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Perez v. Staples Contract and Commercial Inc.

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Columbia Division

August 7, 2014

Thomas E. Perez, Secretary of Labor, United States Department of Labor, Plaintiff,
v.
Staples Contract and Commercial Inc. and Staples Inc., Defendants.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION OF MAGISTRATE JUDGE

JACQUELYN D. AUSTIN, Magistrate Judge.

This matter is before the Court on a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim filed by Defendants Staples Contract and Commercial Inc. and Staples Inc. ("Defendants"). [Doc. 29.] Pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(g), D.S.C., this magistrate judge is authorized to review all pretrial matters in employment discrimination cases and submit findings and recommendations to the District Court.

The Secretary of Labor for the United States Department of Labor ("DOL" or "Plaintiff") filed a complaint on June 28, 2013 on behalf of Jeffrey Angstadt ("Angstadt") against Defendant Staples Contract and Commercial, Inc. ("SCC"). [Doc. 1.] On September 19, 2013, Plaintiff amended the complaint to add Staples Inc. ("Staples") as a Defendant.[1] [Doc. 12.] On October 15, 2013, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss in lieu of an answer. [Doc. 29.] Plaintiff filed a response in opposition on November 1, 2013. [Doc. 30.] Defendants filed a reply on November 18, 2013. [Doc. 34.] The matter is ripe for consideration.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff brings this action pursuant to Section 107(b)(2) of the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993, 29 U.S.C. §§ 2601-2654 ("FMLA" or "the Act") alleging Defendants violated its provisions by failing to notify Angstadt of his eligibility status and rights and responsibilities under the FMLA in response to his requests for leave to care for his wife. [Doc. 1 ¶¶ 23-24.] Plaintiff seeks unpaid wages, salary, bonuses, employment benefits, and other compensation due, and actual monetary losses sustained as a direct result of the violations, plus liquidated damages and interest due to Angstadt; injunctive relief; and equitable relief, including employment, reinstatement, and promotion, or front pay in lieu of this relief. [ Id. at 7-8.]

Plaintiff alleges that SCC is a wholly owned subsidiary of Defendant Staples [ id. ¶ 5]; that they have common management, interrelated operations that promote the Staples office products business, centralized human resources and control of labor relations, and have common ownership and financial control [ id. ¶ 6]; and thus, Defendants are an integrated employer as the term is defined in 29 C.F.R. § 825.104(c)(2) [ id. ¶ 7]. Further, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants are joint employers as the term is defined in 29 C.F.R. § 825.104(c)(1) due to Staples' ownership and control of SCC [ id. ¶ 8] and that Defendants collectively employ approximately 350 employees at its place of business at 300 Arbor Lake Drive, Columbia, South Carolina 29223 (the "Columbia Office") [ id. ¶ 9].

With respect to allegations specific to Angstadt, Plaintiff alleges Angstadt was employed by Defendants from July 2008 until his termination on January 20, 2012. [ Id. ¶ 11.] Angstadt was previously employed as a Marketing Manager in Miami, Florida, and was later transferred to Defendants' Columbia Office in March 2009. [ Id. ¶ 12.] After his transfer, Angstadt was a Furniture Specialist until Defendants eliminated the Furniture Specialist position in March 2011, at which time Angstadt applied for and obtained a position as a Furniture Sales Executive on March 14, 2011. [ Id. ¶ 13.]

On or about September 13, 2010, Angstadt's wife was diagnosed with breast cancer; the same day, Angstadt notified his supervisor of his wife's diagnosis and admission to the hospital for treatment. [ Id. ¶ 16.] From September 13, 2010 until his termination, Angstadt notified his supervisors of his need to take full and partial days of leave from work to be present with his wife during her medical appointments and hospital stays for chemotherapy and surgeries due to her treatment for cancer and complications arising therefrom, such as congestive heart failure. [ Id. ¶ 17.] Angstadt was allowed to take full and partial days of "Sick/Family Care" and "Vacation" leave. [ Id. ]

Plaintiff alleges that Angstadt's wife's cancer and congestive heart failure qualify as serious health conditions under the Act [ id. ¶ 18]; that Defendants employed at least 50 employees within a 75 mile radius of Angstadt's work site at the Columbia Office [ id. ¶ 19]; and that, during all relevant times, Angstadt was an eligible employee, employed by Defendants, a covered employer as defined in the Act [ id. ¶ 20]. Plaintiff further alleges that Angstadt was entitled to leave under the Act to care for his wife due to her serious health conditions [ id. ¶ 21] and that Defendants were aware of his need for leave that qualified as leave under the FMLA [ id. ¶ 22], but Defendants failed to notify Angstadt of his eligibility status or provide him notice of his rights and responsibilities under the FMLA in response to his requests for leave [ id. ¶¶ 23-24].

On or about September 14, 2011, Angstadt's supervisor, Mr. Rohner, placed Angstadt on a Performance Improvement Plan ("PIP"), citing concerns regarding his achieving his minimum monthly sales goals and the timeliness of his responses to internal and external customers. [ Id. ¶ 26.] Angstadt was terminated on January 20, 2012, allegedly based on the determination that he had not consistently met the expectations outlined in the PIP. [ Id. ¶ 28.] According to Defendants' policy and/or practice, however, job performance expectations may be modified for an employee requesting leave for FMLA purposes and any PIP would be placed on hold for an employee taking leave for FMLA purposes. [ Id. ¶ 29.] As a result of Defendants' failure to provide notice to Angstadt of his rights under the FMLA, Angstadt was unlawfully placed on a PIP and terminated. [ Id. ¶ 31.] At the time of his termination, Angstadt had been employed full-time with Defendants for at least 12 months, had performed at least 1250 hours of service with Defendants during the previous 12-month period, and was entitled to leave under the Act. [ Id. ¶ 32.]

APPLICABLE LAW

Motion to Dismiss Standard

Under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim should not be granted unless it appears certain that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts which would support her claim and entitle her to relief. When considering a motion to dismiss, the court should "accept as true all well-pleaded allegations and should view the complaint in a light most favorable to the plaintiff." Mylan Labs., Inc. v. Matkari, 7 F.3d 1130, 1134 (4th Cir. 1993). However, the court "need not accept the legal conclusions drawn from the facts" nor "accept as true unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments." Eastern Shore Mkts., Inc. v. J.D. Assocs. Ltd. P'ship, 213 F.3d 175, 180 (4th Cir. 2000). Further, for purposes of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court may rely on only the complaint's allegations and those documents attached as exhibits or incorporated by reference. See Simons v. Montgomery Cnty. Police Officers, 762 F.2d 30, 31 (4th Cir. 1985).

With respect to well-pleaded allegations, the United States Supreme Court explained the interplay between Rule 8(a) and Rule 12(b)(6) in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly :

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires only "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, " in order to "give the defendant fair notice of what the... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the "grounds" of his "entitle[ment] to relief" requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do. Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).

550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (footnote and citations omitted); see also 5 Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1216, at 235-36 (3d ed. 2004) ("[T]he pleading must contain something more... than a bare averment that the pleader wants compensation and is entitled to it or a statement of facts that merely ...


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