Cole v. Wells Fargo Bank, 4:06-CV-00086-JEG.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States State District Court of Southern District of Iowa
Citation437 F.Supp.2d 974
Docket NumberNo. 4:06-CV-00086-JEG.,4:06-CV-00086-JEG.
PartiesSusan C. COLE, Plaintiff, v. WELLS FARGO BANK, N.A., Defendants.
Decision Date11 July 2006
437 F.Supp.2d 974
Susan C. COLE, Plaintiff,
WELLS FARGO BANK, N.A., Defendants.
No. 4:06-CV-00086-JEG.
United States District Court, S.D. Iowa, Central Division.
July 11, 2006.

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Leanne M. Striegel, Des Moines, IA, for Plaintiff.

Kerrie M. Murphy, Gonzalez, Lora L. McCollom, Gonzalez, Saggio & Harlan, LLP, West Des Moines, IA, for Defendants.


GRITZNER, District Judge.

This matter comes before the Court on Defendant's Partial Motion to Dismiss (Clerk's No. 3). Plaintiff Susan C. Cole is represented by Leanne M. Striegel; Defendant Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. is represented by Lora L. McCollom. No hearing has been requested, and one is unnecessary to resolve the pending motion. This matter is fully submitted and is ready for disposition.


Defendant Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. ("Wells Fargo") is a federally-chartered national banking association and is a citizen of South Dakota.2 Plaintiff Susan C.

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Cole resides in Iowa and is employed by Wells Fargo.

Cole began her employment at Wells Fargo as a tax representative in 1997. She was promoted to Underwriter I in June 2003. In October 2003, Cole began suffering panic attacks as a result of changes in certain medications Cole required. Cole informed her supervisor, Rebecca Jones, about these attacks. Later that month, Cole was contacted by a Wells Fargo physician, who recommended Cole be placed on leave until her response to her medications stabilized. Cole embarked on a period of leave, returning to Wells Fargo in November 2003. When she returned, she suggested several accommodations: she petitioned for a closer parking spot, requested to work on the first floor of the building, and asked to work from her home.

In December 2003, Jones suggested Wells Fargo purchase an armchair for Cole to use during her panic attacks and that Cole be permitted to work in a tall, secluded cubicle. Later that month, the armchair purchase was approved, and in January 2004, an armchair was placed in Cole's secluded cubicle. Cole claims Jones harassed her about the use of her chair, but she provides no factual details backing this allegation.

In August 2004, Wells Fargo reorganized the office where Cole worked. According to Cole, she was placed in the center of the workspace in a short cubicle surrounded by other workers. Jones told Cole the armchair would not "fit" in the reorganized space, so she would need to do her job without it. Cole complained she would be unable to work effectively without her armchair. Ken Roth, Cole's manager, told Cole she could work in a double cubicle with her armchair, but Jones had disposed of the armchair "in such a way that it could not be placed in the center of the work space."

Also in August 2004, some of Cole's coworkers began to work flex schedules. Although Cole wished to attend work on such a schedule, she was told she needed a higher quality rating before becoming eligible for that benefit. Cole later learned others working flex schedules had lower quality ratings than her own.

In November 2004, Cole checked certain underwriting statistics and found errors in her reports. She reported these errors to Roth, who told her to speak with Jones. Cole complied. According to Cole, Jones advised her that if she corrected the errors, Jones would find more errors, so Cole was "better off" if the errors remained. Cole's filings are devoid of detail regarding what the alleged errors were or how Cole could conceivably benefit from their presence.

Sometime between November 2004 and January 2005, an individual with a lower quality rating than Cole's was promoted to Underwriter II. In January 2005, Cole met with Roth to discuss why she was not promoted. Roth told Cole she was not selected because of a poor assessment and told Cole she required additional training. The record contains little regarding Cole's work performance. The pleadings reflect that in December 2003, a Wells Fargo employee told Cole she "was having performance issues," but in September 2004, Cole earned an award for "quality." Cole requested a copy of the poor assessment from Roth and Wells Fargo's Human Resources department, but this request was purportedly denied.

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Since she began working at Wells Fargo, Cole has converted to Judaism. On October 28, 2004, Cole asked Roth that she be permitted to arrive at and leave from work thirty minutes early on Fridays to attend services at her synagogue. Roth initially advised Cole he was unable to give a definitive answer, but Cole claims her request was eventually denied.

Cole filed a complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission (ICRC) on May 2, 2005, and received an administrative release on January 9, 2006. Cole initiated this action in the Iowa District Court in and for Polk County in early 2006, and it was removed by Wells Fargo to this court on March 6, 2006.

