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Arias v. Marriott International, Inc.

United States District Court, District of Columbia

March 31, 2019

ROSA ARIAS, Plaintiff,
v.
MARRIOTT INTERNATIONAL, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          COLLEEN KOLLAR-KOTELLY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Rosa Arias moves to file a Third Amended Complaint in this lawsuit. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a) provides that leave to amend a complaint “shall be freely given when justice so requires.” Defendant opposes Plaintiff's Motion, arguing primarily that amendment would be futile. Upon consideration of the briefing, [1] the relevant legal authorities, and the record as a whole, the Court GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART Plaintiff's Motion to Amend. The Court concludes that some claims which Plaintiff requests to include in the Third Amended Complaint fail to state a claim for which relief may be granted. However, other claims are not futile and should be allowed to proceed.[2]

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff is a Nicaraguan native whom Defendant employed in its Housekeeping Department from 2003 through October 6, 2017. In June 2015, Plaintiff filed a complaint against Defendant in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, Civil Action No. 2015 CA 4324 B. [Corrected] Notice of Removal, ECF No. 2, at 1. On August 5, 2015, Defendant removed the case to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on federal question jurisdictional grounds. Id. at 2-3. On April 21, 2016, Plaintiff filed a Second Amended Complaint with leave of the Court. Pl.'s 2d Am. Compl., ECF No. 31. Some ambiguity notwithstanding, the claims of the Second Amended Complaint may be summarized as follows: (1) discrimination based on race, national origin, and retaliation for a protected activity under 42 U.S.C. § 1981; (2) breach of contract in allegedly terminating Plaintiff's employment; (3) breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing in allegedly terminating Plaintiff's employment in bad faith; (4) wrongful termination of at-will contract in violation of public policy and 42 U.S.C. § 1981, pled in the alternative to Counts Two and/or Three; (5) negligence and negligent misrepresentation of material facts, alleging that Defendant breached its duty of care through various employment actions relating to the chemicals used in the workplace; (6) aggravated assault through failure to provide personal protective equipment (“PPE”); and (7) fraudulent concealment of material fact concerning the health effects of chemicals used in the course of Plaintiff's employment.[3] See id.

         On May 5, 2016, Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint, ECF No. 33, which the parties subsequently briefed. On August 12, 2016, pursuant to an agreement between the parties, Plaintiff filed a notice voluntarily dismissing Count Five, containing the negligence and negligent misrepresentation claims, and Count Seven, containing, inter alia, the fraudulent concealment of material fact claim. Notice of Filing Def.'s Mot. for Sanction, ECF No. 40, at 1; Notice of Dismissal of Claims from Pl.'s 2nd Am. Compl. 1, ECF No. 40-1, at 1. On November 14, 2016, the Court granted in part and denied in part Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint. Order, ECF No. 52. The Court dismissed Count One's claims as to race and national origin discrimination, as well as Counts Four and Six in their entirety. Id. at 2; Mem. Op., ECF No. 53, at 6-7 n.6 (“Ms. Arias does not appear to be making an argument that she faced discrimination based on being from Nicragua [sic] separate and apart from discrimination based on race. Therefore, the Court will consider only the claim of discrimination based on race.”). Remaining are Plaintiff's claims under Count One for retaliation in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981, Count Two for breach of contract, and Count Three for breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. See Nov. 14, 2015 Order, ECF No. 52, at 2.

         On August 15, 2017, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Class Certification. ECF No. 69. However, on March 29, 2018, the Court denied Plaintiff's Motion for Class Certification. March 29, 2018 Memorandum Opinion, ECF No. 88.

         On May 1, 2018, Plaintiff filed for leave to file a Third Amended Complaint. Pl.'s Mot., ECF No. 93. Prior to Defendant filing a response, Plaintiff filed a Notice requesting that the Clerk of the Court strike the Third Amended Complaint which was attached to Plaintiff's Motion and instead file the Third Amended Complaint attached to Plaintiff's Notice. Pl.'s Notice, ECF No. 96. The Third Amended Complaint which was attached to Plaintiff's Notice is the document that Defendant responded to and is the document currently being considered by the Court. Third Amended Complaint (“TAC”), ECF No. 96-1. Defendant has opposed Plaintiff's Motion to Amend.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Under Rule 15(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, leave to amend a complaint “shall be freely given when justice so requires.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a); see Firestone v. Firestone, 76 F.3d 1205, 1208 (D.C. Cir. 1996). “In the absence of any apparent or declared reason-such as undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive on the part of the movant, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendments previously allowed, undue prejudice to the opposing party by virtue of allowance of the amendment, futility of amendment, etc.-the leave sought should, as the rules require, be ‘freely given.”' Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962).

         “[A] district court has discretion to deny a motion to amend on grounds of futility where the proposed pleading would not survive a motion to dismiss.” In re Interbank Funding Corp. Sec. Litigation, 629 F.3d 213, 215 (D.C. Cir. 2010). As a result, a court's decision as to whether to grant or deny on futility grounds a motion to amend “is for practical purposes, identical to review of a 12(b)(6) dismissal based on the allegation in the amended complaint.” Id. at 215-16.

