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Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. 1618 Concepts, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

January 7, 2020

1618 CONCEPTS, INC., 1618 DOWNTOWN, INC., and NORTHERN LIGHTS, INC., Defendants.



         In this employment discrimination case, Defendants 1618 Concepts, Inc. (“1618 Concepts”), 1618 Downtown, Inc. (“1618 Downtown”), and Northern Lights, Inc. (“Northern Lights”), move to dismiss the complaint (Doc. 13), and Peter Matusik seeks to intervene as a Plaintiff (Doc. 10). For the reasons set forth below, the motion to dismiss will be denied, and Matusik's motion to intervene will be granted in part and denied in part.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The allegations of the complaint, taken in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff, are as follows:

         Matusik began work at 1618 Downtown, a restaurant, as a dishwasher in June 2017. (Doc. 1 ¶ 31.) In the late fall of 2017, a male co-worker began sexually harassing Matusik, including multiple instances of unwanted, explicit sexual touching and groping. (Id. ¶¶ 32-34.) One or more of Defendants'[1] managers witnessed at least one of these instances of sexual harassment, and Defendants generally were aware of this harassment. (Id. ¶¶ 40-41.) Defendants were also aware that in September 2017 the male co-worker wore a “sex mask” to work, which he showed to other employees, and discussed his interest in websites related to unconventional sex acts. (Id. ¶¶ 36-39.) Matusik complained to Defendants' managers in November and December of 2017, as well as in January 2018. (Id. ¶ 42.) After the co-worker again harassed Matusik on January 20, 2018, a female co-worker reported the incident to management. (Id. ¶ 44.) Following this complaint, management verbally reprimanded the male co-worker, but the co-worker began to act in a way that Matusik viewed as intimidating and threatening. (Id. ¶¶ 45-47.) This included instances of the co-worker standing close to Matusik in an effort to physically intimidate him. (Id. ¶ 46.)

         In February 2018, Matusik attempted again to complain to Defendants' managers about the co-worker's conduct, but the managers refused to discuss the harassment. (Id. ¶¶ 48-49.) Later, on February 20, Matusik met with two managers to discuss his need to take off from work that day and to discuss the negative work environment he was experiencing. (Id. ¶¶ 51-52.) When Matusik told them that he did not feel safe working with the harassing male co-worker, the managers asked why Matusik had not found a different job elsewhere and told him that he should do so “quickly.” (Id. ¶¶ 53-55.) Following this meeting, Matusik did not return to work. (Id. ¶ 56.)

         In May 2018, Matusik filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). (Doc. 13- 1.) He identified 1618 Concepts as his employer, and in the section noting “discrimination based on, ” he checked the box for “sex” and provided the date of discrimination as February 14, 2018. (Id.) In the “particulars” section, he described instances of the harassment from the male co-worker as well as his managers' failure to stop the harassment. (Id.) On June 18, 2018, Matusik filed an amended charge of discrimination in which he provided additional details regarding the history of the harassment he endured, and he marked the boxes indicating he had been discriminated against based on “sex” and had experienced “retaliation.” (Doc. 18-4.) In this amended charge, Matusik again identified his employer as 1618 Concepts. (Id.)

         On February 20, 2019, the EEOC sent 1618 Concepts, 1618 Downtown, and Northern Lights a letter of determination finding reasonable cause to believe that Title VII violations had occurred. (Doc. 1 ¶ 25.) After conciliation failed, the EEOC filed this action on July 9, 2019. (Id. ¶¶ 26-28.)

         On August 16, Matusik moved to intervene. (Docs. 10, 11.) Defendants filed a response in opposition (Doc. 16), and Matusik replied (Doc. 17). Defendants also filed a motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction and failure to state a claim (Docs. 13, 14), as well as an answer to the EEOC's complaint. (Doc. 15). The EEOC filed an opposition to Defendants' motion to dismiss. (Doc. 18.) Defendants did not file a reply.

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. Motion to Dismiss

         Defendants move to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction and for failure to state claim pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and (6), respectively.

         1. Challenges to the EEOC Charge

         Defendants first argue that the court must dismiss the case for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction for failure of the EEOC to exhaust its administrative remedies because (1) Matusik's EEOC charge did not provide notice of a hostile work environment claim, and (2) it identified only 1618 Concepts and not 1618 Downtown or Northern Lights.

         a. Identification of Claims in the EEOC Charge

         Defendants first seek dismissal on the ground that Matusik's EEOC charge did not allege a hostile work environment claim.

