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Vidrine v. East Baton Rouge Parish Communications District

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

March 20, 2019




         Before the Court is the Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 7) filed by Defendant East Baton Rouge Parish Communications District ("EBRPCD"). Plaintiffs filed a response. (Doc. 9) For the reasons stated herein, the Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 7) is DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs are all current or former Emergency Communications Officers allegedly employed by the City of Baton Rouge/Parish of East Baton Rouge Department of Emergency Medical Services ("EMS") and EBRPCD. (Doc. 1-1 at p. 5) Plaintiffs allege that while working for EMS and EBRPCD, they were subjected to harassment, a hostile work environment, and disparate treatment on account of their gender. (Doc. 20-1 at p. 3) They allege that Stacy Simmons ("Simmons"), Plaintiffs' supervisor, (1) did not speak to male employees; (2) made sexist statements; and (3) let female employees take extended lunch breaks, smoke breaks, and to leave the workplace to handle personal business without charging them for leave time. (Id. at PP. 3, 16)

         Each Plaintiff filed an EEOC charge against EMS. (Doc. 6-1) On April 3, 2018, Plaintiffs filed suit in the 19th Judicial District alleging gender discrimination under Title VII and the Louisiana Employment Discrimination Law ("LEDL"). (Doc. 1-1 at p. 5). Defendants removed the case to federal court on May 9, 2018. (Doc. 1) EBRPCD now seeks the dismissal of Plaintiffs' claims.


         A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss tests the sufficiency of a complaint against the legal standard set forth in Rule 8, which requires "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). "To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting BellAtl. Corp. v. Twombly) 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). "Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief [is] ... a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id. at 679. "[F]acial plausibility" exists "when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). Hence, a complaint need not set out "detailed factual allegations," but something "more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action" is required. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.


         A. Title VII Claims

         EBRPCD asserts that Plaintiffs' Title VII claims should be dismissed because Plaintiffs failed to file an EEOC charge against it. (Doc. 7-1 at p. 9). Plaintiffs' EEOC charges named EMS, but not EBRPCD. (Doc. 6-1). The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has held that "[A] party not named in an EEOC charge may not be sued under Title VII." E.E.O.C. v. Simbaki, Ltd., 767 F.3d 475, 481 (5th Cir. 2014). An exception to this rule is if an "identity of interests" exists between the omitted party and the party named in the charge. Way v. Mueller Brass Co., 840 F.2d 303, 307 (5th Cir. 1988). An identity of interests exists when the parties are so closely related in their business operations or other activities that an action against one provides notice of litigation to the other. Jacobsen v. Osborne, 133 F.3d 315, 320 (5th Cir. 1998) (quoting Kirk v. Cronvich, 629 F.2d 404, 408 (5th Cir. 1980)). Plaintiffs assert that an identity of interests existed between EBRPCD and EMS. (Doc. 9 at p. 3)

         EBRPCD disputes this and points to Hill v. East Baton Rouge Parish Dept. of Emergency Med. Serv., where the Louisiana Court of Appeal for the First Circuit held that EBRPCD is a separate and autonomous legal entity, not just a mere subdivision of EMS. Hillv. East Baton Rouge Parish Dept. of Emergency Med. Serv., 925 So.2d 17 (La.App. 1 Cir. 12/22/05). However, courts look to more than solely an entity's legal status to determine whether an identity of interests exists. The Fifth Circuit has examined four factors in deciding whether there is a clear identity of interests:

"(1) whether the role of the unnamed party could through reasonable effort by the complainant be ascertained at the time of the filing of the EEOC complaint; (2) whether under the circumstances, the interests of a named [party] are so similar as the unnamed party's that for the purpose of obtaining voluntary conciliation and compliance, it would be unnecessary to include the unnamed party in the EEOC proceeding; (3) whether its absence from the EEOC proceedings resulted in actual prejudice to the interests of the unnamed party; (4) whether the unnamed party has in some way represented to the complainant that its relationship with the complainant is to be through the named party. Hartz v. Adm'rs of the Tulane Educ. Fund., 275 Fed.Appx. 281, 286 (5th Cir.2008).

         Applying the Hart factors, Plaintiffs have asserted that an identity of interests may exist between EBRPCD and EMS. First, EBRPCD's role in this matter could plausibly have been ascertained from the facts in the EEOC charges. Although the charges only explicitly name EMS, EBRPCD appears to be a division of EMS, even if it is a legally autonomous entity.[1] Furthermore, the charges specifically name Simmons, Plaintiffs' supervisor and the Chief of Communications, as someone who engaged in discriminatory practices. (Doc. 6-1). Simmons was allegedly Plaintiffs' supervisory official at EBRPCD. (Doc. 20-1 at p. 5; Doc. 6-1). Discrimination claims against the government entity which EBRPCD belongs to and against EBRPCD's communications supervisor would give EBRPCD ample notice of its potential role in the litigation as another potential defendant. With respect to the second Hartz factor, Plaintiffs have properly alleged that interests of EMS and EBRPCD may be similar for the purposes of conciliation. Plaintiffs claim that there were simultaneously in the employ of EMS and EBRPCD, and thus the two entities may have similar interests in the litigation. (Doc. 20-1 at p. 2). Third, nothing in the complaint indicates that EBRPCD has been prejudiced by its absence from the EEOC proceedings. Finally, although there is no indication that EBRPCD represented to Plaintiffs that they should communicate with it through EMS, this alone is insufficient to dismiss Plaintiffs' claims. As such, the Court must allow discovery to proceed on the issue of whether an identity of interests existed between EMS and the Communications District. EBRPCD is not entitled to the dismissal of Plaintiffs' Title VII claims.

         B. ...

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