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Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. JBS USA, LLC

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

July 24, 2015

EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION, Plaintiff,
v.
JBS USA, LLC, Defendant. ABDI MOHAMED, et al., Plaintiffs/Intervenors, FARHAN ABDI, et al., Plaintiffs/Intervenors,

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

LAURIE SMITH CAMP, Chief District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on the following motions filed by Defendant JBS USA, LLC: the Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (Filing No. 620); the Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim (Filing No. 641), and the Motion to Dismiss Pro Se Intervenors for Failure to Comply with Court Order (Filing No. 657). For the reasons stated below, the Motions will be granted. The remaining plaintiffs will be given an opportunity to amend their complaints consistent with this Memorandum and Order.

PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND[1]

I. Phase I and Bifurcation

On April 15, 2011, Plaintiffs filed with the Court a joint Bifurcation Agreement to bifurcate discovery and trial into two phases, Phase I (involving the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's ("EEOC") pattern-or-practice claims) and Phase II (all individual claims for relief). ( See Filing Nos. 76 at 3, 76-1.) The parties agreed that in Phase II the Court would address all individual claims for relief and "[a]ny claims for which no pattern or practice liability was found in Phase I." (Filing No. 76.1 at 5.) The parties further agreed that "claims not tried in Phase I shall be tried under the traditional McDonnell-Douglas burden-shifting paradigm [in Phase II], including all claims of harassment/hostile work environment." (Filing No. 76.1 at 5.) On May 26, 2011, the Court adopted the Bifurcation Agreement to bifurcate discovery and trial into two Phases. (Filing No. 81.) The Court later specified that the EEOC's pattern-or-practice claims addressed in Phase I arose under 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-6 ("Section 707"), not 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5 ("Section 706"). ( See Filing Nos. 296, 338, 469.) The Court also specified that "[t]he Intervenors' claims [were] private, non-class Title VII actions" and the Intervenors had no statutory or contractual right to assert pattern-or-practice claims or otherwise participate in Phase I. (Filing No. 338.)

Discovery proceeded, and trial was held on the EEOC's Phase I pattern-orpractice claims from May 7, 2013, through May 17, 2013. At the close of the EEOC's evidence, JBS made an oral motion for judgment on partial findings pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 52(c). Based on agreement of the parties as reflected in the Final Pretrial Order, the Court permitted the submission of deposition designations and objections after the close of trial. ( See Filing No. 479 at 12.) On July 1, 2013, the EEOC submitted additional deposition designations in support of, and in addition to, testimony and evidence presented at the Phase I trial. On October 11, 2013, the Court issued its Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law. (Filing No. 516 at 13, 26, 32-39.) The Court concluded that although the EEOC established a prima facie case of denial of religious accommodation, the requested accommodations imposed an undue burden on Defendant JBS USA, LLC ("JBS"). On January 28, 2015, based on its conclusion in Phase I, the Court dismissed all Phase II claims alleging that JBS failed to provide reasonable religious accommodation.

II. Remaining Plaintiffs and Claims

The Plaintiffs remaining at this stage include the EEOC and several individual Plaintiff/Intervenors. For purposes of this Motion, the Plaintiff/Intervenors who remain in this action are divided into three categories: The first category consists of Plaintiff/Intervenors Abdi Mohamed, et al. ("Intervenors I"). The second category consists of Plaintiff/Intervenors Farhan Abdi, et al. ("Intervenors II") (Intervenors I and Intervenors II referred to collectively as "Intervenors"). The third category consists of Plaintiff/Intervenors who are no longer represented by counsel ("Pro Se Intervenors").[2]

a. EEOC's Remaining Phase II Claims

The EEOC filed its Second Amended Complaint ("EEOC Complaint") (Filing No. 99) on August 2, 2011, during the pendency of Phase I. Relevant to Phase II, the EEOC Complaint alleges that JBS unlawfully terminated some of its Somali Muslim employees because of their religion and national origin, and in retaliation for their requests for religious accommodations, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et al. (Filing No. 99 ¶ 7.) The EEOC Complaint included a list of aggrieved individuals for whom the EEOC sought relief on all of its claims, though that list did not specify which claims applied to each individual. (Doc. 99 at 3-4, 14-18.) In the parties' Joint Rule 26(f) Conference Planning Report, the EEOC provided a list of non-intervening aggrieved individuals (the "Rule 26(f) List") to those who were unlawfully terminated on the basis of religion and/or national origin, and those who were discharged in retaliation for requesting religious accommodation. (Filing No. 622-1 at 1.) The EEOC's report also stated that it would seek relief in Phase II for all Plaintiff-Intervenors with claims of unlawful termination based on religion and/or national origin, and/or for all Plaintiff-Intervenors with claims of unlawful retaliatory discharge. ( Id. )

b. Remaining Claims of Intervenors I

Intervenors I filed their Second Amended Complaint in Intervention ("Intervenors I Complaint") on March 11, 2015. (Filing No. 639.) The Intervenors I Complaint includes several claims phrased as pattern-or-practice claims. Intervenors I nevertheless assert that their Phase II claims include: (1) disparate treatment in violation of Title VII and the Nebraska Fair Employment Practices Act ("NFEPA") Neb. Rev. Stat. §§ 48-1114 (Reissue 2010); (2) retaliation based on requests for religious accommodation; (3) hostile work environment in violation of Title VII and the NFEPA; (4) disparate treatment in violation of terms and conditions of employment based on religion, race, and/or national origin; (5) retaliation based on opposition to JBS's unlawful actions and/or complaints of discrimination; and (6) hostile work environment in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981. (Rule 26(f) Report, Filing No. 592 at 6-11.) Intervenors I did not seek class certification with respect to their Phase II claims.

