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Hewitt v. 3 G Energy Services LLC

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Shreveport Division

June 4, 2019





         Before the Court is a motion to dismiss Plaintiffs' First Amended Complaint filed by Defendants 3G Energy Services, LLC (“3G”), UBS, LLC d/b/a Ultrabend Solutions, LLC (“UBS”), Jeremy Woodle (“Woodle”), Taso Sofikitis (“Sofikitis”), Richard Crawford (“Crawford”), Anastasios Sofikitis Revocable Living Trust (“Sofikitis Trust”), the RSC Family Trust (“RSC”), and Ridgemont Investments, LLC (“Ridgemont”) (collectively, “Defendants”). [Record Document 31]. For the reasons given below, the motion is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART. The motion is DENIED as to Plaintiffs' intentional infliction of emotional distress and false-light invasion of privacy claims against Woodle, as to intentional infliction of emotional distress claim against Sofikitis brought by Plaintiff Sharon Hewitt (“Hewitt”), and as to Plaintiffs' Title VII, Louisiana Employment Discrimination Law (“LEDL”), and 42 U.S.C. § 1981a claims against 3G and UBS. The motion is GRANTED as to all other claims.

         I. Background

         This case arises out of the alleged sexual harassment of Hewitt and Rachel Fodale (“Fodale”) (collectively, “Plaintiffs”). [Record Document 26 at 2-4]. Plaintiffs allege that while employed by 3G and UBS, [1] they were sexually harassed by their supervisors, Woodle and Sofikitis. [Id. at 4-5]. They further allege that Crawford, another supervisor, failed to intervene to stop the harassment and that Crawford, Woodle, Sofikitis, the Sofikitis Trust, RSC, and Ridgemont are liable as members of UBS and 3G. [Id. at 2-3, 5].[2]

         Fodale alleges that Woodle sexually harassed her by: (1) referring to her as his “girlfriend” on multiple occasions; (2) telling other employees that he wanted to begin a sexual relationship with her; (3) telling Fodale he would send her husband out of town to provide the opportunity for that relationship; (4) texting her that she “would get lucky”; (5) asking her multiple times to go out of town with him; (6) telling her that he would take care of her and that she did not need her husband; (7) arriving at her house uninvited on several occasions while her husband was out of town; and (8) “inappropriately touch[ing] Fodale in a sexual manner.” [Id. at 5-6].

         According to Hewitt, Woodle (1) asked graphic questions about her sexual activity on multiple occasions; (2) touched her on the back of her leg and buttock and (on a separate occasion) on her inner thigh; (3) on multiple occasions hugged her from behind while touching her breast; (4) on multiple occasions hugged her from behind and pressed his body against hers; (5) pulled out the top of her blouse and looked down it; (6) grabbed her hand and patted his buttocks with it; (7) on multiple occasions ordered her to sit in his lap or show him her breasts; and (8) accused her multiple times of having sex with other male co-workers. [Id. at 6-8]. A number of these actions occurred in front of Hewitt's co-workers. [Id.]. Hewitt also alleges that Sofikitis participated in Woodle's invasive questioning of her sexual activities. [Id. at 6].

         Plaintiffs seek damages for Defendants' alleged violations of Title VII and the LEDL[3]and for intentional infliction of emotional distress and invasion of privacy. [Id. at 9-11]. They also claim punitive damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1981a. [Id. at 11]. Defendants ask this Court to dismiss (1) all Defendants for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted; (2) all Defendants other than UBS and 3G as a result of the shield of limited liability; and (3) Crawford and the Sofikitis Trust for lack of personal jurisdiction. [Record Document 31].

         II. Legal Standard

         In order to survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), [4] a complaint must “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). In determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim, a court must construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, see In re Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co., 624 F.3d 201, 210 (5th Cir. 2010), and accept as true all well-pleaded factual allegations, see Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; In re Katrina Canal Breaches Litig., 495 F.3d 191, 205 (5th Cir. 2009). However, “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Thus, this Court does not have to accept as true “conclusory allegations, unwarranted factual inferences, or legal conclusions.” Plotkin v. IP Axess Inc., 407 F.3d 690, 696 (5th Cir. 2005) (citing Southland Sec. Corp. v. INSpire Ins. Sols, Inc., 365 F.3d 353, 361 (5th Cir. 2004)).

