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Sanchez v. Whole Foods Market Group, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

August 5, 2019



          George J. Hazel United States District Judge.

         In this action, Plaintiff Cesia Sanchez alleges race discrimination, in violation of Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (“Section 1981”), and breach of her employment contract by her former employer, Whole Foods Market Group, Inc. (“Whole Foods”), relating to her termination from employment. Now pending before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Dismiss, ECF No. 9, which Plaintiff opposed, ECF No. 14. No. hearing is necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the following reasons, Defendant's Motion to Dismiss is granted in part and denied in part.

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         Plaintiff, Cesia Sanchez, a Latina of Hispanic ancestry, began working for Defendant, Whole Foods, in November 2002. ECF No. 1-2 ¶ 5. In 2013, after working as an Assistant Team Leader at different stores since 2002, Sanchez was promoted to Facilities Manager at a distribution center in Landover, Maryland. Id. ¶ 5. As one of the three managers at the distribution center, Sanchez was specifically tasked with overseeing the kitchen facilities, while Jack Lunick oversaw the seafood facilities and Russell Cartwright managed warehouse distribution. Both men are Caucasian. Id. ¶ 6. Many of the employees Sanchez managed were Hispanic. Id.

         Until early 2016, Sanchez's annual performance evaluations showed she exceeded the expectations for her position and had never received a written reprimand. Id. ¶ 5. This changed when Cartwright was promoted to Executive Director of Facilities and, shortly thereafter, placed Sanchez on administrative leave. Id. ¶ 7-8. When she asked why this happened, Cartwright told her that Whole Foods headquarters and regional had received a letter and complaints from her team members because a television did not work at the facility, there was a lack of cleaning resources, and a supervisor who reported to Sanchez was disrespectful. Id.

         After resuming her duties, Sanchez attended a meeting with Cartwright and the entire kitchen team, during which Cartwright explained there would no longer be a kitchen supervisor but Sanchez would remain a manager. Id. ¶ 9. When Cartwright asked the team if they were okay with this decision, two team members, Marie and Mariana, objected. Id. Then, as Sanchez left this meeting, Maria, a Hispanic female team member, said to her: “We don't want you around here perra.” Id. “Perra” is Spanish for “bitch dog.” Id. Sanchez then reported the incident to Cartwright and Dave Gearhart, Whole Foods's human resources director, explaining that she felt threatened in the workplace and would like management to intervene and take corrective action. Id. No such investigation of action was taken. Id. As a result, Maria felt empowered to engage in insubordinate behavior. Id.

         On May 30, 2016, despite the Whole Foods policy that a second female should be present whenever a male supervisor meets with a female employee, Cartwright and Gearhart met alone with Sanchez. Id. ¶ 10. At the meeting, Cartwright pressured Sanchez to resign, asking her to seek a demotion back to assistant store team leader, because her team members did not like her. Id. When she attempted to speak, Gearhart cut her off, stating he did not care for what she had to say. Id. Sanchez refused the request to resign. Id. Then, despite Whole Foods's progressive discipline policy requiring a verbal and written warning before a final written warning, Cartwright issued Sanchez a final written warning. Id. Five days later, in a meeting with Cartwright and Regional Vice President Julia Obicci, a Caucasian female, Sanchez received a final written warning.[2] Id. ¶ 11.

         In mid-August 2016, one of Sanchez's male subordinate employees asked her to attend a disciplinary meeting with a female team member. Id. ¶ 12. When the female team member began to scream at the male supervisor, Sanchez warned her that her behavior was insubordinate and instructed her to either stop screaming at her supervisor or go home. Id. The female team member chose to go home. Id. Whole Foods then terminated Sanchez on September 12, 2016, claiming she made a bad decision to send the female team member home without pay. Id. ¶ 13.

         Sanchez filed suit against Whole Foods in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County, Maryland on August 7, 2018. ECF No. 1 ¶ 1. In her Complaint, Sanchez alleges disparate treatment and hostile work environment based on race, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981, and common law breach of contract. ECF No. 1-2 ¶¶ 14-23. On October 9, 2018, Whole Foods removed the suit to this Court, alleging this Court has federal question jurisdiction over the § 1981 claim, under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, and supplemental jurisdiction over the breach of contract claim, under 28 U.S.C. § 1367, as well as original diversity jurisdiction, under 28 U.S.C. § 1332. ECF No. 1 ¶ 4-7. On October 23, 2018, Whole Foods filed a Motion to Dismiss. ECF No. 9.


         To survive a motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, ‘to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “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.” Id. “But where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not ‘show[n]'-‘that the pleader is entitled to relief.'” Id. at 679 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). To determine whether a claim has crossed “the line from conceivable to plausible, ” the Court must employ a “context-specific inquiry, ” drawing on the Court's “experience and common sense.” Id. at 679-80.

         Rule 12(b)(6)'s purpose “is to test the sufficiency of a complaint and not to resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses.” Presley v. City of Charlottesville, 464 F.3d 480, 483 (4th Cir. 2006) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). In evaluating a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court must consider all well-pleaded allegations in a complaint as true and must construe all factual allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Mylan Labs., Inc. v. Matkari, 7 F.3d 1130, 1134 (4th Cir. 1993). A Rule 12(b)(6) motion should be granted “only if it is clear that no relief could be granted under any set of facts that could be proved consistent with the allegations.” Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 514 (2002).

         Under limited exceptions, the Court may consider evidence outside the complaint without converting a motion to dismiss to one for summary judgment. See Goldfarb v. Mayor & City Council of Baltimore, 791 F.3d 500, 508 (4th Cir. 2015). These exceptions include documents explicitly incorporated into the complaint as well as those submitted by the movant that are integral to the complaint and the authenticity of which is not challenged by the plaintiffs. See Phillips v. Pitt County Mem. Hosp., 572 F.3d 176, 180 (4th Cir. 2009). Beyond these exceptions, the Court would need to convert the motion to dismiss into one for summary judgment to consider any evidence outside the complaint. See Biospherics, Inc. v. Forbes, Inc., 989 F.Supp. 748, 749 (D. Md. 1997). “Such conversion is not appropriate where the parties have not had an opportunity for reasonable discovery.” E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. v. Kolon Indus., Inc., 637 F.3d 435, 448 (4th Cir. 2011) (citing Gay v. Wall, 761 F.2d 175, 178 (4th Cir. 1985)).


         A. Count I: 42 U.S.C. § 1981

          Section 1981 provides that “[a]ll persons within the jurisdiction of the United States shall have the same right in every State and Territory to make and enforce contracts . . . as is enjoyed by white citizens.” 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Sanchez alleges that Whole Foods violated § 1981 by subjecting her to disparate treatment and a hostile work environment based on her race. Specifically, Sanchez alleges Whole Foods did so by requiring her to report to a Caucasian male colleague, placing her on leave for complaints against another colleague, failing to investigate or take ...

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