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Baker v. Key Maintenance, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma

May 22, 2019

DANIELLE RENEE BAKER, and LESLIE R. MORRIS, Plaintiffs,
v.
KEY MAINTENANCE, INC., a domestic corporation; and, KEVIN SOAP, individually, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          TERENCE C. KERN United States District Judge.

         Before the Court are Defendant Key Maintenance, Inc. (“Defendant”)'s Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 16) and Defendant Key Maintenance, Inc.'s Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 51). For the foregoing reasons, Defendant's Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is DENIED AS MOOT. Additionally, Counts Four and Five against Defendant Kevin Soap are DISMISSED sua sponte.

         I. Background

         This case arises out of sexual harassment and retaliation that occurred during Plaintiff Danielle Renee Baker (“Plaintiff Baker”)'s seven months of employment with Defendant Peoplelink LLC (“Peoplelink”). Peoplelink is a corporation that specializes in placing temporary/contract workers with its various clients, and employs its own office and managerial staff to conduct this business. (Doc. 2-2, ¶ 4, 6, 8, 9, and 51). Peoplelink hired Plaintiff Baker as an Onboarding Specialist (Doc. 2-2, ¶ 8) in August 2016. She was responsible for recruiting and assigning temporary/contract workers to Peoplelink's clients. (Doc. 2-2, ¶ 9). Plaintiff Baker was hired to assist Plaintiff Leslie R. Morris (“Plaintiff Morris”), who was employed by Peoplelink as an Administrative Assistant. (Doc. 2-2, ¶ 52, 53). Finally, at all times relevant to this Complaint, Defendant Key Maintenance was a client of Peoplelink. (Doc. 2-2, ¶ 10.)

         Shortly after Plaintiff Baker was hired, Defendant Soap, a supervisor at Defendant Key Maintenance, made various attempts to begin a romantic or sexual relationship with her, including making unnecessary weekly visits to the office, ostensibly to deliver timesheets. (Doc. 2-2, ¶ 11-15.) Plaintiff Baker declined all of Defendant Soap's romantic or sexual overtures, and Plaintiff Morris told Defendant Soap that such a relationship would violate Peoplelink policy, but Defendant Soap continued to pursue Plaintiff Baker. (Doc. 2-2, ¶ 16-18.) At one point, he invited Plaintiff Baker to “party” with him and various other employees of Defendant Key Maintenance and Peoplelink. (Doc. 2-2, ¶ 22.) During this conversation, he also told Plaintiffs that he was involved in a sexual relationship with Kelly Seaquist (“Seaquist”), one of Plaintiffs' supervisors. He made inappropriate comments about Seaquist and offered to show Plaintiffs inappropriate photographs, which they refused. (Doc. 2-2, ¶ 24.)

         Defendant Soap, acting both in an individual and representative capacity, also attempted to recruit Plaintiff Baker to act as his assistant at Defendant Key Maintenance. Plaintiff Baker declined the offer many times. (Doc. 2-2, ¶ 25, 26, 100.) Defendant Soap later asked both Plaintiffs about Plaintiff Baker's salary information, though neither Plaintiff provided him with that information. (Doc. 2-2, ¶ 25, 70.) Further, upon Plaintiff Baker's rejections, Defendant Soap told Plaintiff Baker that he would attempt to have her fired “so that she would have to come and work for him.” (Doc. 2-2, ¶ 26.)

         Plaintiffs reported “sexual harassment” to Defendant Key Maintenance and Peoplelink. (Doc. 2-2, ¶ 86.) After reporting this sexual harassment, Plaintiff Baker was subject to an unreasonable and unfair increase in scrutiny and as a result began to suffer from headaches, loss of sleep, and nausea. (Doc. 2-2, ¶ 44.) Plaintiffs also allege that Defendant Key Maintenance and Peoplelink were aware of Defendant Soap's propensities, failed to properly train their employees, and had a negligent policy. (Doc. 2-2, ¶ 89, 93.) Finally, Plaintiffs allege that Seaquist, Leigh Morris, another employee of Peoplelink and supervisor of Plaintiffs, and Defendant Soap, acting both individually, and in his representative capacity for Defendant Key Maintenance, conspired to have both Plaintiffs terminated. (Doc. 2-2, ¶ 104.)

