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DISPARTE v. CORPORATE EXECUTIVE BOARD

August 13, 2004.

DANTE DISPARTE, RODNEY COBB, AND WALI F. MUHAMMAD, Plaintiffs,
v.
CORPORATE EXECUTIVE BOARD, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: REGGIE B. WALTON, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter is before the Court on the Defendant's Motion to Sever the Action Into Three Separate Actions pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 20 and 21, the Plaintiffs' Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Opposition to Defendant's Motion to Sever the Action Into Three Separate Actions ("Pls.' Opp."), the Plaintiffs' Supplemental Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Opposition to Defendant's Motion to Sever the Action Into Three Separate Actions ("Pls.' Supp. Mem."), and the Defendant's Reply Memorandum in Support of Its Motion to Sever the Action Into Three Separate Actions ("Def.'s Reply"). Upon consideration of the parties' submissions, the Court concludes that the defendant's motion should be granted in part and denied in part.

I. Background

  On July 21, 2003, plaintiffs Dante Disparte ("Disparte"), Rodney Cobb ("Cobb"), and Wali F. Muhammad ("Muhammad"), filed a complaint against the defendant alleging intentional discrimination in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, 42 U.S.C. § 1981, and unlawful employment discrimination in violation of the District of Columbia Human Rights Act, D.C. Code Ann. § 2-1402.11. Complaint ("Compl.") ¶¶ 61-77.

  Disparte began working for the defendant, the Corporate Executive Board ("CEB"), as an Administrative Assistant on August 21, 2000. Id. ¶ 9. Disparte was promoted to the position of Marketing Associate on February 15, 2001, and was again promoted to the Account Manager position of the Member Services Department ("MSD") of the Corporate Strategy Board on February 29, 2002. Id. ¶ 13-15.*fn1 Approximately two months later, Disparte was placed on a type of probation called "focus for performance" by Doug Haines ("Haines"), the Associate Director of the MSD. Id. ¶ 16. Seven weeks later, Haines wrote a "Summary of Focus Performance," which noted improvements in Disparte's performance but nonetheless "provide[d] the supposed basis for Disparte's [alleged] termination." Id. ¶¶ 17-18. Specifically, Disparte was accused of not being present at his desk, for using informal communication procedures, for only working regular work hours, and needing assistance to conduct member telephone calls. Id. ¶ 18. Disparte tried to "salvage" his job by meeting with managerial personnel and claiming that his race and not his performance was the basis for what he characterizes as his termination. Id. ¶ 25.*fn2 On the day prior to his departure, Disparte was placed in a job "where he was to perform menial work, with responsibilities less than those he was given two years earlier. . . ." Id. ¶ 27. As a result of this assignment, Disparte contends that he was "embarrassed and humiliated" and he therefore obtained employment with another employer. Id. ¶ 28. Disparte was subsequently replaced by the defendant with a Caucasian. Id. ¶ 29. Cobb began working for the defendant in October of 2000, as an Operations Associate in the Operations Department. Id. ¶ 32. Cobb was promoted in February 2001, to the position of Operations Coordinator at a branch office of the CEB located at 1875 K Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. Id. ¶ 33. At that time, Jessica Caceres ("Caceres") was the Operations Director and Lisa Herold was the Operations Manager. Id. ¶ 35. Cobb alleges that he was later reassigned to a lower level position and was denied a promotion. Id. ¶¶ 44-45.*fn3 As to the promotion denial, Cobb contends that the Information Processing Department did not want to employ members of the Operations Department, who were all African Americans, and that the position Cobb sought was given to a Caucasian woman. Id. ¶ 45. Eventually, Cobb's employment was terminated by the defendant. Id. ¶ 48.

  Muhammad was hired by the defendant as an Operations Assistant in June of 1999. Id. ¶ 50. He was commended for his performance in this position by Ms. Caceres. Id. ¶¶ 51-53. In March 2002, Muhammad met with Caceres and Associate Director Kevin Goode ("Goode"), an African American, for his annual job performance review. Id. ¶ 56. During the review, Muhammad was told that he would receive a raise and a promotion. Id. Muhammad took the opportunity at that time to offer constructive criticism of Caceres' leadership skills. Id. As an analogy he used to illustrate Caceres' supervisory deficiency, Muhammad told a "story about a Queen who made rules for the peasants to follow, but never came into the kingdom to see how the rules worked." Pls.' Supp. Mem. at 7 (citing the Deposition of Wali Muhammad ("Muhammad Dep.") at 6-11).*fn4 The next day, to Muhammad's surprise, his employment was terminated, allegedly because his job performance "only met expectations." Compl. ¶ 57. It was later discovered, however, that Goode found Muhammad's criticisms of Caceres threatening and was of the view that Muhammad should be terminated. Pls.' Supp. Mem. at 7-8. Goode discussed the matter with Jim Fenton, id. at 7, the Chief Administrative Officer at the CEB, a member of the CEB's Executive Committee, and the highest ranking leader of the Talent Management Department, id. at 3, 5, and it was decided that Muhammad's employment should be terminated. Id. at 7.

