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Gautreau v. Enlink Midstream Operating GP, LLC

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

November 26, 2018

JEFFREY GAUTREAU
v.
ENLINK MIDSTREAM OPERATING GP, LLC; ENLINK MIDSTREAM, LP; EDWIN CORMIER, JR.; GREG GIBSON

          ERIN WILDER-DOOMES UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Please take notice that the attached Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation has been filed with the Clerk of the U.S. District Court.

         In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), you have 14 days after being served with the attached report to file written objections to the proposed findings of fact, conclusions of law, and recommendations set forth therein. Failure to file written objections to the proposed findings, conclusions and recommendations within 14 days after being served will bar you, except upon grounds of plain error, from attacking on appeal the unobjected-to proposed factual findings and legal conclusions accepted by the District Court.

         ABSOLUTELY NO EXTENSION OF TIME SHALL BE GRANTED TO FILE WRITTEN OBJECTIONS TO THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE=S REPORT.

         MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

         Before the court is the Notice of Removal (the “Removal”)[1] filed by Defendants EnLink Midstream Operating GP, LLC, EnLink Midstream Operating, LP, (collectively, “Enlink”), Greg Gibson (“Gibson”) and Edwin Cormier, Jr. (“Cormier”) (collectively, “Defendants”). Plaintiff Jeffrey Gautreau (“Plaintiff”) has not filed a motion to remand; however, for the reasons set forth herein, the undersigned sua sponte[2] RECOMMENDS that this matter be REMANDED to the Twenty-Third Judicial District Court, Parish of Ascension, State of Louisiana.

         I. Facts and Procedural Background

         On or about September 26, 2018, Plaintiff filed his Petition for Damages (“Petition”) in the Twenty-Third Judicial District Court for the Parish of Ascension.[3] In the Petition, Plaintiff alleges that he was the target[4] of age and sex-based discrimination, harassment, hostile work environment, and retaliation by several supervisors, including Defendants Gibson and Cormier, at his former job with Enlink.[5] Plaintiff claims Defendants denied him promotions and asked him repeated derogatory questions regarding his age, retirement intentions, and sexual performance and that Defendants threatened to call Plaintiff's wife to discuss his sexual performance. Plaintiff further contends Defendants ordered him to sexually assault Plaintiff's female subordinate. Plaintiff claims he was instructed to falsify reports on threat of losing his job. Plaintiff further alleges that Defendants demoted him in retaliation for Plaintiff's reports of harassment and the unsafe behavior of his supervisor.[6]

         Plaintiff also alleges that, as a result of and in the midst of the foregoing, he suffered with stress, anxiety, depression, and sleep deprivation which necessitated two months of medical leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), 29 U.S.C. § 261.[7] While on medical leave from May 2017 through July 2017, Plaintiff claims that his supervisors called to speak to him about work/asked him to work.[8] Then, upon his return from medical leave, Plaintiff alleges that his supervisors discussed removing some of his duties, formally demoted him to a lesser position, and informed him that he could not seek a promotion.[9] On September 26, 2017, Plaintiff resigned from his employment, allegedly because of the hostile environment.[10]

         Plaintiff claims to have suffered damage to his reputation and mental anguish, as well as loss of his: enjoyment of life, salary of $105, 000 per year, 20% bonus plan, health insurance, stock options, ten additional years of employment, retirement expansion, and promotional opportunities.[11] Plaintiff asserts claims for compensatory damages, attorneys' fees, litigation expenses, and costs specifically under Louisiana law, i.e., Louisiana's Employment Discrimination Law (the “LEDL”), La. R.S. 23:301, et seq., and Louisiana's Whistleblower Protection Act (“LWA”), La. R.S. 23:967.[12] Plaintiff also alleges that Defendants are liable to Plaintiff for intentional infliction of emotional distress.[13] Plaintiff does not specifically assert a claim for damages or rights to relief under the FMLA, or any other federal law, in his Petition.

