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Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Spoa, LLC

United States District Court, Fourth Circuit

October 15, 2013



CATHERINE C. BLAKE, District Judge.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC" or "Commission") brings this suit against defendant Spoa, LLC (d/b/a Basta Pasta) for alleged violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title I of the Civil Rights Act of 1991. The EEOC claims that owner Michael Sakellis sexually harassed former waitress Jane Doe, [1] former manager Dimitra Kokkinakos, and "similarly situated female employees."[2] (Compl., ECF No. 1 at 1.) A number of motions are now pending before the court including: plaintiff Doe's motion to intervene as of right; plaintiff Doe's motion to proceed under a pseudonym; and defendant Spoa's motion to dismiss and/or for more definite statement, opposition to permitting the case to proceed anonymously, and request for hearing. The court finds oral argument unnecessary to resolve the issues. See Local R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2011). For the reasons set forth below, the court will grant Doe's motion to intervene, grant Doe's motion to proceed under a pseudonym, deny Spoa's motion to dismiss, and grant in part and deny in part Spoa's motion for a more definite statement.


This suit alleges unlawful employment practices culminating in Doe's and other female workers' constructive discharges from the defendant's restaurant. According to the EEOC, since at least August 2006, Sakellis engaged in a pattern of unwanted and offensive sexual conduct toward female employees including: "[f]requent sexual touching;" "[f]requent sexual comments;" "[g]esturing to his shoulders, indicating he wanted a shoulder massage, or asking for a shoulder or hand massage;" "[s]taring at female employees' body parts... and giving sexual looks;" "[p]ushing alcoholic drinks on female employees at the conclusion of their shifts and acting offended if they did not stay and drink;" and on separate occasions, slipping date rape drugs into Mary Smith's[3] and Doe's beverages in an attempt to rape or sexually assault them. (ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 7a-h.) The EEOC also claims that, after Kokkinakos complained to restaurant management about Sakellis's behavior, Sakellis "warned [her] that she better keep her mouth shut" and then discharged her. (ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 8a-b.) Moreover, following Kokkinakos's attempt to aid Doe and her involvement in the EEOC investigation, Sakellis allegedly used an agent to "pressur[e] [Kokkinakos] to recant her testimony and threaten[] her with a defamation lawsuit." (ECF No. 1 ¶ 8c.)

Doe filed a formal charge (no. 531-2010-00592C) against the defendant on March 10, 2010. (ECF No. 8-5, Ex. D at 2, 4.) On April 29, 2010, the charge was assigned to Investigator Carol Glace in the EEOC's Baltimore Field Office. (Resp. to Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 16-1, Ex. 1 ¶ 4; ECF No. 16-2, Ex. 2 ¶¶ 2-4.) As part of her investigation, Investigator Glace prepared interview questions for Doe and other witnesses, interviewed Doe, Kokkinakos, and "several witnesses, " requested and reviewed information submitted by Doe and Spoa, researched Spoa's corporate structure, discussed the case with her supervisor, and prepared a memorandum with her recommendation for the case. (ECF No. 16-2, Ex. 2 ¶ 5a.) Spoa, in a June 15, 2010, letter to Investigator Glace, denied each allegation in Doe's charge. (ECF No. 8-6, Ex. E at 2.) The June 15, 2010, letter also indicated that Spoa had developed a new employee handbook and expressed willingness to provide additional information if needed. (ECF No. 8-6, Ex. E at 3.) Apart from an acknowledgement that its June 15, 2010, letter was received, Spoa next heard from the EEOC on January 12, 2012, when Investigator Glace requested information relevant to Doe's charge. (ECF No. 8-7, Ex. F ¶¶ 3-4; ECF No. 8-8, Ex. G at 2-4.) Spoa responded to the request on January 31, 2012. (ECF No. 8-9, Ex. H at 2-3.) After Spoa responded to the request, on February 9, 2012, Investigator Glace interviewed Sakellis, John Skevoflex, and John Livaditis at Basta Pasta. (ECF No. 8-7, Ex. F ¶ 6.)

On December 17, 2012, Director Rosemarie Rhodes issued a Letter of Determination ("LOD"), finding that Doe and other female employees, as a class, faced a sexually hostile work environment at Basta Pasta, were subjected to unwelcome sexual harassment, and were constructively discharged. (ECF No. 16-2, Ex. 2, Attachment B at 13-14.) The class was comprised of female employees of Basta Pasta from June 2006 on. ( Id. at 14.) The LOD also determined that Basta Pasta discharged an unnamed female manager in retaliation for her "several attempts to stop the sexual harassment." ( Id. ) Spoa maintains that this was the first time it heard of a retaliation claim by a second individual. (ECF No. 8-1 at 19.)

