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9th Circuit affirms dismissal of ex-Telesource staff’s disability suit

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The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has affirmed the U.S. District Court for the NMI’s order that dismissed a $2-million employment discrimination lawsuit filed by a former employee against the then-Telesource CNMI Inc. over his alleged termination due to his disability from an accident.

In its order last Wednesday, the Ninth Circuit found that District Court Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona properly dismissed Garabed O. Mirzoian’s lawsuit for failure to exhaust all administrative remedies available to him. His employment was terminated in 2006 but did not file a discrimination charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission until 2015.

Ninth Circuit judges Mark J. Bennett, Richard A. Paez, and Edward Leavy cited a statute that states a charge must be made with the EEOC within 180 days of the alleged unlawful employment practice or within 300 days if a charge is first made with a state agency.

Although Mirzoian filed a discrimination complaint with the CNMI Department of Labor within 18 days of his termination, Labor had no work-sharing agreement with the EEOC, the judges said. Therefore, they said, Mirzoian’s Labor complaint would not be considered timely filed with the EEOC.

The judges also found that Manglona did not abuse her discretion in declining to apply equitable tolling and denied his motion to disqualify Manglona from presiding over the case.

In a pro se complaint (filed without a lawyer), Mirzoian sued former Telesource chief executive officer Nidal Z. Zayed and general manager Michael N. El-Rahl with wrongful termination, employment discrimination, disability discrimination, for pain and suffering, and emotional distress.

According to Mirzoian, Telesource terminated him in 2006 after he was injured in a vehicular accident involving two buses and that he suffered serious injuries. Mirzoian sued.

The District Court dismissed the case in February 2016 due to Mirzoian’s failure to establish that he was entitled to equitable tolling of the 180-day period to file a charge with the EEOC or a 300-day period if he first files a charge with a state agency. In this case, the actions complained of occurred in 2006, and Mirzoian did not file charges with EEOC until 2015.

Because Mirzoian did not explain why he filed over nine years after the actions at issue, the District Court allowed Mirzoian to refile the case to address this deficiency. Mirzoian then filed a first amended complaint.

In January 2018, Manglona dismissed Mirzoian’s lawsuit for lack of jurisdiction, concluding that the plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. Manglona determined that the amended complaint fails to comply with the court’s prior order. Manglona then closed the case.

Mirzoian appealed to the Ninth Circuit to reverse the dismissal. In July 2018, the Ninth Circuit vacated the dismissal. The judges pointed out that it is not clear from the District Court’s order whether the court considered the effect of Mirzoian’s filing of the complaint with Labor on the issue of exhaustion of administrative remedies. The Ninth Circuit judges remanded Mirzoian’s case for the District Court to consider whether the plaintiff could be deemed to have constructively filed his claims with the EEOC on the day he filed his charge with CNMI Labor, and therefore exhausted his administrative remedies at that time.

In July 2019, Manglona dismissed Mirzoian’s lawsuit for the third time. The judge found that the plaintiff has failed to state a claim on which relief can be granted because he failed to timely pursue administrative remedies with the EEOC or any other agency that is authorized to investigate his discrimination claim.

Mirzoian then appealed again to the Ninth Circuit to reverse Manglona’s dismissal of the case.

Telesource changed its name to Pernix Group Inc. and El-Rahl and Zayed are now based in the company’s offices in Fiji Islands and Illinois, respectively.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a senior reporter of Saipan Tribune. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has covered all news beats in the CNMI. He is a recipient of the CNMI Supreme Court Justice Award. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@Saipantribune.com
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