         III. DISCUSSION

         Following the Court's ruling on Defendant's motion to dismiss Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint, three of Plaintiff's claims survived, each relating to Plaintiff's May 14, 2015 termination:[4] (1) 42 U.S.C. § 1981 claim for retaliation, (2) breach of contract, and (3) breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. See March 29, 2018 Memorandum Opinion, ECF No. 88, 5-6. In her Third Amended Complaint, Plaintiff preserves her previous three claims, and brings at least nine new claims. Under Plaintiff's requested Third Amended Complaint, she brings claims for:

• Count 1- Race discrimination and retaliation under the District of Columbia Human Rights Act (“DCHRA”) for Plaintiff's May 14, 2015 termination;
• Count 2- Race discrimination and retaliation under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 for Plaintiff's May 14, 2015 termination; • Count 3- Breach of contract for Plaintiff's May 14, 2015 termination;
• Count 4- Breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing for Plaintiff's May 14, 2015 termination;
• Count 5- Negligent termination for Plaintiff's May 14, 2015 termination;
• Count 6- Race discrimination and retaliation under the DCHRA for Plaintiff's October 6, 2017 termination;
• Count 7- Race discrimination and retaliation under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 for Plaintiff's October 6, 2017 termination; • Count 8- Hostile work environment under Title VII;
• Count 9- Breach of contract for Plaintiff's October 6, 2017 termination;
• Count 10- Breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing for Plaintiff's October 6, 2017 termination; • Count 11- Intentional infliction of emotional distress; and
• Count 12- Violation of overtime pay requirements under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”).

See generally TAC, ECF No. 96-1.

         In response to Plaintiff's request to again amend her complaint, Defendant argues that permitting Plaintiff to amend her Complaint will result in undue delay. The Court understands Defendant's frustration given that this suit has been pending for almost three years and that this will be Plaintiff's third time amending her Complaint. However, under Rule 15(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, leave to amend a complaint “shall be freely given when justice so requires.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a); see Firestone, 76 F.3d at 1208. Under these circumstances, the Court concludes that Plaintiff should be given the opportunity to fully present her claims. However, the Court cautions Plaintiff that, following the current requested amendment to Plaintiff's Complaint, this case needs to proceed through the next stages of litigation. Absent extenuating circumstances, Plaintiff is unlikely to be granted a fifth bite at the apple.

         In addition to arguing undue delay, Defendant also presents seven reasons as to why Plaintiff's Motion to Amend is futile. First, Defendant argues that Plaintiff's claims for race discrimination are futile because Plaintiff cannot establish a plausible basis for each element of the claims. Second, Defendant argues that Plaintiff's claims for retaliation resulting in her October 2017 termination are futile because Plaintiff fails to establish a causal connection between any protected activity and Plaintiff's termination. Third, Defendant contends that Plaintiff's hostile work environment claim is futile as she fails to meet the basic pleading requirements. Fourth, Defendant argues that Plaintiff's contract claims are futile because Plaintiff was an at-will employee. Fifth, Defendant contends that Plaintiff's tort claims are futile because they are preempted by Workers' Compensation exclusivity. Sixth, Defendant argues that Plaintiff's intentional infliction of emotional distress claim is futile because it is subsumed by her discrimination and retaliation claims. Finally, Defendant contends that Plaintiff's overtime wage claim is futile because her allegations lack specificity. The Court will address each argument in turn.

         A. Futility of Race Discrimination Claims

         First, Defendant argues that Plaintiff's discrimination claims must fail under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) because Plaintiff cannot establish a plausible basis for each of the elements. To establish a claim for discrimination under the DCHRA and Section 1981, a plaintiff must show that (1) she belongs to a protected class, (2) she suffered an adverse employment action, and (3) the adverse employment action gives rise to an inference of discrimination. Ginger v. District of Columbia, 477 F.Supp.2d 41, 47-4, 56 (D.D.C. 2007) (setting out the standard for discrimination under § 1981 and the DCHRA). The parties do not dispute that Plaintiff is a member of a protected class as she is Hispanic. Additionally, the Court concludes that Plaintiff has sufficiently plead at least two adverse employment actions as Plaintiff bases her claims of discrimination on her terminations in May 2015 and October 2017. Termination constitutes an adverse employment action. See Douglas v. Donovan, 559 F.3d 549, 554 (D.C. Cir. 2009) (explaining that termination is an “obvious” adverse employment action); see also Memorandum Opinion, ECF No. 53, 8.

         Having considered the first two elements, the Court next turns to whether or not Plaintiff has pled facts which would give rise to an inference that discrimination led to her alleged adverse employment actions. In her Third Amended Complaint, Plaintiff generally alleges that she was terminated both in May 2015 and in October 2017 on account of race. TAC, ECF No. 96-1, ¶¶ 262, 281, 322, 327, 334. Plaintiff also provides several specific examples of this alleged racial discrimination. Plaintiff claims that Hope Boyd, a Marriott Assistant Manager, demanded that Plaintiff not speak Spanish in the workplace and told Plaintiff that Spanish employees talked too much. Id. at ¶ 55. Plaintiff also claims that Ms. Boyd told Plaintiff that Spanish employees complained too much about the conditions of their employment. Id. at ¶ 148. Plaintiff further alleges that her manager, Courtney Baron, told her that “[y]ou people can find these kinds of jobs at another Hotel.” Id. at ¶ 260. Plaintiff goes on to connect Ms. Boyd and Ms. Baron to some of the decisions and warnings that ultimately resulted in Plaintiff's October 2017 termination. See e.g., Id. at ¶¶ 188, 206, 132.

         Accordingly, the Court concludes that Plaintiff has pled sufficient facts to make her claims for racial discrimination resulting in her October 2017 termination non-futile. Based on this analysis, Counts 6 and 7 are not futile and Plaintiff's Motion to Amend is GRANTED insofar as these counts ...


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