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Peart v. Latham & Watkins LLP

United States District Court, District of Columbia

October 23, 2013

DEMETRIA PEART, Plaintiff,
v.
LATHAM & WATKINS LLP, Defendant

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For DEMETRIA PEART, Plaintiff: Jonathan C. Dailey, Washington, DC.

For LATHAM AND WATKINS LLP, Defendant: Linda M. Inscoe, LEAD ATTORNEY, PRO HAC VICE, LATHAM & WATKINS, San Francisco, CA; Matthew D. Thurlow, LEAD ATTORNEY, PRO HAC VICE, LATHAM & WATKINS, Washington, DC; Stacey L. VanBelleghem, LEAD ATTORNEY, LATHAM & WATKINS LLP, Washington, DC.

OPINION

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MEMORANDUM OPINION

ROSEMARY M. COLLYER, United States District Judge.

Demetria Peart sues her former employer, Latham & Watkins LLP, alleging two federal causes of action, discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. She also alleges several state-law claims. Latham & Watkins moves to dismiss on various grounds, including lack of subject matter jurisdiction, untimeliness, and failure to state a claim. The motion will be granted in part for the reasons explained below.

I. FACTS

According to the Amended Complaint, Latham & Watkins LLP (Latham) hired Demetria Peart, an African American woman, as a legal secretary in April 2007. Six months later, Ms. Peart learned that she was pregnant and notified her secretarial supervisor. She continued to work until serious medical complications relating to her pregnancy forced her in November 2007 to go on doctor-mandated bed rest. Ms. Peart subsequently sought, and received, short-term disability payments. Am. Compl. [Dkt. 11] ¶ ¶ 1, 3, 4, 9; Mot. to Dismiss [Dkt. 14] at 3.

Ms. Peart asserts that Latham terminated her on January 24, 2008. She claims that Christopher Carr, Latham's human resources manager, informed her on January 24 via a telephone call that she was fired from the firm because " she was no longer needed," adding that " her pregnancy complications were not his problem." Am. Compl. ¶ 10. Ms. Peart later learned that Mr. Carr had told other Latham personnel that she had been terminated because of " damn thirteen weeks [of] morning sickness" and that her pregnancy was " not [their] concern." Id. ¶ 11.

In early 2008, Ms. Peart filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § § 2000e--2000e-17, alleging discrimination based on gender and pregnancy. Pursuant to a " work-sharing agreement" between EEOC and the D.C. Office of Human Rights (OHR), Ms. Peart's case was " transferred" to OHR on July 14, 2008. Def.'s Mot. Judicial Notice [Dkt. 15], Ex. 1 (Mar. 18, 2011 OHR Letter) [Dkt. 15-2] at 1 n.1. OHR then issued a finding on March 18, 2011, that there was " NO PROBABLE CAUSE [sic] to believe that [Latham] subjected [Ms. Peart] to disparate treatment based on sex (female/pregnant) when she was allegedly terminated from her position as Legal Secretary while out of work on doctor-mandated bed rest." Id. at 9. Ms. Peart subsequently asked OHR to reconsider its decision. After Latham failed to oppose Ms. Peart's reconsideration request, OHR issued a decision on September 6, 2011, reversing its initial " no probable cause" determination and ordering a hearing before the D.C. Human Rights Commission. Id., Ex. 2 (Sept. 6, 2011 OHR Letter) [Dkt. 15-3] at 3. This decision, however, was deemed void following the revelation that Latham had not received notice of the reconsideration due to " clerical errors." Id., Ex. 3 (Mar. 29, 2012 OHR Letter) [Dkt. 15-4] at 2. OHR reviewed Latham's opposition to Ms. Peart's reconsideration request and issued a new decision on March 29, 2012. It found that because Ms. Peart was delinquent in responding to Latham's requests for information regarding her ability to return to work, there was " no evidence demonstrating that [Latham's] actions were pretext for discrimination." Id. at 6. OHR affirmed its " no probable cause" finding, and informed Ms. Peart that the March 29

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letter was a final decision from which she had three years to seek judicial review in D.C. Superior Court. Id. at 6-7.

For reasons unexplained in the record, more than five years after her termination, EEOC finally issued a " Right to Sue" letter to Ms. Peart on April 18, 2013. See id., Ex. 4 (Apr. 18, 2013 EEOC Right to Sue Letter) [Dkt. 15-5]. Ms. Peart filed her original Complaint in this matter four days later. See Compl. [Dkt. 1]. Latham moved to dismiss the Complaint, see Mot. to Dismiss [Dkt. 8], and Ms. Peart filed an Amended Complaint on June 1, 2013. See Am. Compl.