         Before bringing a discrimination claim under Title VII, an individual must first timely file an administrative charge with the EEOC. “Only those discrimination claims stated in the initial charge, those reasonably related to the original complaint, and those developed by reasonable investigation of the original complaint may be maintained in a subsequent Title VII lawsuit.” Evans v. Techs. Applications & Serv. Co., 80 F.3d 954, 963 (4th Cir. 1996). Up until June 2019, “a failure by the plaintiff to exhaust administrative remedies concerning a Title VII claim deprive[d] the federal courts of subject matter jurisdiction over the claim.” Jones v. Calvert Grp., Ltd., 551 F.3d 297, 300 (4th Cir. 2009). Neither party has acknowledged, however, that on June 3, the Supreme Court held that Title VII's charge-filing requirement is not jurisdictional, but rather a claims-processing rule. Fort Bend Cty. v Davis, 139 S.Ct. 1843, 1850-51 (2019). See Abadi v. Mecklenburg Cty. Govt., No. 3:17-cv-00435-FDW-DCK, 2019 WL 2546732, at *3 (W.D. N.C. June 20, 2019) (noting that Title VII's requirement that a plaintiff must exhaust all administrative remedies is no longer a jurisdictional issue under Davis, but that the substance of the requirement itself remains unchanged); see also Oswaldo Argueta v. Fred Smith Co., No. 5:19-cv-84-FL, 2019 WL 6337426, at *3 (E.D. N.C. Nov. 26, 2019) (finding that Davis requires that the charge-filing requirement be analyzed under Rule 12(b)(6)); Hodge v. Walrus Oyster Ale House, Civil Action No. TDC-18-3845, 2019 WL 6069114, at *3 (D. Md. Nov. 15, 2019) (applying Rule 12(b)(6) and not Rule 12(b)(1) to defendants' alleged failure to exhaust administrative remedies under Title VII). Therefore, Defendants' arguments will be analyzed under Rule 12(b)(6) and not under Rule 12(b)(1).

         To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). In considering the motion, a court first “separates factual allegations from allegations not entitled to the assumption of truth.” Sauers v. Winston-Salem/Forsyth Cty. Bd. of Educ., 179 F.Supp.3d 544, 550 (M.D. N.C. 2016) (citing Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 681). Conclusory allegations and allegations that are simply a “formulaic recitation of the elements” are not entitled to the assumption of truth. Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 681). The court then determines “whether the factual allegations, which are accepted as true, ‘plausibly suggest an entitlement to relief.'” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 681). A claim is facially plausible when the plaintiff “pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable, ” demonstrating “more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556-57). Of course, the court evaluates this burden against the backdrop of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), which provides that a complaint must simply contain a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.

         A Title VII claim is subject to dismissal “if the EEOC charge alleges discrimination on one basis, such as race, and the formal litigation claim alleges discrimination on a separate basis, such as sex.” Jones, 551 F.3d at 300 (applying jurisdictional analysis). A charge meets the requisite standard if it is “sufficiently precise to identify the parties, and to describe generally the action or practices complained of.” Chacko v. Patuxent Inst., 429 F.3d 505, 508 (4th Cir. 2005) (quoting 29 C.F.R. § 1601.12(b)).

         Defendants rely primarily on Keener v. Universal Cos., Inc., 128 F.Supp.3d 902 (M.D. N.C. 2015). But this case is readily distinguishable. There, the female plaintiff filed an EEOC charge alleging “sex” discrimination and “retaliation” under Title VII. Id. at 912. She checked the respective boxes for those on the charge form and listed her termination date as the date the discrimination took place. Id. In her subsequent federal lawsuit, she also claimed she was the victim of a hostile work environment under Title VII. Id. at 913. However, no part of her EEOC charge described facts that could be attributable to a hostile work environment claim. Id. Thus, the court found that the plaintiff had not exhausted her administrative remedies as to that claim. See Id. at 914.

         Here, the details Matusik provided in his charge about the alleged harassment were sufficient to put Defendants on notice that he alleged a hostile work environment. He identified his harasser, the harassment, alleged it occurred on multiple occasions, and described how, despite his complaints to management, no action was taken against the male co-worker. (Doc. 18-2.) For example, he alleged, “I was sexually harassed on numerous occasions by a cook, ” “[t]he harasser physically touched my genitals on more than one occasion, ” and “I believe I was discriminated against, based on my sex, male when I was sexually harassed . . . .” (Id. at 2.) He alleged in his amended charge, which relates back to his original charge, see 29 C.F.R. § 1601.12(b), that “[w]hile employed, I was subject to a hostile work environment and sexually harassed by a male coworker, ” “[o]n no less than four occasions I was subjected to significantly severe sexually harassing behavior by a male coworker, ” and “I believe I have been discriminated against, subjected to a hostile working environment, sexually harassed . . . due to my sex, male . . . in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended.” (Doc. 18-4 at 2.) Notably, there is no box on the charge form labeled “hostile work environment, ” but only one labeled “other, ” which would have required Matusik to then specify the claim in the margin, which is essentially what he did in the description of the alleged conduct. (Docs. 18-2, 18-4.) Matusik's ...

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