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D'Onofrio v. SFX Sports Group

February 18, 2008

AUDREY(SHEBBY) D'ONOFRIO, PLAINTIFF,
v.
SFX SPORTS GROUP, INC., ET AL. DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John D. Bates United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff Audrey ("Shebby") D'Onofrio brought this civil action alleging that she was discriminated against on the basis of her gender and pregnancy by her employer defendant SFX Sports Group, Inc. ("SFX"), a wholly owned subsidiary of defendant Live Nation, Inc., which in turn was formerly a subsidiary of defendant Clear Channel Communications, Inc.*fn1 She filed suit on March 13, 2006 in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. In addition to naming the aforementioned corporations as defendants, plaintiff added Dan Rosier and Kimberley Wray --the former Chief Financial Officer at SFX and the head of Human Resources at Clear Channel Communications, respectively -- as defendants in their personal capacities. Plaintiff seeks monetary and injunctive relief under the District of Columbia Human Rights Act ("DCHRA"), the District of Columbia Family Medical Leave Act, and the Equal Pay Act, 29 U.S.C. § 206(d)(1). Defendants removed the case to this Court on April 17, 2006, citing diversity jurisdiction over the District of Columbia claims and federal question jurisdiction over the Equal Pay Act claims. Although the corporate defendants then answered the complaint, defendants Rosier and Wray have each moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(2). Those motions are now fully briefed and ripe for resolution. After careful consideration, and for the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant the motions.

BACKGROUND

In May 2000, plaintiff was hired as the "Senior Director of Public Relations" at SFX.*fn2

Second Am. Compl. ¶ 9. At the time she was hired, plaintiff was promised a promotion if one of her immediate supervisors, Howard Schacter, departed for another branch of SFX. Id. Mr. Schacter did in fact transfer to a different department and plaintiff "ascended to Mr. Schacter's former role," taking on his responsibilities and duties but without "the corresponding change in title [or] . . . equivalent salary." Id. ¶ 10.

Following an ethical disagreement with SFX's Chairman and CEO, David Falk, plaintiff was informed that her position was being eliminated during the summer of 2001. Id. ¶ 12. She believes that she was terminated "in retaliation for her 'disagreement' with Mr. Falk." Id. ¶ 13. In any event, plaintiff was promptly rehired by SFX in 2002. Id. ¶ 14. According to her, she accepted the position that she was offered upon the condition that she would shortly be promoted to "Vice President, with a commensurate increase in salary." Id. Over the course of the next several years, plaintiff continued to agitate for her putative promotion and salary increase to no avail. Id. at 15-16.

Plaintiff informed SFX that she was pregnant in August 2005. Because she was having a "difficult pregnancy and was experiencing several serious medical issues," id. ¶ 18, and pursuant to medical advice, she decided to go on disability leave during the remaining term of her pregnancy. Id. Thus, plaintiff requested the appropriate paperwork from Alaka Williams, "the Human Resources Manager at Clear Channel who was assigned to SFX Sports Group, Inc." Id. Ms. Williams informed plaintiff that she would prepare the disability paperwork and inquired whether plaintiff intended to return to the company following the completion of her pregnancy; plaintiff confirmed that she did so intend. Id. ¶ 19.

The operative events for our purposes took place on or around September 26, 2005. On that day, Ms. Williams contacted plaintiff by phone and allegedly informed her that "due to changes in the company, there was no longer a need for a public relations function, such that her position was to be eliminated effective that day." Id. ¶ 20. According to plaintiff, Wray also participated in that conversation via conference call.*fn3 Thus, plaintiff added Wray as a defendant because she believed that Wray was in part "responsible for the discriminatory and retaliatory acts" directed against plaintiff. Id. ¶ 30A. Additionally, Rosier was added as a defendant because "he was the individual who decided to terminate [plaintiff's] employment." Id. ¶ 30B.

Specifically, plaintiff alleges that as of the late afternoon on September 16, 2005, plaintiff's position was not scheduled to be terminated. Id. ¶ 30A. In her view, however, "Rosier and Wray subsequently had a telephone conversation in which they discussed [plaintiff's] pregnancy and her termination." Id. Pursuant to that conversation, plaintiff alleges, she was added to the "termination list" on September 17, 2005.*fn4

Wray's Clear Channel Communications office is located in Texas, where she also resides. Wray's Mot. to Dismiss (hereinafter "Wray's Mot.") Ex. 1 ¶¶ 1-2. For his part, Rosier's office during his tenure at SFX was located in Texas as well. Rosier's Mot. to Dismiss (hereinafter "Rosier's Mot.") Ex. 1 ¶¶ 1-2. He currently resides in Texas and works out of California. Id. Ex. 1 ¶ 2. At the time that the phone call concerning plaintiff's termination took place, then, both Wray and Rosier were situated in Texas.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Plaintiff bears the burden of establishing personal jurisdiction over each defendant. In order to meet her burden, plaintiff must allege specific facts on which personal jurisdiction can be based; she cannot rely on conclusory allegations. See GTE New Media Services, Inc. v. Ameritech Corp., 21 F. Supp. 2d 27, 36 (D.D.C. 1998), remanded on other grounds sub nom. GTE New Media Services, Inc. v. BellSouth Corp., 199 F.3d 1343 (D.C. Cir. 2000); Comsat Corp. v. Finshipyards S.A.M., 900 F. Supp. 515, 520 (D.D.C. 1985). Moreover, plaintiff cannot aggregate factual allegations concerning multiple defendants in order to demonstrate personal jurisdiction over any individual defendant. See Rush v. Savchuk, 444 U.S. 320, 331-32 (1980) (rejecting aggregation of co-defendants' forum contacts in determining personal jurisdiction because "the requirements of International Shoe must be met as to each defendant over whom a state court exercises jurisdiction"). When considering personal jurisdiction, the Court need not treat all of the plaintiff's allegations as true. Instead, the court "may receive and weigh affidavits and other relevant matter to assist in determining the jurisdictional facts." United States v. Philip Morris Inc., 116 F. Supp. 2d 116, 120 n. 4 (D.D.C. 2000); see also Capital Bank Int'l, Ltd. v. Citigroup, Inc., 276 F. Supp. 2d 72, 74 (D.D.C. 2003); Novak-Canzeri v. Al Saud, 864 F.Supp. 203, 206 (D.D.C. 1994) ("the Court must accept Plaintiff's claims as true in ruling on a 12(b)(2) motion, unless they are directly contradicted by an affidavit").

DISCUSSION

There are, of course, two distinct variants of personal jurisdiction: "(1) general, 'all purpose' adjudicatory authority to entertain a suit against a defendant without regard to the claim's relationship vel non to the defendant's forum-linked activity, and (2) specific jurisdiction to entertain controversies based on acts of a defendant that touch and concern the forum." Kopff v. Battaglia, 425 F. Supp. 2d 76, 81 (D.D.C. 2006) (citing Steinberg v. Int'l Criminal Police Org., 672 F.2d 927, 928 (D.C. Cir. 1981)). General jurisdiction sets a high bar, requiring a defendant's contacts with a forum to be "continuous and systematic" before forcing a defendant to defend a suit arising out of any subject matter whether or not related to the forum. See Helicopteros Nacionales de Colombia, S.A. v. Hall, 466 U.S. 408, 415-16 (1984). Specific jurisdiction, by contrast, requires a lesser showing that nevertheless must satisfy a two-step inquiry: (1) jurisdiction over the defendant must ...


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