Submitted: February 13, 2018
from United States District Court for the Western District of
Arkansas - Fayetteville
LOKEN, BENTON, and ERICKSON, Circuit Judges.
November 12, 2013, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (Walmart),
terminated Porfirio Rodriguez from his position as Senior
Marketing Manager in Bentonville, Arkansas. On June 30, 2014,
Rodriguez filed a charge with the Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleging that Walmart violated
the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C.
§§ 12101, et. seq., by discriminating and
retaliating against him due to his disability and refusing to
reasonably accommodate his disability. After receiving a
right to sue letter from the EEOC, Rodriguez commenced this
ADA action in October 2016. The district court granted Walmart
summary judgment because Rodriguez failed to file a charge of
discrimination with the EEOC within 180 days of the alleged
ADA violation, as the statute requires. 42 U.S.C.
§§ 2000e-5(e)(1), 12117(a). Rodriguez appeals. He
concedes his discrimination charge was untimely but argues
the district court erred in not concluding that Walmart is
equitably estopped to assert this statute of limitations
defense because its pre-deadline settlement discussions
lulled Rodriguez into not filing a timely charge. Reviewing
the grant of summary judgment de novo, we
governing legal principles are well established and
undisputed. As each wrongful act alleged in Rodriguez's
complaint occurred on or before November 12, 2013, when he
was terminated, the 180-day period in which to file a charge
with the EEOC ended on May 12, 2014. See 42 U.S.C.
§ 2000e-5(e)(1); Henderson v. Ford Motor Co.,
403 F.3d 1026, 1032 (8th Cir. 2005). Thus, his charge, filed
on June 30, 2014, was untimely. However, the statutory
requirement to file a timely EEOC charge is not
jurisdictional; it is subject to equitable tolling and
equitable estoppel. Zipes v. Trans World Airlines,
Inc., 455 U.S. 385, 393 (1982). This appeal concerns
equitable estoppel, which applies if "the employee's
failure to file in timely fashion is the consequence of
either a deliberate design by the employer or of actions that
the employer should unmistakably have understood would cause
the employee to delay filing his charge." Dring v.
McDonnell Douglas Corp., 58 F.3d 1323, 1329 (8th Cir.
1995), quoting Kriegesmann v. Barry-Wehmiller Co.,
739 F.2d 357, 358-59 (8th Cir.), cert. denied, 469
U.S. 1036 (1984). Equitable relief from a statute of
limitations "is an exception to the rule, and should
therefore be used only in exceptional circumstances."
Id. at 1330.
argues that Walmart should be equitably estopped to assert
that his charge was untimely because it lured him into
missing the deadline through the settlement negotiations. In
response to Walmart's motion to dismiss, Rodriguez
submitted letters and emails reflecting the settlement
negotiations at issue. The district court converted the
motion to dismiss to a motion for summary judgment, and the
parties stipulated that the letters and emails were the only
evidence of their negotiations. Thus, there are no issues of
disputed fact on appeal. The issue is whether these documents
satisfy the strict requirements of equitable estoppel.
March 2014, counsel for Rodriguez had notified Walmart that
it had violated the ADA through actions culminating in
Rodriguez's termination; Walmart had disputed the
allegations but expressed a willingness "to determine
whether we can resolve this dispute amicably." The
parties discussed the matter by phone. On May 2, counsel for
Rodriguez made a settlement demand, stating he intended to
file a charge with the EEOC and then sue if the matter could
not be settled. Walmart did not respond. Counsel for
Rodriguez sent another letter on May 30, noting that Walmart
had stated in a May 23 phone call it would respond by May 30,
and stating that Rodriguez would "move forward with
filing [the] charge" if Walmart did not respond by June
4. On June 4, Walmart rejected Rodriguez's settlement
demand and made a counteroffer. On June 30, Rodriguez filed a
charge with the EEOC. On July 2, Rodriguez rejected
Walmart's counteroffer, made a counteroffer, and advised
that the EEOC charge had been filed. On July 16, Walmart
responded that it had received the EEOC charge and would
prepare to defend against Rodriguez's claims.
summarizing these negotiations in even greater detail, the
district court granted Walmart summary judgment on the
equitable estoppel issue:
None of the letters in the record create a genuine, material
question of fact as to the issue of equitable estoppel. The
letters manifest only a general, good faith intent by Walmart
to engage in settlement negotiations. Mr. Rodriguez's
counsel sent a demand letter ten days before the EEOC filing
deadline and did not receive a response until after the
deadline had passed. Under these facts, Walmart's silence
cannot be construed as anything but silence. Walmart made no
promise to settle, nor did it encourage that settlement was
imminent through its silence.
agree with the district court's analysis. Rodriguez's
failure to file his EEOC claim within 180 days was not the
result of any misconduct by Walmart. As Rodriguez's
counsel admitted during the district court hearing,
"nothing [Walmart] said per se" caused Rodriguez to
miss the deadline. Rodriguez argues the pattern of
"delay in responding to any settlement demand that we
made" was deceptive. But failing to respond to a
settlement demand made ten days before the statutory
deadline, and accompanied by a statement that the employee
would file a charge with the EEOC if the matter could not be
settled, is not conduct that the employer "should
unmistakably have understood" would cause the employee
to miss the filing deadline. Dring, 58 F.3d at 1329.
Thus, equitable estoppel does not apply, and summary judgment
was properly granted.
order of the district court is affirmed.