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Martin v. Winn-Dixie Louisiana, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

March 20, 2015



JOHN W. deGRAVELLES, District Judge.

Before the Court is a Motion for Partial Dismissal filed by Defendant Winn-Dixie. (Doc. 17.) Defendant moves to dismiss any claims in Plaintiff's Complaint or Supplemental Complaint related to her discharge because, Defendant argues, she has failed to administratively exhaust any such claim under federal or state law. (Doc. 17, p. 1.) Plaintiff opposes this Motion. (Doc. 21.) Defendant has filed a Reply Memorandum addressing the issues raised by Plaintiff's Opposition. (Doc. 24.) No oral argument is necessary.

Considering the law and facts pled, the Court grants Defendant's Motion to Dismiss. (Doc. 17.)

I. Background

Plaintiff Melissa Martin filed this suit under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 Title VII, 42 U.S.C. 2000e, et seq., ("Title VII") and Louisiana Employment Discrimination Law ("LEDL"), alleging that Defendants, Winn Dixie Montgomery, LLC ("Winn Dixie") harassed, discriminated against, retaliated against, and wrongfully terminated Plaintiff because she was pregnant. (Doc 1-1, p. 2.)

Plaintiff was hired by Defendant as a cashier on December 15, 1995, and was later promoted to Co-Director. (Doc 1-1, p. 2.) On September 4, 2012, Plaintiff discovered she was pregnant. (Doc 1-1, p. 2.) Almost immediately thereafter, Plaintiff informed Defendant, through its Store Director Chuck Sutton, of her pregnancy. (Doc 1-1, p. 2.) On October 5, 2012, Plaintiff presented to Winn-Dixie a written request from her doctor for accommodation stating that due to her pregnancy, she must not lift more than ten pounds nor work longer than 8 hour shifts. (Doc 1-1, p. 2-3.) Later that day, Defendant, through Sutton, conducted an unfavorable performance evaluation and therein advised Plaintiff that she would need to step down from her full-time position and take a part-time position. (Doc. 1-1, p. 3.) Plaintiff alleges that she was advised by Sutton that Defendant's Human Resources Department had "decided that under the doctor's restrictions" it was best for Plaintiff to take a leave of absence. (Doc. 1-1, p. 3.) Plaintiff was advised that she could take FMLA leave for twelve weeks, at the end of which she could apply for her leave to be extended. (Doc. 1-1, p. 3.)

After some negotiation, Defendant gave Plaintiff the option to take a part-time cashier position. (Doc. 1-1, p. 4.) Plaintiff alleges that taking this position would cause her to lose her full-time status with no guarantee that her Co-Director position would be returned to her at the end of her twelve-week FMLA leave. (Doc. 1-1, p. 4.) Because she did not accept the part-time cashier position, Plaintiff was placed on FMLA leave on January 9, 2013. (Doc. 1-1, p. 4.) At this time, Defendant began advertising an available Co-Director position in an effort to find a replacement for Plaintiff. (Doc. 1-1, p. 4.)

Plaintiff gave birth on March 31, 2013, approximately eleven and a half weeks after her twelve week FMLA leave had begun. (Doc. 1-1, p. 2.) Whether Plaintiff ever sought to extend her FMLA leave is unclear.

Plaintiff alleges that on May 4, 2013, she contacted Defendant regarding her return to work. (Doc. 1-1, p. 4.) On May 6, 2013 Defendant informed Plaintiff that after she received clearance to return to work with no restrictions, she would need to apply for an open position. (Doc. 1-1, p. 4.) On May 7, 2013, Plaintiff contacted Defendant to request information regarding her employment status after discovering her in-store discount was not working. (Doc 1-1, p. 2.) On May 8, 2013, Plaintiff was informed that she had been fired. (Doc 1-1, p. 2.)

Plaintiff's complaint states that she timely filed charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") and Louisiana Commission on Human Rights ("LCHR") on January 16, 2014. (Doc 1-1, p. 5.) However, the EEOC Charge itself clearly states that she filed charges on April 21, 2013. (Doc. 17-2.) In her EEOC Charge, Plaintiff stated she was denied a reasonable accommodation by Defendant's Store Director Chuck Sutton on October 5, 2012. (Doc. 17-2.) The denial was confirmed in writing on October 26, 2012. (Doc. 17-2.) Plaintiff indicated by checking the appropriate boxes on the EEOC Charge form that the basis of her discrimination was sex and retaliation, that the discrimination took place between October 15 and 30, 2012, and that the discrimination was not ongoing. (Doc. 17-2.)

On September 24, 2013, Plaintiff filed this suit in the Nineteenth Judicial District Court, Parish of East Baton Rouge, State of Louisiana, alleging claims of discrimination, wrongful termination, emotional distress, mental anguish, and violations of Title VII and LEDL. (Doc. 1-1, p. 5.) On October 16, 2013, Defendant removed this suit pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441 and § 1446 to the United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana alleging federal question under jurisdiction 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and supplemental jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1367. (Doc. 1-1, p. 1.)

On November 11, 2013, Plaintiff filed a Supplemental and Amending Petition in which she specified that she had received a Notice of Right to Sue letter from EEOC on November 5, 2013. (Doc. 12, p. 1.)

On June 6, 2014, Defendant filed a Motion for Partial Dismissal pursuant to Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure arguing that Plaintiff failed to exhaust her federal and state administrative remedies and that no cause of action for retaliation exists under the LEDL. (Doc. 17, p. 1.) On June 30, 2014, Plaintiff filed a Motion in Opposition to Defendant's Motion for Partial Dismissal. (Doc. 21, p. 1.) On July 15, 2014, Defendant filed a Reply to Plaintiff's Memorandum in Opposition to Defendant's Motion for Partial Dismissal. (Doc. 24.)

II. Arguments of Parties

Defendant argues first that Plaintiff failed to administratively exhaust Title VII claim for wrongful termination. (Doc. 17-1, p. 5.) The thrust of Defendant's argument is that Plaintiff failed to mention and allege in her EEOC charge that her discharge was wrongful. (Doc. 17-1, p. 5.) Defendant argues that since Plaintiff alleges only retaliation and discrimination in her EEOC charge, she may proceed in Court only with respect to those charges, and is barred as a matter of law from bringing her claims for wrongful termination. (Doc. 17-1, p. 5.) Defendant highlights that plaintiff failed to amend or file an additional EEOC Charge once she was made aware of her termination. (Doc. 24, p. 1-2.)

Plaintiff's response to the above argument is that although she did not allege wrongful discharge in her EEOC complaint, her wrongful discharge claim is "like or related to allegations contained in the [EEOC] charge and growing out of such allegation during the pendency of the case before the commission." (Doc. 21, p. 4, citing Sanchez v. Standard Brands, Inc., 431 F.2d 455, 466 (5th Cir. 1970).) Plaintiff further responds that since her termination occurred within the purview and temporal period of the investigation, amending or supplementing her EEOC Charge is not required by law. (Doc. 21, p. 5.)

Defendant also argues that Plaintiff's state law claims should be dismissed. (Doc. 17-1, p. 7.) Defendant bases this argument on the fact that Plaintiff did not provide Defendant with notice of her state law discrimination claims prior to filing her lawsuit. (Doc. 17-1, p. 7.) Defendant further argues that Plaintiff's retaliation claim under LEDL should be dismissed as a matter of law, arguing that the statute does not provide a cause of action for retaliation. (Doc. 17-1, p. 8.)

Plaintiff's Memorandum in Opposition to Defendant's Motion for Partial Dismissal does not address Defendant's argument regarding ...

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