         On October 31, 2018, Defendants removed this matter on the basis of federal question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and supplemental jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1367.[14]

         Defendants contend that this Court has federal question jurisdiction over Plaintiff's claims in this action, as follows:

This Court has original jurisdiction over this civil action under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, as Plaintiff's Petition invokes a federal question. Plaintiff has pleaded claims for FMLA interference and retaliation for his taking FMLA leave, in violation of the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993, 29 U.S.C. § 2601. (Petition, ¶¶ 25-27, 30). Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that in light of the hostile work environment based on his age, sex, and protected activities, he took two months of FMLA leave. (Id., ¶ 25). While on leave, Plaintiff's claims that his supervisor contacted him several times with work questions while he was on FMLA leave, in violation of FMLA rules requiring minimal work-related contact during periods of leave. (Id., ¶ 27). He further alleges that when he returned to work following his FMLA leave, the hostile work environment continued and he was ultimately demoted. (Id., ¶¶ 28 - 30).[15]
9.
Because Plaintiff's Petition states facts that set forth claims for interference and retaliation under the FMLA, a federal law, this Court has original federal question jurisdiction. See Louisiana Commerce & Trade Ass'n Self Insurers Fund v. Nat'l Union Fire Ins. Co. of Pittsburgh, PA, 13- 773-JJB-RLB, 2015 WL 6697238, at *6 (M.D. La. Nov. 3, 2015) (“Louisiana employs a pleading system ‘based upon the narration of factual allegations.'” (quoting Emigh v. W. Calcasieu Cameron Hosp., 145 So.3d 369, 372 (La. 2014)); La. Code Civ. Proc. art. 862 (“a final judgment shall grant the relief to which the party in whose favor it is rendered is entitled, even if the party has not demanded such relief in his pleadings and the latter contain no prayer for general and equitable relief.”).[16]

         Defendants further contend that this Court has supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's claims of age and sex discrimination, hostile work environment, and retaliation under the LEDL and reprisal under the LWA because they are so closely related to Plaintiff's FMLA claims that they form part of the same case or controversy.[17]

         Plaintiff has not filed a motion to remand; however, the Court sua sponte raises the issue of whether it may exercise federal question jurisdiction in this matter.[18]

         II. Law and Analysis

         A. Legal Standard

         “A party may remove an action from state court to federal court if the action is one over which the federal court possesses subject matter jurisdiction.”[19] The removal statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1441, is strictly construed and any doubt as to the propriety of removal should be resolved in favor of remand.[20] The party seeking removal bears the burden of demonstrating that federal subject matter jurisdiction exists.[21] “Because removal raises significant federalism concerns, the removal statute is strictly construed ‘and any doubt as to the propriety of removal should be resolved in favor of remand.'”[22]

         “A case aris[es] under federal law for § 1331 purposes if a well-pleaded complaint establishes either that federal law creates the cause of action or that the plaintiff's right to relief necessarily depends on resolution of a substantial question of federal law.”[23] Because federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, it is presumed that a suit removed to federal court lies outside this limited jurisdiction, and the party seeking removal bears the burden of demonstrating that a federal question exists pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331.[24]

         Whether a case is removable upon the basis of federal question jurisdiction is to be determined by the allegations of the plaintiff's “well-pleaded complaint” as of the time of removal.[25] Because the plaintiff is the master of his complaint, even where both federal and state remedies are available on a given set of facts, there will be no basis for removal on federal question jurisdiction if the plaintiff elects in the state court petition to proceed exclusively under state law.[26]

         B. Plaintiff's Reference to the FMLA Does Not Confer Federal Subject Matter Jurisdiction

         Defendants removed this matter based on Plaintiff's reference to taking FMLA leave due to an allegedly hostile work environment, Plaintiff's supervisor contacting Plaintiff several times with work questions while he was on FMLA leave, and Plaintiff being demoted after returning from leave.[27] While these allegations could potentially give rise to claims for FMLA retaliation, Plaintiff has not alleged such a cause of action in his Petition. Rather, Plaintiff's Petition reflects that Plaintiff has limited his claims to discrimination, harassment, hostile work environment, and retaliation in violation of the LEDL and the LWA, and intentional infliction of emotional distress, as follows (emphasis added in all):

7. While employed at Enlink, Mr. Gautreau was subjected to discrimination, harassment and retaliation, on the basis of his age and sex, of sufficient severity and/or pervasiveness to constitute a hostile work environment, in violation of the Louisiana Employment Discrimination Law (“LEDL”), La. R.S. 23:332. The Plaintiff further alleges that the Defendant engaged in prohibited reprisals against him in violation of the Louisiana Whistleblower Protection Act (“LWA”), La. R.S. 23:967.[28]
Mr. Gautreau was discriminated against on the basis of his age, was sexually harassed, ordered to cover up serious safety violations, and was retaliated against for speaking out about these violations and disclosing sexual harassment and misconduct by managers. He was denied promotional opportunities, subjected ...

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