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Parshall v. Health Food Associates, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Kansas

June 5, 2014



JULIE A. ROBINSON, District Judge.

Plaintiff Melinda Parshall filed this action against Defendant Akin's Natural Foods Market, alleging claims of sex discrimination, reverse discrimination on the basis of race and national origin, retaliation, and a hostile work environment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and reverse discrimination on the basis of race and national origin in violation of 42 U.S.C. ยง 1981. Before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 6). The motion is fully briefed and the Court is prepared to rule. As described more fully below, Defendant's motion is denied in part and granted in part.

I. 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."[1] 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."[2] The plausibility standard does not require a showing of probability that "a defendant has acted unlawfully, " but requires more than "a sheer possibility."[3]

The plausibility standard 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.'"[4] This standard 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.[5]

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] we are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.'"[6] 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 that same assumption.[7] Next, the court must determine whether the factual allegations, when assumed to be true, "plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief."[8] "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."[9] A complaint that satisfies this plausibility standard will not be dismissed under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim.

II. First Amended Complaint

The following facts are alleged in Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint ("the Complaint") and construed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff. From April 2011 until June 12, 2012, Plaintiff, a white female, was employed by Defendant. Plaintiff reported directly to the store assistant manager in a position with some managerial responsibilities. For the entire duration of her employment with Defendant, Plaintiff was meeting her job expectations.

Almost immediately after beginning her employment, Plaintiff began receiving unwelcome advances from another employee, a Hispanic male named Raul Alonzo. Plaintiff reported these incidents to management as they occurred. In November 2011, Alonzo's advances intensified; he made comments regarding Plaintiff's weight and physical appearance, and stated "I'd like to take you out back" to Plaintiff in front of witnesses who perceived the remark as a sexual advance. Plaintiff again reported Alonzo's remarks to Susan Arnold, assistant store manager, and Arnold instructed Plaintiff to send a formal complaint to Joe Hoyt, the Area Manager. Arnold also instructed Plaintiff to document incidents of sexual harassment on the store's computer, which Plaintiff did.

After Plaintiff submitted her formal complaint, Hoyt visited the store where Plaintiff worked and informed Plaintiff that Alonzo would receive a write-up. However, Alonzo continued to direct his sexually aggressive comments at Plaintiff. Plaintiff again reported Alonzo's behavior to Anna Balaun, the Store Manager. But Balaun explained that the company could not take any action in response to Plaintiff's complaints because it feared accusations of harassment by Alonzo. Balaun further explained that Alonzo was an elderly Hispanic man who did not know any better.

On June 5, 2012, Plaintiff filed a formal complaint with the corporate Human Resources office ("HR") concerning Alonzo's behavior and Balaun's failure to take further action. Hoyt returned to Plaintiff's store several days later and reprimanded Plaintiff for complaining directly to HR instead of using the chain of command. Plaintiff was approached by another employee, Ashley Hargon, who stated that she witnessed Hoyt using security cameras to zoom in on Plaintiff's backside during his visit. Plaintiff confronted Hoyt about Hargon's claims, which Hoyt denied. Hoyt then demanded that Plaintiff reveal the employee who claimed to witness him surreptitiously using the security cameras; Plaintiff responded that Hargon made the accusation. Hargon later told Plaintiff that Hoyt ordered her to write a recantation statement regarding the incident.

Hoyt also explained to Plaintiff that he was going to write her up for documenting her complaints on a store computer. When Plaintiff remarked that Arnold told her to document her complaints on the computer, he rejected this explanation. On June 9, 2012, Hoyt took Plaintiff's store keys, changed her company passwords, and demoted Plaintiff. Plaintiff's duties were restricted to cashier and cleaning. Plaintiff was removed from the schedule and terminated after June 12, 2012, her last day working. On Plaintiff's last day, Alonzo gave Plaintiff his number and told her to call him.

III. Discussion

A. Sex Discrimination Claims

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