Argued: October 30, 2018
from the United States District Court for the Eastern
District of Virginia, at Alexandria. Leonie M. Brinkema,
District Judge. (1:16-cv-00213-LMB-JFA)
Spencer Elliker, HUNTON ANDREWS KURTH LLP, Richmond,
Virginia, for Appellant.
Carl Barghaan, Jr., OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY,
Alexandria, Virginia, for Appellee.
Zachary Terwilliger, United States Attorney, OFFICE OF THE
UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Alexandria, Virginia, for Appellee.
GREGORY, Chief Judge, MOTZ and WYNN, Circuit Judges.
appeal arises from the district court's determination
that Fenyang Ajamu Stewart ("Stewart") is required
to wait longer than 180 days to commence a civil action under
Title VII and the Rehabilitation Act after amending his
initial administrative complaint before the relevant agency.
But the text of Title VII, as well as the legislative context
and purpose, plainly states that a claimant may commence a
civil action 180 days from "the filing of the
initial charge." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-16(c)
(emphasis added). We, therefore, reverse the district court
and remand for further proceedings.
worked as a patent examiner for the U.S. Patent and Trademark
Office ("PTO"). He suffers from bulging discs in
his lower back and radiculopathy, resulting from compression
of his sciatic nerve, as well as post- and
continuous-traumatic stress disorder. Because of these
medical conditions, Stewart filed a reasonable accommodation
request with the PTO in April 2014. Specifically, he
requested that he not be required to (1) come into work at a
specified, mandatory time; (2) report his work schedule to
his supervisor; and (3) schedule his meetings before 12:00
p.m., as his pain medications caused morning grogginess. In
addition, Stewart requested an ergonomic chair and keyboard,
a standing desk, and a foot stool.
September 19, 2014, the PTO granted Stewart's requests
for the keyboard, standing desk, and foot stool. Stewart had
already received an ergonomic chair by that point. Regarding
his work schedule, the PTO determined that Stewart was
already on the Increased Flexitime Program work schedule,
which permitted him sufficient flexibility to "work
around any difficulties" and that Stewart's
supervisor, when possible, would schedule meetings
specifically designed for Stewart after 12:00 pm. However,
the PTO denied Stewart's request not to report his work
schedule to his supervisor, as such a request would unduly
burden his supervisor and the agency's ability to oversee
and administer Stewart's work.
filed a formal complaint with the PTO's Office of Equal
Employment Opportunity and Diversity on July 14, 2015,
challenging the PTO's denial of his request for
accommodations, asserting a hostile work environment and
discrimination, and alleging various claims of retaliation.
Stewart amended this administrative complaint eight times.
After each of these amendments, the PTO's Office of Equal
Employment Opportunity and Diversity responded with a notice
advising Stewart that (1) he may amend his formal complaint
at any time before the investigation is complete, and any new
claims "must be like or related to the claims
raised" in the original complaint; and (2) he may
"file a civil action in an appropriate United States
District Court at any time after 180 days have passed from
the date [he] filed [his] original complaint. 29 C.F.R.
§ 1614.407(b)." J.A. 114.
February 29, 2016-more than 180 days after the filing of his
original administrative complaint, but less than 180 days
after the filing of several of the amendments-Stewart filed
pro se a civil action in the District Court for the
Eastern District of Virginia, alleging numerous violations of
the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 701 et
seq., and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42
U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. Stewart's claims
rested on the PTO's alleged failure to accommodate his
disabilities; a hostile work environment; reprisal for
participating in protected Equal Employment Opportunity
activity; disparate treatment discrimination on the basis of
disability and failure to accommodate; and retaliation for
requesting reasonable accommodation. Stewart later amended
the complaint in April 2016, adding two counts.
filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that Stewart's suit
was premature under both 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-16(c) and 29
C.F.R. § 1614.407(b) because he had not exhausted his
administrative remedies. According to the PTO, Stewart was
required to wait to file a civil action until the conclusion
of the agency's investigation period. That investigation
period is extended when employees amend their administrative
complaint to the earlier of 180 days after the last amendment
or 360 days after the filing of the initial complaint. 29
C.F.R. §§ 1614.106(e)(2); 1614.108(f).
March 17, 2017, the district court dismissed Stewart's
case without prejudice for lack of subject matter
jurisdiction. The district court held that Stewart had failed
to exhaust his administrative remedies because under Section
1614.407(b), he was required to wait until July 8, 2016, the
earlier of 180 days after Stewart's last amendment or 360
days after the filing of his initial complaint, to file a
civil action in federal court. Stewart timely appealed the
district court's decision.