  As further proof of their discrimination claims, the plaintiffs note that Fenton occupied all of the above positions when all three of the plaintiffs were terminated. Id. at 3-4. In June of 2001, Fenton had directed another Talent Management officer, Erin Morrisey-Lauer, to conduct a wholesale review of the management of the Operations Department, where plaintiffs Cobb and Muhammad worked at the time. Pls.' Supp. Mem. at 3-4 (internal citations omitted). A review of the Operations Department management in 2001 revealed that the department's staff of mostly African Americans identified racial issues as a problem within the department. Id. at 4.*fn5 After meeting with Caceres regarding the results of the review, Fenton and Morrisey-Lauer eventually hired Goode. Id. at 5. Goode allegedly told Cobb that "he was brought to the Corporate Executive Board as a Black man who would be responsible for firing Black people under the direction of the White staff." Deposition of Rodney Cobb ("Cobb Depo.") at 327-328.

  II. Standard of Review

  A. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 20(a)

  "The well-established policy underlying permissive joinder is to promote trial convenience and expedite the resolution of lawsuits." Puricelli v. CNA Insurance Co., 185 F.R.D. 139, 142 (N.D.N.Y. 1999). Multiple claims are properly joined if they (1) "aris[e] out of the same transaction or occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences and (2) if any question of law or fact common to all [the plaintiffs] will arise in the action." Fed.R.Civ.P. 20(a). In order to satisfy the first prong of this equation, the claims must be logically related. Moore v. New York Cotton Exchange, 270 U.S. 593, 610 (1926). The logical relationship test is flexible because "the impulse is toward entertaining the broadest possible scope of action consistent with fairness to the parties; joinder of claims, parties and remedies is strongly encouraged." United Mine Workers of America v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715, 724 (1966). Consistent with this liberal standard, the Supreme Court later found that allegations of a "state-wide system designed to enforce the [voter] registration laws in a way that would inevitably deprive colored people of the right to vote solely because of their color" justified "the joinder of all the registrars [of the six counties] as defendants in a single suit . . . [pursuant to] Rule 20(a) . . ." United States v. Mississippi, 380 U.S. 128, 142 (1965).*fn6 The second prong of Rule 20(a) requires only that there be some common question of law or fact as to all of the plaintiffs' claims, not that all legal and factual issues be common to all the plaintiffs. Mosley v. General Motors Corp., 497 F.2d 1330, 1334 (8th Cir. 1974). Accordingly, where multiple plaintiffs bring suit for employment discrimination alleging a pattern of discriminatory behavior "a broad variation of circumstances relating to the merits of individual performance of each of the plaintiffs" will not nullify a common question of fact. Duke v. Uniroyal, Inc., 928 F.2d 1413, 1420-21 (4th Cir. 1991); see Mosley, 497 F.2d at 1334 (finding defendant's alleged racially discriminatory policy sufficient to show a common question of fact). But see, Smith v. North American Rockwell Corp., 50 F.R.D. 515, 522-524 (N.D. Okla. 1970) 50 F.R.D. at 524 (holding plaintiffs' allegations based on the same theories of law insufficient to show a common question because "[w]hether a defendant unlawfully discriminated against one plaintiff with respect to promotion or job assignment in a given department is not common with the question whether defendant unlawfully discriminated against another plaintiff in a separate department.").

  Moreover, the Court in Alexander v. Fulton County, 207 F.3d 1303, 1324 (11th Cir. 2000) found a "systemic pattern or practice of race-based discrimination . . . by the same decision-maker in the same department during the same short time frame" amounted to a common question of fact although the plaintiffs alleged different injuries. Id. at 1324. However, the Alexander Court also identified circumstances which could cause prejudice and therefore justify severance, e.g., "the alleged discrimination occur[ed] during different time period[s,] . . . different supervisors ma[d]e the challenged decisions[,] . . . or the alleged discrimination happen[ed] at geographically removed places." Id. Some of these same factors, among others, were determinative in Smith, 50 F.R.D. at 522-524.*fn7 Despite the plaintiffs' allegation of a company wide pattern of discriminatory behavior, a collective trial may require "an evaluation of the administration of varying company rules by different supervisory personnel in different departments all in the context of dissimilar job functions." Id. at 522. Therefore, in some circumstances, to avoid prejudicing the parties — either the plaintiff or the defendant — or confusing the jury, "there would inescapably be [the need for] as many separate lawsuits as parties plaintiff." Id. at 523; see also Henderson v. AT&T, 918 F. Supp. 1059, 1063 (S.D. Tex. 1996) (severing three of five plaintiffs who alleged more than twenty different claims to avoid jury confusion). The Fourth Circuit, however, noted that even in situations involving "a broad variation of circumstances" carefully worded jury instructions which "point out [that] each plaintiff's claim should be considered separately and should rise or fall on the evidence with respect to that plaintiff" will mitigate the potential prejudicial impact of joinder and potential jury confusion. Duke, 928 F.2d at 1421.

  B. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 21

  Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 21 does not define the basis for misjoinder but states that "[m]isjoinder of parties is not grounds for dismissal of an action. Parties may be dropped or added by order of the Court on motion of any party or of its own initiative at any stage of the action and on such terms as are just." Fed.R.Civ.P. 21. Although the court must exercise its discretion in deciding whether to sever under Rule 21, "it is well-settled that parties are misjoined when the preconditions of permissive joinder set forth in Rule 20(a) have not been satisfied." Puricelli, 185 F.R.D. at 142 (citations omitted). "Once a claim has been severed, however, it ...


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