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Speight v. Sonic Restaurants, Inc.

United States District Court, Tenth Circuit

October 23, 2013




Plaintiff filed this action alleging claims of interference with her rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), and discrimination on the basis of her pregnancy under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (“PDA”) against her former employer, Defendant Sonic Restaurants, Inc. (“Sonic”). Before the Court is Defendant’s Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 9), seeking dismissal of both claims. The motion is fully briefed and the Court is prepared to rule. As described more fully below, Defendant’s motion is denied.

I. The Complaint

The following facts are alleged in Plaintiff’s Complaint and construed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff.[1]

Plaintiff was employed by Defendant as a car-hop at a Sonic Drive-In Restaurant in Wichita, Kansas for approximately three and a half years. On July 19, 2011, Plaintiff found out that she was pregnant, and discussed this information with her friend Kimberly Bogle, who was an associate manager at the Sonic where they both worked. Later, in March 2012, Plaintiff told Bogle that Plaintiff’s doctor had informed her that he would induce labor if Plaintiff did not deliver her baby by April 23, 2012.

Plaintiff continued to work until April 14, 2012. At some point that day, Plaintiff learned that Cobey Smith, an Operating Partner for Defendant, had removed Plaintiff from the Sonic work schedule. In Plaintiff’s experience working at Sonic for five years, Smith removed Sonic employees from the work schedule as a method of terminating those employees. Plaintiff tried to contact Smith by telephone to discuss the work schedule several times, but was unable to reach him. Plaintiff also sent Smith two text messages to which Smith did not reply. Plaintiff did not return to work at Sonic after April 14.

Plaintiff went into labor and had her child on April 20, 2012. Plaintiff’s doctor released her to return to work on April 27, 2012. Sometime later, Plaintiff discussed her work status with Carol Holland from Sonic’s corporate office and learned of her FMLA rights. Plaintiff also learned from Holland that the Sonic location in Wichita had never submitted any FMLA leave requests to the Sonic corporate office regarding Plaintiff’s pregnancy.

Plaintiff believed Sonic terminated her employment when it took her off of the Sonic work schedule without any request on Plaintiff’s part, and because Smith never returned any of Plaintiff’s attempted contacts regarding the reason why Plaintiff had been removed from that schedule. If Plaintiff had been granted FMLA leave, she would have returned to work when her physician authorized her to return to work.

II. Rule 12(b)(6) Standard

To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must present factual allegations, assumed to be true, that “raise a right to relief above the speculative level” and must contain “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.”[2] Under this standard, “the complaint must give the court reason to believe that this plaintiff has a reasonable likelihood of mustering factual support for these claims.”[3] The plausibility standard does not require a showing of probability that “a defendant has acted unlawfully, ” but requires more than “a sheer possibility.”[4]

The plausibility standard enunciated in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly[5] seeks a middle ground between heightened fact pleading and “allowing complaints that are no more than ‘labels and conclusions’ or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action, ’ which the Court stated ‘will not do.’”[6] Twombly does not change other principles, such as that a court must accept all factual allegations as true and may not dismiss on the ground that it appears unlikely the allegations can be proven.[7]

The Supreme Court has explained the analysis as a two-step process. For the purposes of a motion to dismiss, the court “must take all the factual allegations in the complaint as true, ‘[but is] not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.’”[8] Thus, the court must first determine if the allegations are factual and entitled to an assumption of truth, or merely legal conclusions that are not entitled to an assumption of truth.[9] Second, the court must determine whether the factual allegations, when assumed true, “plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.”[10] “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.”[11]

III. Discussion

A. FMLA Interference

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