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Membreno v. Atlanta Restaurant Partners, LLC

United States District Court, D. Maryland

July 23, 2019

DIANA MEMBRENO, Plaintiff,
v.
ATLANTA RESTAURANT PARTNERS, LLC, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Paula Xinis United States District Judge

         This employment discrimination action concerns the difficulties that transgender employees encounter all too routinely. Pending before the Court are Plaintiff's motion to remand (ECF No. 13), Defendants' motion to dismiss (ECF No. 12) and Plaintiff's motion to amend the Complaint. ECF No. 21. The motions are fully briefed, and no hearing is necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6. For the following reasons, the Court DENIES Plaintiff's motion to remand, GRANTS Plaintiff's motion to amend, and GRANTS in part and DENIES in part Defendants' motion to dismiss.

         I. Background[1]

         Plaintiff Diana Membreno was employed by TGI Fridays from 2007 to 2017. ECF No. 21-1 at 2. Membreno worked for TGI Fridays in Silver Spring, Maryland, which was owned and operated by Defendants Atlanta Restaurant Partners, LLC (“ARP”), Jackmont Hospitality, Inc. (“Jackmont Hospitality”), and Jackmont Administrative Services, LLC (“Jackmont Administrative”) (collectively, “Defendants”). Id. ¶¶ 3, 7, 13. During 2018, Defendants had 15 or more employees on each working day for at least 20 weeks and at least 15 employees reflected in payroll records. Id. ¶¶ 20-21.

         ARP is a limited liability company in Georgia. Id. ¶ 3. Its members and owners are Daniel Halpern and Brooke Jackson Edmond. Id. ¶¶ 3, 18. From 2015 to 2016, ARP paid wages to Membreno and was listed as an employer on her W-2 forms. Id. ¶ 15.

         Jackmont Hospitality is a Georgia corporation headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia. Id. ¶ 6. Its shareholders, officers, and owners are also Daniel Halpern and Brooke Jackson Edmond. Id. ¶¶ 6, 18, 19. Jackmont Hospitality provides management services for ARP. Id. ¶ 8. On its website, Jackmont Hospitality advertises and recruits for jobs at the Silver Spring location of TGI Fridays. Id. ¶ 9. One of the jobs advertised by Jackmont Hospitality was for the “General Manager, ” to oversee hiring, firing, wage increases, and other employee-related issues and manage the day-to-day restaurant operations. Id. ¶¶ 9-10. In 2017, Jackmont Hospitality issued Membreno her final paycheck. Id. ¶ 12.

         Jackmont Administrative is a limited liability company with its primary office located in Georgia. Id. ¶ 5. Its members and owners are Daniel Halpern and Brooke Jackson Edmond. Id. ¶¶ 5, 18. From 2007 to 2015, Jackmont Administrative paid wages to Membreno and was listed as an employer on her W-2 forms. Id. ¶ 14.

         In late 2007, Membreno, a transgender woman, was hired by TGI Fridays General Manager, “Patricia, ”[2] to work in the kitchen. Id. ¶¶ 35, 41-42. During this interview, Membreno dressed in men's clothing. Id. ¶ 42. After she was hired, Membreno wore women's clothing to work, used the women's restroom, and requested that her colleagues call her Diana. Id. ¶ 43. Membreno asserts that despite this request, Patricia repeatedly referred to her as a “man, ” told Membreno that she was no longer allowed to use the women's restroom and was often hostile towards Membreno. Id. ¶¶ 44, 46. Patricia also allegedly cut back Membreno's scheduled working days from four to two days a week “for no apparent reason.” Id. ¶ 47. Additionally, Roberto Lainez (“Lainez”), who was promoted to Kitchen Manager in 2015, was hostile towards Membreno and refused to recognize her as a woman. Id. ¶ 52. Lainez referred to Membreno as “he” and “him, ” and repeatedly called her “culero, ” a slang term for “faggot.” Id. ¶ 52. He also announced that she makes too much money for “what she is.” Id. ¶ 59. On one occasion, Lainez physically pushed her. Id. ¶ 53.

         In late December 2016, Membreno, to her surprise, discovered that she was not scheduled to work. Id. ¶ 66. She contacted John Faison, a Jackmont Hospitality employee, to ask about the change in her schedule but received no response. Id. ¶ 68. Then on January 4, 2017, Membreno was terminated by Lainez and TGI Fridays General Manager Kendrick Pittman, purportedly because she did not find coverage for her shift scheduled on December 24, 2016, Christmas Eve, even though she had followed proper protocol regarding the shift change. Id. ¶ 70.

         Shortly after her termination, in March of 2017, Plaintiff timely filed a charge of discrimination based on sex and gender identity with the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights (“MCCR”), which was cross-filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). Id. ¶ 26. In this charge, Membreno listed “TGI Fridays” as her employer. Id. Erica Mason, an attorney currently representing all Defendants in this matter, responded to the charge on behalf of “Respondent TGI Fridays.” Id. ¶¶ 28-29.

         Membreno then filed suit in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County against Defendants, alleging violations of Montgomery County Human Rights Law and the Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act (“MFEPA”). ECF No. 21-1 at 2. Membreno brought no federal claims.

         Defendants timely noted removal based on diversity jurisdiction. ECF No. 1. In response, Membreno moved to remand the action. ECF No. 13. ARP answered the Complaint (ECF No. 2), and Defendants Jackmont Administrative and Jackmont Hospitality (collectively, the “Jackmont Defendants”) moved to dismiss the Complaint for failure to state a claim. ECF No. 12. Membreno moved to amend her Complaint in response to Jackmont Defendants' motion to dismiss. ECF No. 21. The Court addresses each motion in turn.

         II. Motion to Remand

         This Court, as one of limited jurisdiction, may hear only civil cases that implicate a federal question or are brought pursuant to the Court's diversity jurisdiction. Exxon Mobile Corp. v. Allapattah Servs., Inc., 545 U.S. 546, 552 (2005). Diversity jurisdiction is proper where the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000 and no plaintiff is a citizen of the same state as any defendant. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a); Johnson v. Am. Towers, LLC,781 F.3d 693, 704 (2015). Where diversity jurisdiction is proper, a defendant may remove the case to federal court pursuant to 28 ...


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