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Demissie v. Starbucks Corporate Office & Headquarters

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

July 13, 2015

RAHEL A. DEMISSIE, Plaintiff,
v.
STARBUCKS CORPORATE OFFICE AND HEADQUARTERS, Defendant

RAHEL A. DEMISSIE, Plaintiff, Pro se, Washington, DC.

For STARBUCKS CORPORATE OFFICE AND HEADQUARTERS, Defendant: Nathan Joshua Oleson, Stacey Recht Eisenstein, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Kelly M. Scindian, AKIN GUMP STRAUSS HAUER & FELD LLP, Washington, DC.

Page 30

MEMORANDUM OPINION

ELLEN SEGAL HUVELLE, United States District Judge.

Plaintiff Rahel A. Demissie filed this action on December 18, 2013, against Starbucks Corporate Office and Headquarters (" Starbucks" ) based on a claim of unlawful employment actions motivated by discrimination on the basis of race, gender, or national origin. ( See Compl., Dec. 18, 2013 [ECF. No. 1].) The parties engaged in a lengthy series of settlement conferences under the auspices of Magistrate Judge Robinson, but they disagree on whether a settlement was reached during a settlement conference held on November 6, 2014.

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Plaintiff, claiming that no settlement had been reached, renoticed depositions for December 5, 2014, but defendant did not attend. Plaintiff filed a motion to compel depositions and extend discovery on December 10, 2014. ( See Pl.'s Mot. to Compel, Dec. 10, 2014 [ECF No. 33].) On December 11, 2014, Starbucks filed a motion to enforce settlement agreement ( see Def.'s Mot. to Enforce, Dec. 11, 2014 [ECF No. 34]), an opposition to plaintiff's motion to compel ( see Def.'s Opp. to Mot. to Compel, Dec. 11, 2014 [ECF No. 35]), and a motion for protective order. ( See Def.'s Mot. for Protect. Order, Dec. 11, 2014 [ECF No. 36]). The Court held an evidentiary hearing on February 6, 2015. Kelly Scindian, attorney for Starbucks, and Richard Salzman, attorney for Ms. Demissie, provided testimony about the alleged settlement agreement, and several emails exchanged between counsel before and after the November 6, 2014 settlement conference were admitted into evidence. Mr. Salzman did not provide testimony on direct examination, but represented that he adopted his emails relating to the settlement as true statements. ( See Evid. Hr'g Tr. at 49-50, Feb. 6, 2015 [ECF No. 43] (" Tr." ).) Based on the testimony of the witnesses, the exhibits, and the entire record, the Court makes the following findings of fact and conclusions of law.

BACKGROUND

Ms. Demissie, who was born in Ethiopia, filed a pro se lawsuit against Starbucks alleging that the company violated Title VII by failing to " equally apply [its] rules and regulations" pertaining to pay raises and work scheduling " to all employees regardless of race, gender, or national origin" and by retaliating against her for " report[ing] the situation" to human resources. (Compl. at 2-3.) On February 25, 2014, the Court granted defendant's partial motion to dismiss, dismissing plaintiff's claims of race and gender discrimination and retaliation relating to the reduction in hours on the grounds of failure to exhaust administrative remedies. ( See Mem. Op. and Order, Feb. 25, 2014 [ECF. No. 12] at 5.) The remaining allegations that Starbucks 1) discriminated against plaintiff on the basis of national origin by failing to provide Ms. Demissie with regular performance reviews and pay increases, and 2) retaliated against plaintiff by informing her that she and her sister could no longer work at the same Starbucks store, were permitted to proceed. ( See id. )

On April 8, 2014, the Court held an initial scheduling conference and discovery was scheduled to close on August 24, 2014. ( See Min. Entry, Apr. 8, 2014.) The discovery period was subsequently extended to December 20, 2014. ( See Min. Order, Nov. 5, 2014.) The Court also referred the case to Magistrate Judge Robinson for settlement discussions.[1] ( See Order Referring Case, Apr. 8, 2014.) The parties met for mediation on four occasions: May 27, 2014, June 12, 2014, June 25, 2014, and November 6, 2014. The first three settlement conferences were mediated by Magistrate Judge Robinson, but the final conference was mediated by her term law clerk. ( See Tr. at 2-3.)

The parties initially met for mediation on May 27, 2014. During this conference, the parties discussed plaintiff's claims and allegations and potential terms of the settlement agreement. ( See Tr. at 21 & 23.) Plaintiff proposed a specific amount to settle the claims, and defendant stated that

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any settlement agreement between the parties would be contingent on the plaintiff's agreement to voluntarily resign from her position at Starbucks, to not reapply, to release all claims against defendant, and to maintain confidentiality of all material terms. ( See Tr. at 23.) The settlement amount proposed by plaintiff was not accepted. ( See Tr. at 24.) Both parties agree that they did not discuss tax treatment of the settlement amount at this mediation. ( See Tr. at 23 & 57.)

During the second mediation, held on June 12, 2014, the parties were unsure how a potential settlement agreement would affect plaintiff's independent workers' compensation claim. ( See Tr. at 24.) Defendant again insisted on the terms discussed at the previous settlement conference: voluntary resignation and no rehire, release of all claims, and confidentiality of material terms. ( See Tr. at 58-59.) The parties did not discuss tax allocation during the second mediation. ( See Tr. at 57.)

The third mediation was held on June 25, 2014. The parties discussed plaintiff's workers' compensation claim, and plaintiff represented that any settlement with an agreement to release Starbucks of all claims would need to carve out an exception for her workers' compensation claim. ( See Tr. at 25.) Defense counsel agreed to this term and reiterated defendant's requirements for settlement: voluntary resignation and no rehire, release of all claims excluding the workers' compensation claim, and confidentiality of material terms. ( See Tr. at 25.) Again, how the settlement amount would be taxed was not brought up by either party. ( See Tr. at 25; 57.)

On September 17, 2014, Mr. Salzman, counsel for plaintiff sent an email to defense counsel and proposed another settlement amount. ( See Evid. Hr'g, Feb. 6, 2014, Def.'s Ex. 1.) In his email, Mr. Salzman addressed attorney's fees and indicated that the settlement amount would include his fees discounted at a significant rate. ( See id. ) Defense counsel, Ms. Scindian, responded the following day, inquiring whether the offer included plaintiff's acceptance of the voluntary resignation and no rehire terms previously discussed. ( See id. ) On September 25, 2014, Mr. ...


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