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Roman v. Kellogg Co.

United States District Court, D. Kansas

October 19, 2017

YACHIRA ROMAN and STEVE ROMAN, Plaintiffs,
v.
KELLOGG COMPANY, Defendant.

          ORDER

          James P. O'Hara U.S. Magistrate Judge

         Wife-and-husband plaintiffs, Yachira Roman and Steve Roman, bring suit against their former employer, Kellogg Company, alleging discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), and the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”). Defendant has filed a motion to sever plaintiffs' claims pursuant to Rules 20 and 21 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (ECF No. 15). For the reasons discussed below, the motion is denied.

         I. Background

         Plaintiffs were employed in the mix/bake department at defendant's Kansas City, Kansas facility. Ms. Roman was employed by defendant from May 2015, until June 2016, and Mr. Roman, from August 2015 until May 2016.

         Plaintiffs allege that beginning in approximately June 2015, Ms. Roman was subjected to a pattern of repeated sexual harassment by her co-worker, Gary Sambol. Plaintiffs claim that on May 10, 2016, they met with Tiffiny Hollingsworth, a labor relations advisor of defendant, and reported the harassment. Plaintiffs claim that during this meeting, Mr. Roman notified defendant that Ms. Roman had developed extreme anxiety due to the harassment, and requested information concerning a counselor. Plaintiffs allege that immediately after reporting the harassment, they were both suspended pending investigation.

         Mr. Roman was terminated on May 19, 2016. According to plaintiffs, Ms. Hollingsworth “stated the reason for [Mr. Roman's] termination was for violating [d]efendant's policy on fighting because he had spoken with Mr. Sambol about harassing his wife.”[1] Plaintiffs allege that Ms. Roman was called back to work on May 18, 2016, but that defendant denied her requests for a department transfer and/or to avoid seeing or working with Mr. Sambol.

         Plaintiffs claim that on or about May 19, 2016, Ms. Roman notified defendant that she planned to seek FMLA leave due to her severe anxiety. Plaintiffs claim that Ms. Roman was granted non-FMLA leave until May 30, 2016, and that Ms. Roman attempted to return to work thereafter. Plaintiffs claim that defendant again denied Ms. Roman's department-transfer request, and that due to Ms. Roman's extreme anxiety and fear of Mr. Sambol, she was unable to continue working for defendant and was constructively discharged on or about June 20, 2016.

         Ms. Roman brings six counts against defendant: two claims under the ADA (Count I, disparate treatment and denial of a reasonable accommodation, and Count IV, retaliation); three claims under Title VII (Count II, disparate treatment based on sex, Count III, hostile work environment, and Count V, retaliation); and one count under the FMLA (Count VIII, retaliation). Mr. Roman brings four counts against defendant: two claims under the ADA (Count VI, retaliation, and Count IX, discrimination by association); and two counts under Title VII (Count VII, retaliation, and Count X, discrimination by association).

         II. Analysis

         Defendant seeks to sever plaintiffs' claims pursuant to Rules 20 and 21 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which govern joinder and misjoinder of parties, respectively. Rule 20(a)(1) states:

Persons may join in one action as plaintiffs if: (A) they assert any right to relief jointly, severally, or in the alternative with respect to or arising out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences; and (B) any question of law or fact common to all plaintiffs will arise in the action.

         “The purpose of Rule 20(a) is ‘to promote trial convenience and expedite the final determination of disputes, thereby preventing multiple lawsuits.'”[2] The Supreme Court has recognized that, under the Rules of Civil Procedure, “joinder of claims, parties and remedies is strongly encouraged.”[3]

         Rule 21 provides that “[m]isjoinder of parties is not a ground for dismissing an action. On motion or on its own, the court may at any time, on just terms, add or drop a party. The court may also sever any claim against a party.”

         Defendant first argues that joinder of plaintiffs' claims is inappropriate under Rule 20(a)(1). Specifically, defendant contends that plaintiffs' claims do not arise out of the same transaction or occurrence, or involve common questions of fact or law, because Mr. Roman was terminated for violating defendant's workplace violence policy by physically assaulting and threatening Mr. Sambol-“reasons wholly separate from Ms. Roman's allegations against [defendant].”[4] Defendant further asserts that Ms. Roman's discrimination and ...


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