The Amended Complaint contains five counts: violation of Title VII, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(k), (Count I); violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (Count II); breach of an implied contract and wrongful discharge (Count III); intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count IV); and violation of the D.C. Human Rights Act (DCHRA), D.C. Code § § 2-1401.01 et seq. (Count V). On June 20, 2013, Latham again moved to dismiss and requested judicial notice of certain documentation. See Mot to Dismiss; Def.'s Mot. Judicial Notice. Ms. Peart opposes the motion to dismiss, is silent as to Latham's request for judicial notice, and asks the Court to take judicial notice of an affidavit from a former Latham employee. See Opp'n [Dkt. 16].

II. LEGAL STANDARDS

Latham's Motion to Dismiss requires the Court to resolve three issues. One is jurisdictional. Counts I and II are federal law claims and Counts III, IV, and V are state law claims. Accordingly, the Court must determine whether it should exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the state causes of action. The other two issues concern the propriety of dismissing a complaint under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP) 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). Specifically, Latham has moved to dismiss the claims alleged in the Amended Complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, failure to state a claim, and untimeliness.

A. Jurisdiction

Federal district courts have original jurisdiction over civil actions arising under federal statutes. 28 U.S.C. § 1331. In certain circumstances, § 1331 may also provide a federal court with an independent basis for exercising jurisdiction over related state-law claims. Women Prisoners of the D.C. Dep't of Corr. v. District of Columbia, 93 F.3d 910, 920, 320 U.S.App. D.C. 247 (D.C. Cir. 1996). To determine when the assertion of supplemental jurisdiction is appropriate, the district court applies a two-part test. Id. (citing United Mine Workers v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715, 725, 86 S.Ct. 1130, 16 L.Ed.2d 218 (1966)).

First, the district court must determine whether the state and the federal claims derive from a common nucleus of operative fact; if they do, the court has the power, under Article III of the Constitution, to hear the state claim. Second, even if it concludes that it has that power, the district court must then decide whether to exercise its discretion to assert jurisdiction over the state issue.

Id. (internal citations and quotations omitted). In deciding whether to assert supplemental jurisdiction over a state-law claim, the court should consider whether judicial economy, convenience and fairness to litigants weigh in favor of doing so. A court may decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction, however, if the state claim raises a novel or complex issue of state law, substantially predominates over the federal claims, or remains after the court has dismissed the federal claims. Id. at 921 (citing the supplemental jurisdiction statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1367). If a federal

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court invokes its supplemental jurisdiction over the state-law claim, then it " is bound to apply the law of the forum state to the same extent as if it were exercising its diversity jurisdiction." Super Sulky, Inc. v. U.S. Trotting Ass'n, 174 F.3d 733, 741 (6th Cir. 1999).

B. Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction

Latham moves to dismiss Count V under FRCP 12(b)(1) for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. When considering such a motion, a court reviews the complaint liberally, granting the plaintiff the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged. Barr v. Clinton, 370 F.3d 1196, 1199, 361 U.S.App. D.C. 472 (D.C. Cir. 2004). Nonetheless, " the Court need not accept factual inferences drawn by plaintiffs if those inferences are not supported by facts alleged in the complaint, nor must the Court accept plaintiffs' legal conclusions." Speelman v. United States, 461 F.Supp.2d 71, 73 (D.D.C. 2006). No action of the parties can confer subject matter jurisdiction on a federal court because subject matter jurisdiction is an Article III and a statutory requirement. Akinseye v. District of Columbia, 339 F.3d 970, 971, 358 U.S.App. D.C. 56 (D.C. Cir. 2003). The party claiming subject matter jurisdiction bears the burden of demonstrating that such jurisdiction exists. Khadr v. United States, 529 F.3d 1112, 1115, 381 U.S.App. D.C. 408 (D.C. Cir. 2008); see Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377, 114 S.Ct. 1673, 128 L.Ed.2d 391 (1994) (noting that federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction and " [i]t is to be presumed that a cause lies outside this limited jurisdiction, and the burden of establishing the contrary rests upon the party asserting jurisdiction." (internal citations omitted)).

C. Failure to State a Claim

Latham's motion to dismiss Counts I, II, III, and IV under FRCP 12(b)(6) challenges the adequacy of the Amended Complaint allegations on their face. Such a motion tests whether a plaintiff has properly stated a claim. FRCP 8(a), on which Latham relies, requires that a complaint contain " a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief . . . ." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). A complaint must be sufficient " to give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Bell A. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007) (internal quotations and citation omitted). Although a complaint does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief " requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Id. The facts ...


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