         III. Analysis

         A. Proper Defendants

         1. Employment Discrimination Claims [5]

         “[E]mployment discrimination claims under Title VII . . . and the [LEDL] are analyzed under the same standard.” Turner v. Kan. City S. Ry. Co., 675 F.3d 887, 891 n.2 (5th Cir. 2012) (citing Lawrence v. Univ. of Tex. Med. Branch at Galveston, 163 F.3d 309, 311 (5th Cir. 1999); Knapper v. Hibernia Nat'l Bank, 2009-1036, p. 6 n.11 (La.App. 4 Cir. 9/8/10); 49 So.3d 898, 902 n.11). “[T]itle VII does not permit the imposition of liability upon individuals unless they meet [T]itle VII's definition of ‘employer.'” Grant v. Lone Star Co., 21 F.3d 649, 653 (5th Cir. 1994). A Title VII “employer” is “a person engaged in an industry affecting commerce who has fifteen or more employees . . . and any agent of such a person.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(b).[6]

         This Court will first examine the liability of Crawford, Woodle, and Sofikitis in their roles as “supervisors of Plaintiffs.” [Record Document 26 at 4]. Under Title VII, a person cannot be both an employee and an employer. Grant, 21 F.3d at 653. In order to be Plaintiffs' supervisors, Crawford, Woodle, and Sofikitis must be employees of 3G and UBS. Because they are employees, they cannot be treated as Plaintiffs' employers. Thus, Crawford, Woodle, and Sofikitis are not liable under Title VII or the LEDL in their supervisory capacities.

         Plaintiffs have also sued Woodle, Sofikitis, Crawford, the Sofikitis Trust, Ridgemont, and RSC as “owner[s]” of 3G and UBS. [Record Document 26 at 2-3]. Because Title VII makes “employers” liable, the proper defendant in an employment discrimination suit is the entity that actually employed the plaintiff. Smith v. Amedisys Inc., 298 F.3d 434, 448-49 (5th Cir. 2002) (citing Indest v. Freeman Decorating, Inc., 164 F.3d 258, 262 (5th Cir. 1999); Grant, 21 F.3d at 652). Under Louisiana law, a limited liability company is independent of its constituent members. Ogea v. Merritt, 2013-1085, pp. 26-27 (La. 12/10/13); 130 So.3d 888, 906. LLC members are not liable for an LLC's obligations, id. at p. 27; 130 So.3d at 907, and, for that reason, a member of an LLC “is not a proper party to a proceeding by or against a limited liability company, ” La. Stat. Ann. § 12:1320(B)-(C) (2010). Plaintiffs' Title VII and LEDL claims are against 3G and UBS, the entities that employed Plaintiffs. Therefore, even assuming that Woodle, Crawford, Sofikitis, the Sofikitis Trust, Ridgemont, and RSC are members of both LLCs, these Defendants' ownership interests do not render them liable for 3G's and UBS's alleged misconduct in allowing Plaintiffs to be sexually harassed. Cf. Nielsen-Allen v. Indus. Maint. Corp., 285 F.Supp.2d 671, 672 (D.V.I. 2002) (reaching the same result under the Uniform Limited Liability Company Act). Therefore, the Court will dismiss all claims under Title VII or the LEDL against Woodle, Crawford, Sofikitis, the Sofikitis Trust, Ridgemont, and RSC arising out of their alleged ownership interests in 3G and UBS.

         In an attempt to salvage their claim against these Defendants, Plaintiffs cite La. R.S. 12:1320(D):

Nothing in this Chapter shall be construed as being in derogation of any rights which any person may by law have against a member, manager, employee, or agent of a limited liability company because of any fraud practiced upon him, because of any breach of professional duty or other negligent or wrongful act by such person . . . .

La. Stat. Ann. § 12:1320(D). The Louisiana Supreme Court has laid out a four-factor test to determine whether liability may be imposed against an LLC member for conducting arising out of the member's association with the LLC:

1) whether a member's conduct could be fairly characterized as a traditionally recognized tort; 2) whether a member's conduct could be fairly characterized as a crime, for which a natural person, not a juridical person, could be held culpable; 3) whether the conduct at issue was required by, or was in furtherance of, a contract between the claimant and the LLC; and 4) whether the conduct at issue was done outside the member's capacity as a member.

Ogea, 2013-1085, p. 16; 130 So.3d at 900-01. The common thread in these factors is that they each concern the member's conduct. Plaintiffs have alleged that owning membership interests in 3G and UBS makes Crawford, Sofikitis, Woodle, the Sofikitis Trust, Ridgemont, and RSC liable under Title VII and the LEDL. [Record Document 26 at 3]. Plaintiffs point to no authority, and this Court has located none, supporting the proposition that an ownership interest in an LLC that is vicariously liable for an employee's conduct renders the act of ownership a “negligent or wrongful act.” Therefore, the exception that allows a person to bring suit against a member of an LLC for that member's own wrongful conduct does not allow imposition of liability on Sofikitis, Woodle, Crawford, the Sofikitis Trust, Ridgemont, and RSC in their capacity as owners of 3G and UBS.

         The only proper Defendants on Plaintiffs' claims under Title VII and the LEDL are 3G and UBS, Plaintiffs' employers. All claims under these statutes ...

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