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Martinez v. Prairie Fire Development Group, LLC

United States District Court, D. Kansas

July 29, 2019

Tawnya Martinez, Plaintiff,
v.
Prairie Fire Development Group, LLC; Prairie Fire Construction Group, LLC; and Prairie Fire Management Group, LLC, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM & ORDER

          JOHN W. LUNGSTRUM, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff was employed by defendants from April 2017 until July 2017, when defendants terminated her employment. She filed this lawsuit alleging that she was discriminated against because of her sex with respect to the termination of her employment and with respect to compensation, terms and conditions of her employment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. She further alleges that she complained about discrimination and that defendants thereafter retaliated against her in violation of Title VII by refusing to pay her final wages; by opposing her application for unemployment benefits; and by providing negative feedback to her new employer. Finally, plaintiff asserts a claim under the Kansas Wage Payment Act for failure to pay wages and a claim for unpaid wages under the Missouri wage payment statute.

         This matter is presently before the court on defendants' motion to dismiss certain counts of plaintiffs complaint (doc. 4). Defendants contend that plaintiff failed to exhaust her administrative remedies with respect to her sex discrimination claims and her claims that defendant retaliated against her by refusing to pay her final wages and opposing her application for unemployment benefits. Defendants, then, move to dismiss these claims pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). Defendants also move to dismiss plaintiffs Missouri wage payment claim under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. As will be explained, the motion is denied in its entirety.

         Standard

         Defendants' failure-to-exhaust argument is expressly asserted under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), suggesting that the issue relates to the court's jurisdiction over the case. Nonetheless, defendants also acknowledge the Circuit's decision in Lincoln v. BNSF Railway Company, 900 F.3d 1166 (10th Cir. 2018), in which the Circuit held that a Title VII plaintiff's failure to file a timely charge of discrimination does not bar a federal court from assuming jurisdiction over a claim but merely permits the employer to raise an affirmative defense of failure to exhaust. See Lincoln, 900 F.3d at 1185-86. Thus, defendants' failure-to-exhaust defense is properly examined under Rule 12(b)(6). See Cirocco v. McMahon, 768 Fed.Appx. 854, 858 (10th Cir. Apr. 15, 2019).

         To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to “‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Free Speech v. Federal Election Commission, 720 F.3d 788, 792 (10th Cir. 2013) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting 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.” Id. (citations and quotations omitted). “In evaluating a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, courts may consider not only the complaint itself, but also attached exhibits, and documents incorporated into the complaint by reference.” Id. (quoting Smith v. United States, 561 F.3d 1090, 1098 (10th Cir. 2009)).

         Background

         Consistent with the standard articulated above, the following well-pleaded allegations, taken from plaintiffs complaint, are accepted as true. Plaintiff began her employment with defendants in April 2017. According to plaintiff, defendants held a work retreat in May 2017 but invited only male employees and provided company vehicles to male employees but not female employees. Plaintiff further alleges that defendant paid her a much lower salary than it paid her male predecessor despite the fact that plaintiff was more qualified than her predecessor and had the same level of experience as her predecessor.

         On July 7, 2017, one of defendants' owners, Rudy Manes, told plaintiff that defendants were terminating her employment because it “just wasn't working.” Despite making numerous attempts to secure her final paycheck, plaintiff never received her final paycheck. Moreover, when plaintiff applied for unemployment benefits, defendants asserted that they had terminated plaintiff's employment for cause.

         On February 20, 2018, plaintiff submitted an “inquiry” through the EEOC's online Public Portal and scheduled an in-person appointment as part of that inquiry. Plaintiffs responses to the online inquiry are attached to the complaint. Plaintiffs responses to the inquiry are found in a four-page document that explains in detail the nature of plaintiff s claims against defendants, including her claims that only male employees received company vehicles, that she received a lower salary than her male predecessor, and that she did not receive her final paycheck after her employment was terminated. She further alleges in the inquiry that she advised the owners of defendants that their failure to provide female employees with company vehicles was an example of sex discrimination. The inquiry form indicates that plaintiff, on February 20, 2018, scheduled an in-person appointment with the EEOC for June 5, 2018 at 8:15am.

         In late February 2018, defendants began a collaborative project with Community Housing of Wyandotte County (CHWC), plaintiffs new employer. Plaintiffs responsibilities with her new employer included oversight of this project. Plaintiff alleges that defendants praised plaintiff to her new employer and assured her employer that they had no problem working with her on the project.

         On June 5, 2018, plaintiff submitted a formal Charge of Discrimination that was filed with both the EEOC and the Missouri Commission on Human Rights. She signed the charge that day. She filed an amended charge on June 29, 2018. Defendants refer to these June 2018 charges collectively as the “Missouri charge.” Plaintiff alleges that once defendants received a copy of her formal charge in June 2018, defendants began making negative comments about her to CHWC and questioned plaintiffs integrity. In fact, defendant ultimately cancelled the project with CHWC, causing CHWC to lose money and causing plaintiff to lose salary and bonus money she would have earned for managing the project. Plaintiff filed another charge of discrimination in September 2018 to include a claim that defendant retaliated against her for filing her first charge when they cancelled the project with CHWC. This charge was filed with both the EEOC and the Kansas Human Rights Commission. Defendants refer to this charge as the “Kansas charge.”

         Plaintiff received her notice of right to sue relating to the Missouri charge on December 14, 2018 and filed her lawsuit within 90 days of receipt of that notice.

         Failure to Exhaust ...


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