Allen v. American Home Foods, Inc., S85-516.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 7th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Indiana
Citation644 F. Supp. 1553
Docket NumberNo. S85-516.,S85-516.
PartiesMary Ann ALLEN, et al., Plaintiffs, v. AMERICAN HOME FOODS, INC., et al., Defendants.
Decision Date14 October 1986

Renate Klass, Bruce A. Miller, Southfield, Mich., Kevin Likes, Auburn, Ind., for plaintiffs.

Martin W. Kus, LaPorte, Ind., for defendants.


MILLER, District Judge.

I. Facts Relevant to the Motions

This action arises out of a decision by American Home Foods, Inc. and American Home Products Corp. hereinafter jointly referred to as "American Home" to close their LaPorte, Indiana, plant and terminate all of its LaPorte employees. On January 20, 1984, American Home notified all employees at that plant, in writing, that due to a decrease in demand for products manufactured in LaPorte, the company was trying to decide whether to close the LaPorte plant permanently and transfer the work done in LaPorte to another site, or to close another plant and consolidate the work in LaPorte.

American Home decided to close the LaPorte plant and so notified all of its LaPorte employees in writing on February 21, 1984. American Home later negotiated a closure agreement with the United Steel Workers of America, AFL-CIO-CLC, Local Union No. 14000, of LaPorte, Indiana (hereinafter "union"), the sole and exclusive bargaining agent for most of the LaPorte plant employees. That agreement provided for severance allowance, settlement of outstanding grievances, pension benefits, pension rights, group insurance benefits, and termination of the controlling collective bargaining agreement.

On September 17, 1985, fifty-one of American Home's LaPorte employees filed this lawsuit. Their complaint alleges that among the significant and determinative factors American Home considered when deciding to close the LaPorte plant and transfer the work to another plant were (1) the predominance of women in the LaPorte plant as compared to all the American Home plants, and (2) the predominance at the LaPorte plant, as compared to all other American Home plants, of older workers whose pension rights were near vesting.

The plaintiffs allege three cause of action: (1) discrimination based on sex, in violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.; (2) interference with pension rights, in violation of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, 29 U.S.C. § 1140; and (3) discrimination based on age, in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. The plaintiffs seek equitable relief in the form of reinstatement, lost wages, attorney fees, and costs. American Home contends that its decision to close the LaPorte plant was based solely on economic considerations.

The plaintiffs invoke the court's jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. § 2000e for the Title VII claims, 29 U.S.C. §§ 1001 et seq. for the ERISA claims, and 29 U.S.C. § 621 for the ADEA claims.

This cause is now before the court on five dispositive motions American Home has directed at various aspects of the action:

(1) a motion to dismiss the Title VII claims as to male employees;
(2) a motion to dismiss the ADEA claims as to certain plaintiffs not within the protected age group;
(3) a motion to dismiss all claims as to plaintiff Carolyn Adams;
(4) a motion to dismiss the ADEA claims as to certain plaintiffs for failure to file a timely administrative charge; and
(5) a motion for summary judgment regarding the plaintiffs' ERISA claim.

The plaintiffs filed timely responses to each of those motions. The defendants chose not to reply, and the time for briefing has passed.

II. Motion to Dismiss Title VII Claims as to Male Employees

Five of the fifty-one plaintiffs in this action1 are male. American Home contends that Title VII applies only to sexual discrimination directed at women, and that male plaintiffs, who are not part of the protected class, lack standing to assert sex discrimination claims under Title VII. Accordingly, American Home maintains that the male plaintiffs' claims should be dismissed pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

The male plaintiffs respond that males may assert Title VII claims of discrimination based on sex if they are persons aggrieved by an employer's discriminatory actions. The male plaintiffs argue that Congress intended Title VII's broad standing provision to cover all persons injured by a discriminatory employment practice. These males claim that they lost their jobs due to American Home's discrimination against their fellow female employees; thus, they suffered an injury directly related to American Home's sexual discrimination. Accordingly, the male plaintiffs claim to have standing to bring suit.

Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure warrants dismissal of a complaint prior to the filing of a responsive pleading if a defendant demonstrates that the complaint states no claim upon which relief can be based. In reviewing a 12(b)(6) motion, the court must accept as true the complaint's well-pleaded factual allegations and view those facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 94 S.Ct. 1683, 40 L.Ed.2d 90 (1874); Hampton v. City of Chicago, 484 F.2d 602 (7th Cir.1973). Dismissal is proper only if it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiffs can prove no set of facts, consistent with the allegations of their complaint, that would entitle them to relief. Hishon v. King & Spaulding, 467 U.S. 69, 104 S.Ct. 2229, 81 L.Ed.2d 59 (1984); Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 78 S.Ct. 99, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957); French v. Heyne, 547 F.2d 994 (7th Cir.1976).

The question before the court is a narrow one. These male plaintiffs do not allege "reverse discrimination"; they do not seek to assert the rights of third persons; they do not claim that they were discharged because of their opposition to an unlawful business practice by American Home; they do not claim that they were discharged in retaliation for an activity protected by Title VII. They claim that American Home's decision to close the plant at which they worked was based, at least in part, on the sex of their female co-workers. They assert their own injuries; they assert their own rights.

Whether Title VII allows males standing to sue in such a situation appears to be a question of first impression. Title VII provides that a "person claiming to be aggrieved may bring a civil action". 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(1). The Act generally defines unlawful employment practices as actions taken against an individual employee due to that employee's race, color, sex, or national origin,2 see 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2, but the enforcement provision does not address specifically whether an unlawful business practice against one in a protected class is actionable by one who, while outside a protected class, suffers real injury due to the practice.

Courts that have addressed the matter disagree over the requirements for Title VII standing. Most courts seem to hold that any plaintiff who suffers an injury due to an employer's unlawful business practice is sufficiently aggrieved to have standing to file a civil action. Waters v. Heublein, Inc., 547 F.2d 466 (9th Cir.1976), cert. denied 433 U.S. 915, 97 S.Ct. 2988, 53 L.Ed.2d 1100 (1977) (white female had standing to sue to redress discrimination against blacks and Spanish-surnamed employees); Bartelson v. Dean Witter Co., 86 F.R.D. 657 (E.D.N.Y.1980) (white female had standing to sue for discrimination against blacks). See also Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Bailey, 563 F.2d 439 (6th Cir.1966), cert. denied 435 U.S. 915, 98 S.Ct. 1468, 55 L.Ed.2d 506 (1978) (EEOC could bring suit based on white female's charge of discrimination against blacks); Hackett v. McGuire Brothers Co., 445 F.2d 442, 446 (3rd Cir. 1971) (pensioner, although not an employee, could be a person aggrieved by employment practice under Title VII); cf. Novotny v. Great American Federal Savings & Loan Ass'n, 584 F.2d 1235 (3rd Cir.1978) (male had standing to sue when discharged because "his actions and advocacy stood in the path of a plan to deprive women of their equal employment rights"), rev'd on other grounds 442 U.S. 366, 99 S.Ct. 2345, 60 L.Ed.2d 957 (1979). The foregoing cases are not dispositive; each addressed actions to enjoin the discriminatory practices, while these male plaintiffs' seeks damages resulting from the alleged discriminatory practice.

Several courts have considered whether the plaintiff alleged, in addition to a cognizable injury, claims that were arguably within the "zone of interests" of the statute, as generally required by Association of Data Processing Organizations v. Camp, 397 U.S. 150, 90 S.Ct. 827, 25 L.Ed.2d 184 (1970). See, e.g., Pecorella v. Oak Orchard Community Health Center, 559 F.Supp. 147, 149 (W.D.N.Y.1982) (male who alleged that defendant had offered him job at pay greater than female employees was not within "zone of interests" protected by Title VII, hence lacked standing); Linskey v. Heidelberg Eastern, Inc., 470 F.Supp. 1181, 1187 (E.D.N.Y.1979) (male lacked standing for Title VII allegation that defendants "engaged in discriminatory practices against women"); Curran v. Portland School Committee of Maine, 435 F.Supp. 1063, 1071 (D.Maine 1977) (female job applicant was within Title VII's "zone of interests" to be protected); Martin v. Safeway Trials, Inc., 5 FEP Cases 1164 (D.C.D.C.1973).

Statutory interpretations of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (hereinafter "EEOC"), while not controlling, are entitled to deference. General Electric Co. v. Gilbert, 429 U.S. 125, 97 S.Ct. 401, 50 L.Ed.2d 343 (1976). The EEOC interprets Title VII to afford standing to anyone protesting any form of alleged employer discrimination, on the theory that all employees have a right to work in an atmosphere free from unlawful employment practices. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v....

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