         Plaintiff Morris was fired for insubordination on February 2, 2017 (Doc. 2-2, ¶ 74) and Plaintiff Baker was constructively terminated on March 6, 2017. (Doc. 2-2, ¶ 48.) Both Plaintiffs later filed EEOC charges-Plaintiff Baker on February 16, 2018 and Plaintiff Leslie Morris on February 26, 2018. (Doc. 17, pg. 19-23.) They both listed Peoplelink as their employer and describe Defendant Key Maintenance as Peoplelink's client.[1] Plaintiffs filed their Petition (“Complaint”) in Mayes County District Court on September 19, 2018, naming as Defendants Peoplelink, Key Maintenance, Seaquist, Leigh Morris, and Soap. (Doc. 2-2.) Peoplelink removed the case to this Court on October 19, 2018 pursuant to federal question jurisdiction. (Doc. 2.) Peoplelink, Seaquist, and Leigh Morris have since settled with Plaintiffs; accordingly, Defendants Key Maintenance and Soap are the only remaining Defendants. (Doc. 49.)

         II. Rule 12(b)(6) Standard

         In considering a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (“Rule”) 12(b)(6), a court must determine whether the plaintiff has stated a claim upon which relief may be granted or whether a claim is barred by an affirmative defense that appears on the face of the Complaint. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6); Chen v. Dillard Store Servs., 579 Fed.Appx. 618, 621-22 (10th Cir. 2014); 5B Charles A. Wright et. al., Federal Practice and Procedure § 1357 (3d ed.). “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “[T]he mere metaphysical possibility that some plaintiff could prove some set of facts in support of the pleaded claims is insufficient; the complaint must give the court reason to believe that this plaintiff has a reasonable likelihood of mustering factual support for these claims.” Ridge at Red Hawk, LLC v. Schneider, 493 F.3d 1174, 1177 (10th Cir. 2007). Additionally, the Complaint must not be self-defeating and include matters that effectively vitiate the Plaintiff's ability to recover on the claim. Federal Practice and Procedure § 1357 (3d ed.).

         The Tenth Circuit has interpreted “plausibility, ” the term used by the Supreme Court in Twombly, to “refer to the scope of the allegations in a complaint” rather than to mean “likely to be true.” Robbins, 519 F.3d at 1247. Thus, “if [allegations] are so general that they encompass a wide swath of conduct, much of it innocent, then the plaintiffs have not nudged their claims across the line from conceivable to plausible.” Id. (internal quotations omitted). “The allegations must be enough that, if assumed to be true, the plaintiff plausibly (not just speculatively) has a claim for relief.” Id. “This requirement of plausibility serves not only to weed out claims that do not (in the absence of additional allegations) have a reasonable prospect of success, but also to inform the defendants of the actual grounds of the claim against them.” Id. at 1248.

         III. Counts One and Two: Sexual Harassment and Retaliation Under Title VII

         Plaintiffs have alleged claims of Sexual Harassment and Retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 against Defendant Key Maintenance only. Defendant Key Maintenance argues that Plaintiffs have failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted as to Counts One and Two, as Plaintiffs have failed to exhaust their administrative remedies. In the Tenth Circuit, if a plaintiff fails to exhaust her claims before the EEOC, a defendant may raise that as an affirmative defense. Smith v. Cheyenne Ret. Inv'rs L.P., 904 F.3d 1159, 1163-64 (10th Cir. 2018). To exhaust her claims, a plaintiff must, at a minimum, file a charge against a party with the EEOC before suing that party under Title VII. Lu v. Kendall, 561 Fed.Appx. 751, 754 (10th Cir. 2014). In this case, Plaintiffs have both failed to file a charge against Defendant Key Maintenance. In both of their EEOC charges, Plaintiffs list their employer as Peoplelink Staffing. They describe Defendant Key Maintenance only as Peoplelink's client. Accordingly, barring an applicable exception, Plaintiffs have failed to exhaust their administrative remedies.

         The Tenth Circuit has recognized two narrow exceptions to the requirement that a plaintiff must file a charge against a party prior to filing suit under Title VII: when “the defendant was informally referred to in the body of the charge or where there is sufficient identity of interest between the respondent and the defendant to satisfy the intention of Title VII that the defendant have notice of the charge and the EEOC have an opportunity to attempt conciliation.” Romero v. Union Pac. R.R., 615 F.2d 1303, 1311 (10th Cir. 1980). ...


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