Also on December 17, 2012, Investigator Glace "issued an invitation to conciliate the [Title VII] violations." (ECF No. 16-2, Ex. 2 ¶ 5b; see also ECF 16-2, Ex. 2, Attachment B at 15-17.) Investigator Glace identified Kokkinakos as the manager against whom Basta Pasta retaliated. (ECF No. 16-2, Ex. 2, Attachment B at 15.) She also stated that the EEOC sought monetary and injunctive relief-in particular, $33, 787 in back pay and $40, 000 in compensatory damages for Doe, $29, 983 in back pay and $30, 000 in compensatory damages for Kokkinakos, $8, 500 in attorneys' fees for Doe, and a $250, 0000 claimant fund for other unnamed, aggrieved individuals. (ECF No. 16-2, Ex. 2 ¶ 5b; see also ECF 16-2, Ex. 2, Attachment B at 15.) According to Investigator Glace, claimants eligible for the fund were "all female employees who worked at [Basta Pasta] during the period of June 2006 through November 2012 and who the Commission determines were subjected to inappropriate comments and touching of a sexual nature during the course of their employment." (ECF No. 16-2, Ex. 2, Attachment B at 16.) Given the class of eligible claimants, Investigator Glace requested that Spoa provide the EEOC with "a current list of the names, social security numbers, last known home and cellular phone numbers, and last known address of each female employee... who worked at [Basta Pasta] during the period of June 2006 through November 2012." ( Id. )

After requesting two extensions, Spoa responded to the EEOC's invitation to conciliate on January 11, 2013. (ECF No. 16-2, Ex. 2 ¶¶ 5c-d; ECF No. 16-2, Ex. 2, Attachment E at 24-29.) Spoa opposed-among other aspects of the conciliation proposal-the $250, 0000 claimant fund, as it believed any claims not brought within three hundred days of the alleged unlawful conduct were barred by the statute of limitations found in § 706(e)(1). (ECF No. 16-2, Ex. 2, Attachment E at 27.)[4] Investigator Glace replied in a February 6, 2013, letter, maintaining that conciliation should include the claimant fund. (ECF No. 16-2, Ex. 2, Attachment G at 34-35.) Despite further email and telephone communications between the parties, conciliation failed on February 27, 2013. (ECF No. 16-2, Ex. 2, Attachment K at 50.) On June 4, 2013, the EEOC filed the complaint in this case. As of September 13, 2013, Spoa had provided the Commission with only one list of employees who were active on July 31, 2009; it had not given the Commission the requested list of employees active from June 2006 to November 2012. ( See Correspondence, ECF No. 18.)


a. Motion to Intervene

Doe asserts that she may intervene in the present case as of right. Pursuant to Rule 24, the court must permit a party to intervene as a plaintiff if the party "is given an unconditional right to intervene by a federal statute." Fed.R.Civ.P. 24. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 provides, in relevant part, that "the [EEOC] may bring a civil action against any respondent... named in the charge" and that "[t]he person or persons aggrieved shall have the right to intervene in a civil action brought by the Commission." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(1). Accordingly, so long as an aggrieved employee files a timely motion to intervene in the Commission's civil action, the "charging party has an unqualified right to intervene in the EEOC's action." See Adams v. Proctor & Gamble Mfg. Co., 697 F.2d 582, 583 (4th Cir. 1983).

Here, Doe timely filed her motion to intervene as a plaintiff. The EEOC filed the current lawsuit on June 4, 2013, and Doe moved to intervene on July 22, 2013. She is an aggrieved former employee in this action; indeed, her complaint of sexual harassment forms the basis of the EEOC's suit against Spoa. ( See ECF No. 1 at 3.) Finally, it does not appear that Spoa opposes Doe's attempt to intervene; rather, Spoa disagrees with her attempt to do so anonymously. Therefore, Doe may intervene as of right in the current action.

b. Motion to Proceed Under a Pseudonym

Doe moves to proceed under a pseudonym, and the EEOC claims that Smith also should be permitted to proceed anonymously. Although there is a general presumption in favor of open court proceedings, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has recognized that certain cases warrant the parties or witnesses proceeding anonymously. See James v. Jacobson, 6 F.3d 233, 242 (4th Cir. 1993); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 10(a) (demonstrating the presumption of open-court proceedings by requiring a complaint to name all the parties). The trial court decides whether a plaintiff ...

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