United States District Court, N.D. California
ORDER ON MOTION TO DISMISS RE: DKT. NO. 24
WILLIAM H. ORRICK, District Judge.
In 2008, Charmaine De Los Reyes was hired by defendant Ruchman and Associates, Inc. ("Ruchman") to work as an accounting clerk for the United States Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Agency ("DEA"). She alleges that both Ruchman and the DEA violated state and federal discrimination laws when she was terminated in June 2013. However, she did not exhaust her administrative remedies against the federal defendants, and the issue I must decide on the federal defendants' motion to dismiss is whether she is entitled to equitable estoppel to excuse her failure to exhaust. Because the record does not establish deceptive conduct by the DEA to prevent De Los Reyes from exhausting her administrative remedies, equitable estoppel does not apply and the federal defendants are dismissed without leave to amend.
Ruchman is a private company that provides administrative employees to the federal government. Dkt. 18, First Amended Complaint ("FAC") ¶ 18. Ruchman hired De Los Reyes and placed her as an accounting clerk at the San Francisco fiscal office of the DEA, where she worked from 2008 until her termination on June 4, 2013. FAC ¶¶ 18-19. She reported to Ruchman Project Manager Devon Richardson and two DEA supervisors, Leslie Shinozawa and Jessica Jacobs-Winfield. Id. ¶ 21.
A. De Los Reyes's Medical Leave and Termination
On April 25, 2013, De Los Reyes commenced a leave of absence from work due to her disability (severe depression). Id. ¶ 28. She provided information regarding her leave to Ruchman Project Manager Devon Richardson, who in turn provided this information to the DEA. Id. ¶¶ 29-30.
On May 10, 2013, DEA supervisor Leslie Shinozawa responded to Richardson and stated, Let's discuss alternatives for her return. We are not happy with her attendance prior to her taking her most recent medical leave; I think you have an adequate record of her attendance from her time sheets. Her departure from the office on April 25 was also "without notice, " and compounded further by the fact that she did not consider allowing us time to transfer her "desk" to an alternate. What she did leave us was a station that was not properly attended, and portrays for us an implicit demonstration of "retribution." At this time, we have, with the able (and stable) "fill in" by Corinne Xiao, picked up where Charmaine so rudely dropped us and left us "hanging." And so at this time, we are not interested in having Charmaine return.
On May 14, 2013, De Los Reyes learned through a friend that he had received a "teletype from headquarters" stating that De Los Reyes was "no longer employed by, or supporting the Drug Enforcement Administration." Id. ¶ 35. De Los Reyes was concerned and sent an email to Richardson, who responded on May 16, 2013, that "due to staffing needs in the San Francisco fiscal unit, we made some temporary adjustments to ensure the continuity of the business operations in the office." Id. ¶ 36.
From May 21 through June 2, 2014, De Los Reyes communicated via email with Ruchman's Human Resources Representative, Evelyn Maldonado. Maldonado sent her paperwork to complete including a "personal leave of absence form, " and informed her that she may be eligible for a leave of absence "for up to a maximum of 60 days." Id. ¶¶ 39-40. On June 2, 2013, De Los Reyes completed and returned the paperwork, and requested a return to work date of June 17, 2013. Id. ¶ 42.
On June 3, 2013, Maldonado emailed De Los Reyes, stating, "Under the company personal leave of absence, your position is not guaranteed. As a result, the company has made the final decision not to reinstate you at the conclusion of your leave." Id. ¶ 43. The next day, De Los Reyes emailed Maldonado stating that she had spoken with an attorney and that the law required Ruchman to provide her a leave of absence as an accommodation. Id. ¶ 46. Maldonado responded that Ruchman's termination decision was "final." Id. ¶ 47.
B. Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies
On July 10, 2013, De Los Reyes began pursuing her administrative remedies by timely contacting DEA Equal Employment Opportunity ("EEO") counselor Bryan Reed. Her letter to Reed asserts that Ruchman and the DEA were her "joint employers" and that both Ruchman and the DEA may be liable for wrongful termination/disability discrimination. Himes Decl., ¶¶ 4-5, Ex. A. Reed investigated the case and interviewed De Los Reyes and her former supervisors. Id. ¶ 49. During the investigation, De Los Reyes and her attorney "repeatedly requested" that Reed investigate whether it was Ruchman or the DEA that made the termination decision. Id. ¶ 11. See also Costin Decl. ¶¶ 4-5.
On September 12, 2013, Reed provided De Los Reyes and her attorney with a copy of his investigative report, ...