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Kohli v. McGee Eye Surgery Center LLC

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

August 7, 2017

NEETI KOHLI, Plaintiff,
v.
McGEE EYE SURGERY CENTER LLC, and THE GROUP, LLC, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          ROBIN J. CAUTHRON, United States District Judge

         Plaintiff brought the present action asserting claims against Defendants McGee Eye Surgery LLC (“Surgery Center”) and The Group, LLC (“The Group”) based on race and national origin in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, discrimination based on race in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981, discrimination based on gender in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, retaliation in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, and wrongful termination in violation of Oklahoma public policy. Plaintiff alleges that during the course of her employment, she was subject to discrimination and now she seeks to recover damages as compensation for that wrongdoing.

         Defendant The Group has filed a Motion to Dismiss relying on Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). The Group's 12(b)(1) Motion is premised on Plaintiff's failure to exhaust her administrative remedies prior to pursuing a Title VII claim against it. Initially, Defendant The Group notes it is unclear whether or not Plaintiff intends to pursue her Title VII claims against it, as the allegations in her Complaint identify The Group as a Defendant to only the § 1981 claim. However, after reviewing the Complaint, it appears to the Court that Plaintiff intended to include Defendant The Group within her allegations of Title VII violation. Further, Plaintiff has responded to Defendant The Group's Title VII argument in the Motion to Dismiss. Therefore, the Court will consider the arguments raised in Defendant The Group's Motion to Dismiss challenging Plaintiff's ability to recover on these claims.

         1. Jurisdiction over Defendant The Group

         Defendant The Group's first challenge to Plaintiff's Title VII claims argues the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction because Plaintiff failed to exhaust her administrative remedies prior to bringing these claims. According to Defendant The Group, Plaintiff did not name it as a respondent when bringing her charge of discrimination before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In response, Plaintiff does not argue that she included Defendant The Group as a respondent, but argues that the body of her discrimination charge includes allegations against Defendant The Group and therefore it should be clear that she included that entity as a respondent.

         In the Tenth Circuit, “[e]xhaustion of administrative remedies is a ‘jurisdictional prerequisite' to suit under Title VII.” Jones v. Runyon, 91 F.3d 1398, 1399 (10th Cir. 1996) (citation omitted). Filing a charge of discrimination is also a jurisdictional prerequisite under the Oklahoma Anti-Discrimination Act (“OADA”), 25 Okla. Stat. § 1350(B). It is clear from the face of the charge in this matter that Defendant The Group was not named as a respondent in the EEOC charge. However, the charge did mention The Group within its body and therefore the Court must determine whether that was sufficient to put Defendant The Group on notice as to Plaintiff's claims against it.

         The Tenth Circuit set out the factors to be considered in determining whether or not a defendant who was identified within the body of the charge has a sufficient identity of interest to satisfy the intention of Title VII that the defendant could be deemed to have had notice of the charge and had the opportunity to attempt a conciliation. See Romero v. Union Pacific R.R., 615 F.2d 1303, 1311 (10th Cir. 1980). Those factors are

“1) whether the role of the unnamed party could through reasonable effort by the complainant be ascertained at the time of the filing of the EEOC complaint; 2) whether, under the circumstances, the interests of a named [sic] are so similar as the unnamed party's that for the purpose of obtaining voluntary conciliation and compliance it would be unnecessary to include the unnamed party in the EEOC proceedings; 3) whether its absence from the EEOC proceedings resulted in actual prejudice to the interests of the unnamed party; 4) whether the unnamed party has in some way represented to the complainant that its relationship with the complainant is to be through the named party.”

Id. at 1312 (quoting Glus v. G.C. Murphy Co., 562 F.2d 880, 888 (3d Cir. 1977)).

         Looking at the first factor, it is clear that Plaintiff understood the distinction between Defendant The Group and Defendant Surgery Center, as in her charge she repeatedly made allegations acknowledging the separate identities of those two entities. As for the second, Defendant The Group relies upon allegations in Plaintiff's Complaint, which acknowledge a distinction between The Group and Surgery Center, arguing that Plaintiff clearly understood the two entities were distinct and acted in distinct ways towards Plaintiff. In weighing this factor, the Court examines whether the interest between the two potential Defendants are so similar that for the purpose of obtaining a voluntary conciliation compliance it would be unnecessary to include the unnamed party in the EEOC proceedings. The Court finds this factor weighs against Plaintiff. As noted above, it is clear that Plaintiff acknowledges that Defendants Surgery Center and The Group are distinct entities. It is also clear that she acknowledged her relationship as to each Defendant is different and that each Defendant played a different role in the alleged discrimination. Therefore, for purposes of determining whether or not the dispute could have been resolved through early conciliation or other process, it was incumbent upon Plaintiff to include The Group as a named respondent.

         In examining the third factor, Defendant The Group argues that it was prejudiced because the EEOC determined that Surgery Center was not Plaintiff's employer and its absence from the EEOC proceedings precluded it from relying on that defense as well. The Court finds this factor at best neutral. Whether or not Defendant The Group would have been found not to be Plaintiff's employer in the EEOC process would have had no bearing on her ability to proceed with her claims in this action. While that fact may or may not have ultimately provided a defense to Defendant The Group, any such determination by the EEOC would not have been dispositive or binding on this Court. Therefore, the Court finds that the third factor is neutral.

         As for the fourth factor, there is no evidence provided by either party from which it could be determined either Defendant The Group or Defendant Surgery Center indicated to Plaintiff that its relationship was to be through Defendant Surgery Center. Thus, this factor weighs against Plaintiff. After considering the factors set forth by the Tenth Circuit in Romero, the Court finds that Plaintiff is not entitled to an exception to the rule and her failure to name Defendant The Group in her EEOC charge is fatal to her Title VII claims.

         Finally, the Court notes that a reading of the allegations set forth in the charge provides no assistance to Plaintiff in her quest to include Defendant The Group. None of the allegations leveled against Defendant The Group supports a claim of discriminatory conduct by that entity. Thus, there simply was nothing alleged in the charge of discrimination which would have put Defendant The Group on notice that Plaintiff was contemplating a Title VII claim against it. As a result, Plaintiff failed to exhaust her administrative remedies as to this Defendant.

         2. Employed by ...


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