The current version of Cole's Complaint contains four counts. Count 1 sets forth a disability discrimination claim, wherein Cole claims she was not promoted because of her penchant for panic attacks. In Count 2, Cole claims Wells Fargo denied her request to adjust her work schedule so she could attend religious services, amounting to a violation of the Free Exercise Clauses of the United States and Iowa constitutions.3 Cole sets forth a tortious misrepresentation claim in Count 3. She alleges Wells Fargo employees informed her she "would need to reach level 4 performance in order to be promoted." She claims she "relied on [Wells Fargo]'s statements that she would be promoted if she performed the same job functions or at the same level as those who were promoted." In Count 4, Cole claims the occurrence of the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress. She alleges "[t]he refusal to provide reasonable accommodations, the denial of a promotion, and the refusal to allow Cole to exercise her religion freely have resulted in the intentional infliction of mental distress . . . ."

Citing Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), Wells Fargo moves to dismiss Count 4.4 Wells Fargo argues Cole must succeed on her ICRA claim to prevail on her intentional infliction of mental distress claim. Consequently, Wells Fargo argues, Cole may seek redress only under the ICRA. Resisting, Cole only points out that her Complaint reproduces the elements of the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress.


I. Wells Fargo's Motion to Dismiss.

Wells Fargo argues the ICRA preempts Cole's intentional infliction of mental distress claim, compelling dismissal of Count 4 of Cole's Complaint.

A. Applicable Legal Principles.

When considering a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court must accept

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as true factual allegations in the complaint and grant all reasonable inferences favorable to the nonmovant. See Creason v. City of Washington, 435 F.3d 820, 823 (8th Cir.2006); Knieriem v. Group Health Plan, Inc., 434 F.3d 1058, 1060 (8th Cir. 2006); In re Operation of Mo. River Sys. Litig., 418 F.3d 915, 917 (8th Cir.2005); Sec., Inc. v. Comprehensive Software Sys., Inc., 406 F.3d 1052, 1062 (8th Cir.2005). A motion premised on this rule should only be granted in the "`unusual case,'" Strand v. Diversified Collection Serv., Inc., 380 F.3d 316, 317 (8th Cir.2004) (quoting Frey v. City of Herculaneum, 44 F.3d 667, 671 (8th Cir.1995)), where "it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of [her] claim which would entitle [her] to relief," Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S.Ct. 99, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957); accord Knieriem, 434 F.3d at 1060; Mo. River Sys. Litig., 418 F.3d at 917; Sec., 406 F.3d at 1062. "At this stage of the proceedings, `[t]he issue is not whether the plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims.'" Jackson v. Birmingham Bd. of Educ., 544 U.S. 167, 184, 125 S.Ct. 1497, 161 L.Ed.2d 361 (2005) (quoting Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236, 94 S.Ct. 1683, 40 L.Ed.2d 90 (1974)). Despite these benefits, a plaintiff's complaint must still contain allegations setting forth claims as a matter of law; conclusory allegations unanchored by specific factual assertions are insufficient to weather a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. See Moses. com Sec., 406 F.3d at 1062; Strand, 380 F.3d at 317.

Whether the ICRA preempts a tort claim is the proper subject of a motion to dismiss. See, e.g., Canterbury v. Federal-Mogul Ignition Co., 418 F.Supp.2d 1112, 1117-19 (S.D.Iowa 2006); Gauthier v. Waterloo Cmty. Sch. Dist., No. C05-2070, 2006 WL 463512, at *1-*2 (N.D.Iowa Feb.24, 2006); Nuss v. C. Iowa Binding Corp., 284 F.Supp.2d 1187, 1202-04 (S.D.Iowa 2003); Meyer v. Iowa Mold Tooling Co., No. C99-3087-MWB, 2000 WL 34031796, at *4-*7 (N.D.Iowa Aug.15, 2000); Westin v. Mercy Med. Servs., Inc., 994 F.Supp. 1050, 1056-58 (N.D.Iowa 1998). Dismissing (or granting summary judgment on) intentional infliction of emotional distress claims on preemption grounds is neither uncommon, e.g., Gauthier, 2006 WL 463512, at *2 (granting motion to dismiss); Napreljac v. Monarch Mfg. Co., No. Civ. 4-02-cv10075, 2003 WL 21976024, at *8 (S.D.Iowa May 27, 2003) (granting motion for summary judgment); Martinez v. Cole Sewell Corp., 233 F.Supp.2d 1097, 1138-40 (N.D.Iowa 2002) (same); Casey v. Riedel, 195 F.Supp.2d 1122, 1135 (S.D.Iowa 2002) (same), nor automatic, e.g., Fisher v. Elec. Data Sys., 278 F.Supp.2d 980, 995-96 (S.D.Iowa 2003) (granting in part and denying in part motion for summary judgment); Perrigo v. Harveys Iowa Mgmt. Co., No. Civ. 1-99cv-10003, 2000 WL 33363252, at *9 (S.D.Iowa Mar.14, 2000) (same).

B. Preemptive Nature of the ICRA.

The Iowa Civil Rights Act of 1965, as amended, Iowa Code ch. 216 (2005), makes it unlawful for a "[p]erson ... to discharge any employee, or to otherwise discriminate in employment against ... any employee because of the ... religion[ ] or disability of such ......

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