c. Remaining Claims of Intervenors II

Intervenors II filed their Amended Complaint in Intervention ("Intervenors II Complaint") on August 2, 2011. (Filing No. 100.) Intervenors II assert that their Phase II claims include: (1) Violation of terms and conditions of employment based on religion, race, national origin, and/or gender in violation of Title VII; (2) Retaliation based on reasonable accommodation requests for religious practices in violation of Title VII; (3) Hostile work environment based on religion, race, and national origin; (4) Unlawful discipline, harassment, and/or discharge based on religion, race, and/or national origin in violation of Title VII; (5) Hostile work environment based on race in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981; and (6) Unlawful discharge and/or discipline in retaliation for race-based harassment complaints in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981. (Rule 26(f) Report, Filing No. 592 at 12-17.) Intervenors II did not seek class certification with respect to their Phase II claims.

III. Pro Se Intervenors

On January 21, 2015, counsel for Abdi Mohamed, et al., Plaintiff/Intervenors filed a Renewed Motion to Withdraw, seeking to withdraw as attorneys of record for 54 Plaintiff/Intervenors. (Filing No. 607.) The Court granted the motion on February 3, 2015, and the law firm of Vincent Powers & Associates (the "firm") was granted leave to withdraw as counsel for the 54 Intervenors. (Filing No. 615.) The Court ordered the firm to immediately mail copies of its Order, by certified mail, to each of the 54 Intervenors, along with a letter "notifying them that the Firm will no longer be representing them in this action, and detailing the overall status of this case." ( Id. ¶ 2.) The Court ordered that both documents be transcribed into Somali before they were sent to any non-English speaking Intervenor. ( Id. ) The firm was directed to file a proof of service with the Court, showing compliance with the Order and listing the names and addresses of the persons to whom the documents were sent. ( Id. )

An Amended Proof of Service Showing Compliance was filed with the Court on February 25, 2015, listing several Intervenors who had been served with the Court's Order and the explanatory letter on February 19 and 24, 2015. (Filing No. 624.) Pursuant to the Court's Order, upon the filing of the Proof of Service (or as of February 25, 2015), the Intervenors were deemed to be proceeding pro se. (Filing No. 615 ¶ 3.) In the absence of substitute counsel entering a written appearance, each Pro Se Intervenor was directed to file a written notice with the Clerk of the Court of his/her current address and telephone number within fourteen business days of being served with the Order. ( Id. ) Subsequently, the firm was permitted to re-enter its appearance on behalf of some of the Intervenors. (Filing Nos. 626 and 629.) The remaining Plaintiff-Intervenors who did not file a notice with the Clerk of Court are presently deemed to be proceeding pro se.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

"Judgment on the pleadings is appropriate where no material issue of fact remains to be resolved and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Minch Family LLLP v. Buffalo-Red River Watershed Dist., 628 F.3d 960, 965 (8th Cir. 2010) (citing Faibisch v. Univ. of Minn., 304 F.3d 797, 803 (8th Cir. 2002)). This is "the same standard used to address a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6)." Ashley Cnty., Ark. v. Pfizer, Inc., 552 F.3d 659, 665 (8th Cir. 2009). "To survive a motion to dismiss, the factual allegations in a complaint, assumed true, must suffice to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Northstar Indus., Inc. v. Merrill Lynch & Co., 576 F.3d 827, 832 (8th Cir. 2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)).

A complaint must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). "[A]lthough a complaint need not include detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'" C.N. v. Willmar Pub. Sch., Indep. Sch. Dist. No. 347, 591 F.3d 624, 629-30 (8th Cir. 2010) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). "Instead, the complaint must set forth enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Id. at 630 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570).

"A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ritchie v. St. Louis Jewish Light, 630 F.3d 713, 716 (8th Cir. 2011) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)) (internal quotation marks omitted). "Courts must accept... specific factual allegations as true but are not required to accept... legal conclusions." Outdoor Cent., Inc. v. GreatLodge.com, Inc., 643 F.3d 1115, 1120 (8th Cir. 2011) (quoting Brown v. Medtronic, Inc., 628 F.3d 451, 459 (8th Cir. 2010)) (internal quotation marks omitted). When ruling on a defendant's motion to dismiss, a judge must rule "on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true, " and "a well-pleaded complaint may proceed even if it strikes a savvy judge that actual proof of those facts is improbable, and that a recovery is very remote and unlikely.'" Twombly, 550 U.S. at ...


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