Crowe v. SRR Partners, LLC, 4:21-cv-00108-TS-PK

CourtUnited States District Courts. 10th Circuit. United States District Court of Utah
Writing for the CourtTED STEWART, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
PartiesLEANNE CROWE and LEVI CROWE, Plaintiffs, v. SRR PARTNERS, LLC d/b/a SORREL RIVER RANCH RESORT & SPA, JJ'S MERCANTILE, LLC, and ELIZABETH RAD, Defendants.
Docket Number4:21-cv-00108-TS-PK
Decision Date30 September 2022

LEANNE CROWE and LEVI CROWE, Plaintiffs,
v.

SRR PARTNERS, LLC d/b/a SORREL RIVER RANCH RESORT & SPA, JJ'S MERCANTILE, LLC, and ELIZABETH RAD, Defendants.

No. 4:21-cv-00108-TS-PK

United States District Court, D. Utah

September 30, 2022


MEMORANDUM DECISION AND DENYING IN PART AND GRANTING IN PART DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS TO DISMISS

TED STEWART, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

District Judge Ted Stewart

This matter is before the Court on Defendants SRR Partners, LLC d/b/a Sorrel River Ranch Resort & Spa (“SRR”) and JJ's Mercantile, LLC's (“JJ's”) Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Second, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Causes of Action (“SRR's Motion to Dismiss”)[1] and Defendant Elizabeth Rad's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Causes of Action (“Rad's Motion to Dismiss”).[2] For the following reasons, the Court will grant the Motions in part and deny them in part.

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I. BACKGROUND [3]

Defendant SRR operates a luxury resort located in Moab, Utah.[4] Defendant JJ's operates a retail store located at the SRR ranch.[5] Defendant Rad is the owner of both SRR and JJ's.[6] On March 18, 2020, SRR made Plaintiff Leanne Crowe an employment offer to be SRR's Human Resources (“HR”) Director, a salaried position.[7] Leanne accepted the offer and began working for SRR on April 6, 2020.[8] Plaintiff Levi Crowe was subsequently hired by SRR as a maintenance worker and began work in May 2020.[9]

Plaintiffs allege that shortly after Leanne began working for SRR, Rad informed Leanne that she would also act as the HR Director of JJ's, in addition to her work for SRR.[10] Leanne began working as JJ's HR Director, however, no formal paperwork reflected her newly assigned role for JJ's, nor did she receive any additional compensation.[11] Leanne and Levi received paychecks and W-2 forms from SRR, but not from JJ's.[12] Leanne alleges she worked approximately 480 hours for JJ's between April 2020 and October 2020.[13] For the first few

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months after being hired, Leanne and Levi allege they both worked full-time for SRR and received positive feedback on their job performance.[14]

Beginning in September 2020, Leanne started having health issues. On September 13, 2020, Leanne went to the emergency room in Moab, Utah, where doctors discovered a blood clot in her lungs and a large mass in her pelvis.[15] An oncologist subsequently diagnosed her with ovarian cancer and scheduled surgery for October 1, 2020.[16]

Leanne notified SRR in late September 2020 of her expected surgery. On September 20, 2020, she requested leave for surgery and accommodation to work remotely during recovery, and asked for documentation of her requested accommodation.[17] Plaintiffs allege Defendant SRR told Leanne they “would get back with her” on the request for documentation.[18] After another emergency room visit on September 28, 2020, Leanne was transferred by ambulance to a hospital in Denver, Colorado, where she stayed until her surgery on October 1, 2020.[19] Leanne was officially diagnosed at that time with stage 3 small cell ovarian cancer.[20] On the day of her surgery, Leanne informed SRR and Rad of her cancer diagnosis and again requested an accommodation to work remotely as she underwent chemotherapy treatment.[21]

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After surgery, Leanne worked remotely from October 3, 2020, through October 8, 2020.[22] SRR terminated Leanne on October 8, 2020.[23] Plaintiffs allege SRR told Leanne her termination was based on SRR “need[ing] someone on site immediately.”[24] SRR terminated Levi's employment “a few days” after terminating Leanne's employment.[25]

Plaintiffs filed their Complaint on November 1, 2021, alleging eight claims, including several claims against SRR for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”);[26]claims against SRR and Rad for intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress; and claims against Rad and JJ's for unjust enrichment and violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”).[27]

Defendants SRR and JJ's jointly move to dismiss five of Plaintiffs' eight claims including Levi's claim for associational discrimination under the ADA and Leanne's claims for intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, unjust enrichment, and violations of the FLSA.[28] Defendant Rad also moves to dismiss Leanne's claims for intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, unjust enrichment, and violations of the FLSA.[29]

