whether the Complainant reasonably believed he was complying with
the rules and filed his complaint within the statutory period based on that belief.”
(Doc. 27, p. 3). This is incorrect. In discrimination lawsuits, “strict adherence to
the procedural requirements specified by the legislature is the best guarantee of
evenhanded administration of the law.”
Morgan, 536 U.S. at 108 (quoting
Mohasco Corp. v. Silver, 447 U.S. 807, 826 (1980)) (internal quotation marks
“Equitable tolling is appropriate when a movant untimely files because of
extraordinary circumstances that are both beyond his control and unavoidable even
with diligence.” Arce v. Garcia, 434 F.3d 1254, 1261 (11th Cir. 2006) (quoting
Ordinarily, the Court must consider three factors to determine whether an intake form activates
the administrative process: “(1) the communication between the plaintiff and the EEOC; (2) the
EEOC intake questionnaire form itself; and (3) the response by the EEOC to the completed
questionnaire.” Bost v. Fed. Express Corp., 372 F.3d 1233, 1240 (11th Cir. 2004) (discussing
Wilkerson). In this case, the Court does not need to make the analysis to decide State Farm’s
summary judgment motion.
Sandvik v. United States, 177 F.3d 1269, 1271 (11th Cir. 1999) (internal quotation
marks omitted); see also Justice v. United States, 6 F.3d 1474, 1479 (11th Cir.
1993) (offering the following examples of such circumstances: “when the
defendant misleads [plaintiff] . . .”; “when [plaintiff] has no reasonable way of
discovering the wrong . . .”; and “when [plaintiff] timely files a technically
defective pleading . . .” (internal citations omitted)). “The plaintiff bears the
burden of showing that such extraordinary circumstances exist.” Arce, 434 F.3d at
1261 (citing Justice, 6 F.3d at 1479). Mr. Moses has not persuaded the Court that
such extraordinary circumstances exist, and the Court declines to toll the 180-day
For the reasons discussed above, the Court GRANTS State Farm’s motion
for summary judgment on all claims. The Court will enter a separate judgment.
DONE and ORDERED this January 29, 2015.
MADELINE HUGHES HAIKALA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?