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Portillo v. IL Creations Inc.

United States District Court, District of Columbia

March 31, 2019



          Randolph D. Moss United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Irma Portillo, a former employee at the Uncommon Café, is suing Defendant IL Creations Inc., the restaurant's owner, for race/national origin discrimination, gender and pregnancy discrimination, and retaliation, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. The matter is before the Court on Defendant's motion for summary judgment. Dkt. 13. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will GRANT summary judgment in favor of Defendant on Portillo's pregnancy discrimination claim and will DENY summary judgment as to the remainder of her claims.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Portillo worked as a cashier at the Uncommon Café from June 2014 until her termination in August 2015. Dkt. 1 at 2 (Compl. ¶ 8). She alleges that, throughout her employment, her supervisor, Jiyoung Kim, forbade her from speaking Spanish at work, Dkt. 15 at 5 (Pl. Statement of Material Facts (“SMF”) ¶ 81) (citing Dkt. 15-13 at 9 (Portillo Dep.)); denied her request to sit on a stool during her shift to accommodate her pregnancy, id. at 6 (SMF ¶¶ 90-93) (citing Dkt. 15-13 at 11 (Portillo Dep.)); and treated her (and the other Hispanic employees) less favorably than the Korean employees at the restaurant, id. at 5, 7 (SMF ¶¶ 84, 96) (citing Dkt. 15-13 at 10, 18 (Portillo Dep.)).

         Things came to a head when the CEO of IL Creations Inc., Steven Choi, conducted a site visit in August 2015. Dkt. 13-1 at 4 (Def. Statement of Undisputed Material Facts (“SUMF”) ¶ 38). During the visit, Kim informed Choi that “Portillo would not listen to [her], or do what she instructed.” Dkt. 13-1 at 10 (Choi Aff. ¶ 12). Choi then requested to meet with Portillo, Kim, and Jose Lopez, the General Manager of the store. Dkt. 15-16 at 6 (Choi Dep.). It is undisputed that, at this meeting, Portillo repeatedly accused Kim of being “a racist, ” see Dkt. 13-1 at 10 (Choi Aff. ¶ 12); Dkt. 15 at 10-11 (Pl. SMF ¶¶ 110-113). In response, Choi terminated Portillo on the spot. Dkt. 13-1 at 10 (Choi Aff. ¶ 12).

         Defendant denies that either Kim or Choi engaged in any discriminatory or retaliatory conduct towards Portillo. With respect to Portillo's allegations about Kim, Defendant contends that Kim was merely enforcing the company's policies, which required employees to speak English in front of customers, Dkt. 13-1 at 4 (Def. SUMF ¶ 37) (citing id. at 31 (Yoo Aff. ¶ 9)), and prohibited cashiers from sitting at the register because “[it] was not an appropriate look, ” id. (Def. SUMF ¶ 32) (citing id. at 31 (Yoo Aff. ¶ 7)). Moreover, Defendant argues that Kim did not favor the Korean employees. Rather, the only two Korean employees at Uncommon Café worked as chefs in the kitchen and were permitted to eat breakfast on the job and to coordinate their own breaks because they were salaried employees. Id. at 3 (Def. SUMF ¶¶ 26-27) (citing id. at 31 (Yoo Aff. ¶ 6)). By contrast, Portillo was an hourly employee who had to punch in and out on a timecard. Id.

         Choi, for his part, admits that he fired Portillo for calling Kim a racist. See Dkt. 13-1 at 10 (Choi Aff. ¶ 12) (“The only reason I terminated her was because she repeatedly called her Manager, Ms. Kim, a racist.”). He explains, however, that:

[Portillo] provided no information to support [her] claim.
As an immigrant and minority myself, I found this conduct particularly reprehensible. There was no way Portillo could continue to work for the Company after repeatedly calling her supervisor a “racist.” I told Portillo she was terminated right then and there, and asked her to leave the property.

Id. (Choi Aff. ¶¶ 10-11). Portillo's termination notice indicated that she was terminated for “insubordination” and “language”-specifically, “false accusation of her supervisor” for being a racist and failure to “follow the direction of her supervisor.” Dkt. 13-1 at 54 (Termination Notice).

         After she was terminated, Portillo filed a complaint with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (“EEOC”). Dkt. 15-3 (EEOC Determination). On August 16, 2015, the EEOC issued a decision letter that stated, in relevant part:

[T]he evidence shows that [Portillo] had a good-faith basis for her complaint that [Defendant] was engaging in national origin discrimination. The evidence also established a strong causal connection between [Portillo's] protected activity and [Defendant's] issuance of the Employee Discipline Warning Notice that served as [her] termination notice.
Based on the foregoing, . . . there is reasonable cause to believe that [Defendant] engaged in unlawful retaliation [against Portillo] in violation of Title VII when it terminated her employment.
With regard to [Portillo's] remaining allegations, I make no finding . . . [T]he commission now invites the parties to join with it in ...

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