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Ward v. Cottman Transmission Systems, LLC

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

February 14, 2019

ZEVIN CURTIS WARD, Plaintiff,
v.
COTTMAN TRANSMISSION SYSTEMS, LLC, COTTMAN TRANSMISSION CENTER, INC., COTTMAN MAINTENANCE SERVICE LIMITED LIABILITY COMPANY, and LOU GUARINI, individually, Defendants.

          CAROLINE HOPE MILLER DEREK SMITH LAW GROUP PLLC Attorney for Plaintiff Zevin Curtis Ward.

          AARON VAN NOSTRAND RAQUEL SARA LORD GREENBERG TRAURIG LLP Attorneys for Defendant Cottman Transmission Systems, LLC.

          OPINION

          NOEL L. HILLMAN, U.S.D.J.

         This case concerns claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. § 1981, the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“NJLAD”), and the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) for discrimination against Plaintiff Zevin Curtis Ward on the basis of race, color, and national origin, retaliation, creation of a hostile work environment, and violations of FLSA. Presently before the Court is Defendant Cottman Transmission Systems, LLC's (“CTS”) Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint. Defendant CTS's Motion to Dismiss will be denied for the reasons expressed below.

         BACKGROUND

         This Court takes its recitation of facts from Plaintiff's Amended Complaint. In August 2016, Plaintiff began working as a mechanic at an auto repair franchise - “Cottman Transmission”[1] -located on East Kings Highway in Maple Shade, New Jersey. Defendant Lou Guarini owns Cottman Transmission. Plaintiff alleges that CTS contracted with Cottman Transmission Center, Inc. and Cottman Maintenance Service Limited Liability Company (the “Cottman Defendants”) to operate Cottman Transmission.

         Of special note for this opinion are the allegations concerning CTS and its relationship to Plaintiff:

• “At all times material, Defendant COTTMAN TRANSMISSION SYSTEM, LLC contracted with Defendant COTTMAN TRANSMISSION CENTER, INC. and Defendant COTTMAN MAINTENANCE SERVICE LIMITED LIABILITY COMPANY for the continued operation of an auto repair franchise located at 135 East Kings Highway, Maple Shade, New Jersey, 08052[;]”
• “At all times material, Defendant COTTMAN TRANSMISSION SYSTEM, LLC instructed Defendant COTTMAN TRANSMISSION CENTER, INC. and Defendant COTTMAN MAINTENANCE SERVICE LIMITED LIABILITY COMPANY on the methods, procedures, and techniques of operating above mentioned auto repair shop, including business procedures, evaluation of personnel, hours of operation, inspection[;]”
• “At all times material, Defendant COTTMAN TRANSMISSION SYSTEM, LLC, Defendant COTTMAN TRANSMISSION CENTER, INC., and Defendant COTTMAN MAINTENANCE SERVICE LIMITED LIABILITY COMPANY (hereinafter collectively referred to as Defendant and/or ‘COTTMAN TRANSMISSION') were Plaintiff's joint and solo employer[;]”
• “At all times material, Lou Guarini (hereinafter Defendant and/or “Guarini”) (White, Caucasian male) was and still is employed by Defendants COTTMAN TRANSMISSION[;]” and
• “At all times material, Defendant Guarini was and remains the Owner of Defendant COTTMAN TRANSMISSION[.]”

(Am. Compl. ¶¶ 8-9, 11-14.)

         Plaintiff alleges that almost immediately upon his hiring, he was subjected to harassment by Guarini on the basis of his race, national origin, and color. Plaintiff also alleges that he was routinely forced to work 56 hours per week without being paid the overtime rate mandated by the FLSA.[2] After about a year of this behavior, under the belief that Guarini would not alter his actions or listen to his complaints, Plaintiff was constructively discharged on August 21, 2017. In October 2017, after Plaintiff was unable to find other work, he was called by a Victoria Albright and promised that Guarini would not continue his offensive behavior. Plaintiff returned to Cottman Transmission and continued to work under Guarini. Guarini allegedly resumed his harassing, offensive behavior.

         At some point, Plaintiff filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). On October 30, 2017, Plaintiff informed Guarini of this charge, and Guarini told Plaintiff if the EEOC charge did not “go away, ” Plaintiff would not be permitted to work for Cottman Transmission. This led to the second constructive discharge.

         Plaintiff filed a complaint in this Court on February 15, 2018 alleging seven counts under 42 U.S.C. § 1981, Title VII, NJLAD, and FLSA. These counts generally assert claims of discrimination, retaliation, aiding and abetting, and violations of FLSA. Defendant CTS filed its Motion to Dismiss the Complaint on May 11, 2018. In response, Plaintiff filed the instant Amended Complaint on June 1, 2018. Thereafter, Defendant CTS filed its Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint on June 15, 2018. This motion is fully briefed and ripe for adjudication.

         ANALYSIS

         A. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

         This Court possesses subject matter jurisdiction over this case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1367.

         B. Motion to Dismiss Standard

         When considering a motion to dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a court must accept all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Evancho v. Fisher, 423 F.3d 347, 351 (3d Cir. 2005). It is well settled that a pleading is sufficient if it contains “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2).

         “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 . . . .” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (alteration in original) (citations omitted) (first citing Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957); Sanjuan v. Am. Bd. of Psychiatry & Neurology, Inc., 40 F.3d 247, 251 (7th Cir. 1994); and then citing Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)).

To determine the sufficiency of a complaint, a court must take three steps. First, the court must “tak[e] note of the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim.” Second, the court should identify allegations that, “because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth.” Third, “whe[n] there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement for relief.”

Malleus v. George, 641 F.3d 560, 563 (3d Cir. 2011) (alterations in original) (citations omitted) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 664, 675, 679 (2009)). A court may “generally consider only the allegations contained in the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint and matters of public record.” Schmidt v. Skolas, 770 F.3d 241, 249 (3d Cir. 2014) (citing Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993)).

         A district court, in weighing a motion to dismiss, asks “not whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claim.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 563 n.8 (quoting Scheuer v. Rhoades, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)); see also Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 684 (“Our decision in Twombly expounded the pleading standard for ‘all civil actions' . . . .”); Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009) (“Iqbal . . . provides the final nail in the coffin for the ‘no set of facts' standard that applied to federal complaints before Twombly.”). “A motion to dismiss should be granted ...


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