II. DISCUSSION

Defendants move to dismiss claims under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). When evaluating a complaint under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), the court accepts all well-pleaded factual allegations,

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as distinguished from conclusory allegations, as true and views them in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.[30] The Plaintiffs must provide “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face,”[31] which requires “more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.”[32] “A pleading that offers ‘labels and conclusions' or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.' Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders ‘naked assertion[s]' devoid of ‘further factual enhancement.'”[33]

In considering a motion to dismiss, a district court considers the complaint, any attached exhibits,[34] the “documents incorporated into the complaint by reference, and matters of which a court may take judicial notice.”[35] The Court may also consider other documents “referred to in the complaint if the documents are central to the plaintiff's claim and the parties do not dispute the documents' authenticity.”[36]

A. LEVI CROWE'S ADA DISCRIMINATION CLAIM

Plaintiffs' second claim alleges SRR discriminated against Levi Crowe by terminating him for his association with Leanne Crowe and her disability, in violation of the ADA.[37] The ADA requires a plaintiff to exhaust administrative remedies before filing a civil suit.[38]

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Exhaustion under the ADA requires the claimant to file an administrative charge within 300 days of the alleged discriminatory action.[39] Plaintiffs acknowledge Levi did not exhaust his administrative remedies but argue he was not required to do so because Leanne timely exhausted her administrative remedies, which qualified Levi's claim under the “single filing” or “piggybacking” exception to the administrative exhaustion requirement.[40]

The Tenth Circuit has long recognized at least one narrow exception to the administrative exhaustion requirement, called “single filing” or “piggybacking.”[41] This exception allows a qualifying plaintiff in a non-class action suit to bring individual claims without independently exhausting administrative notice requirements when at least one other plaintiff has exhausted administrative remedies.[42]

Courts have employed several different tests to determine when the “single filing” or “piggybacking” exception applies.[43] To pass the broader test, the claims of a non-filing plaintiff must “arise out of the same circumstances and occur within the same general time frame” as the administrative charges of the charge-filing plaintiff.[44] In other words, a subsequent plaintiff may only “piggyback” on a claim if he could have filed a timely charge of discrimination at the time the charge-filing plaintiff filed with the EEOC.[45] To pass the narrower test, the administrative

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charge of the filing plaintiff must “purport to represent . . . [those] similarly situated” to the alleged discrimination.[46] The Tenth Circuit has yet to adopt the broad or narrow version of the test,[47] and district courts within the Tenth Circuit are varied in their application.[48]

The Tenth Circuit has characterized the policy behind the single-filing rule as avoiding the “wasteful, if not vain,” process of requiring employees “having the same grievance” to file “identical complaints with the EEOC.”[49] The act of filing an administrative complaint is wasteful when “the employer is already on notice that plaintiffs may file discrimination claims, thus negating the need for additional filings.”[50] “As long as the EEOC and the company are aware of the nature and scope of the allegations, the purposes behind the filing requirement are satisfied and no injustice or contravention of congressional intent occurs by allowing piggybacking.”[51]

Levi's discrimination claim does not satisfy the “single filing” or “piggybacking” exception. Leanne claims Defendants directly discriminated against her for having a cancer-related disability and seeking a remote work accommodation.[52] Levi alleges he was

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discriminated against for his association with Leanne and her disability, inferred from the fact that he was fired “a few days [after Leanne was fired] . . . as he turned in the paper for health insurance.”[53] Levi could not have filed a charge of discrimination at the time of Leanne's termination, because he did not yet have a cause of action. He also failed to put Defendants adequately on notice of a pending ADA discrimination claim, because he did not file his own discrimination charge nor is his termination referenced in Leanne's charge, despite Leanne filing her charge more than a month after SRR terminated Levi's employment.[54] Levi's claim therefore fails both the broad and narrow test for the “single filing” or “piggybacking” exception. Levi is presently unable to exhaust his administrative remedies with an amended pleading because the period for filing with the EEOC has expired,[55] therefore this claim is dismissed with prejudice.[56]

B. IIED AND NIED CLAIMS

Plaintiffs' fifth and sixth claims allege that SRR and Rad's termination of Leanne Crowe, which left her without insurance shortly after being diagnosed with stage-3 cancer, was intolerable and outrageous, and amounts to intentional infliction of emotional distress (“IIED”) or negligent infliction of emotional distress (“NIED”).[57] Defendants...

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