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Felder v. MGM National Harbor, LLC

United States District Court, D. Maryland

August 15, 2019




         Plaintiff Brittney Felder, pro se, has sued MGM National Harbor, LLC (“National Harbor”) and fifty unnamed defendants in connection with her employment at National Harbor and the SJP Boutique, a high-end retailer located within the National Harbor complex. Felder brings claims for race, sex, and color discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq (“Title VII”), and the Civil Rights Act of 1866, 42 U.S.C. § 1981. She also brings various claims for relief under state law and at common law.

         National Harbor has moved to dismiss. (ECF No. 6). Felder has moved to remand (ECF No. 11). For the following reasons, the Court DENIES Plaintiff's Motion to Remand and GRANTS Defendant's Motion to Dismiss, with leave for Felder to file an Amended Complaint.


         In August 2017, Felder began working at National Harbor as both Assistant Manager of Retail and the Store Manager of SJP Boutique. ECF No. 1, Ex. A (“Complaint”) at 5. Felder was recruited to work at National Harbor by SJP Liaison Whitney Wilburn and National Harbor Director of Retail Lisa Jones. Id. During the recruiting process, Felder says that Jones told her “people work here for a long time, ” suggesting Felder would have opportunities for career advancement at National Harbor. Id. Felder says that at no point during the hiring process did any National Harbor employee mention that her employment was subject to a ninety-day probationary period. Id. at 12. Once Felder began working at National Harbor, Jones became her supervisor. Id. at 6.

         Felder initially received positive feedback from Jones's supervisor Patrick Fisher and Wilburn while Jones was on a leave of absence. Id. Felder also began planning an event at the store featuring SJP's celebrity founder, Sarah Jessica Parker, and other high-stakes guests set to take place on September 20, 2017. Id. at 7.

         After Jones returned from her leave of absence, she and Wilburn allegedly began criticizing Felder constantly. Id. During a meeting among Jones, Wilburn, and several other employees on September 11, 2017, Felder says that Wilburn called her a “dictator.” Id. at 8. Later that day, Felder learned from another employee that Jones characterized the interaction as a mutual argument between Felder and Wilburn. Id. at 8-9.

         On September 14, 2017, Felder discovered someone had modified several window and store displays that she had set up at the SJP Boutique. Id. at 8. Felder subsequently complained to Fisher about the treatment she had been receiving from Jones and Wilburn. Id. at 9. At a meeting later that same day, Felder says that Jones ignored her and admitted that she was angry Felder had reported Jones to Fisher. Id. Felder also says that Jones described her as combative and insolent. Id. at 18. Felder also says that Jones referred to her as “the queen, ” which Felder alleges is a derogatory term used between African-Americans to refer to different skin colors. Id. at 10 n.3. Subsequently, Felder says that Wilburn and Jones delegated some of her responsibilities to other less qualified Assistant Managers, one of whom was “a White/Caucasian female, ” the other a “dark skin African American male, ” who were also subject to disciplinary action. Id. at 10, 15.

         On September 20, 2017, the day of the SJP event, Felder alleges that Jones modified Felder's store designs without consulting her. Id. at 11. Felder says she felt extremely distressed, and begged Jones to stop her modifications, to which Jones responded by calling for National Harbor security. Id. Felder subsequently called Fisher, who she says urged her to comply with Jones's instructions. Id. Security personnel arrived and removed Felder from the building. Id. Later, one of Felder's coworkers told her that Jones had recorded the episode and shared the video with other employees. Id. at 12.

         The next day, on September 21, 2017, Felder returned to National Harbor to meet with Jones. Id. At the meeting, Jones terminated Felder's employment, explaining that Felder's employment fell within a ninety-day probationary period. Id. Felder refused to sign the separation agreement that she says Jones presented her. Id.

         Felder filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) and received her right to sue letter on June 9, 2018. Felder subsequently filed suit in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County, Maryland on September 7, 2018 against National Harbor and fifty unnamed defendants. National Harbor removed the case to this Court on November 2, 2018 and, on November 9, 2018, moved to dismiss Felder's Complaint for failure to state a claim. ECF No. 6. Felder filed her Opposition on November 30, 2018, ECF No. 10, and National Harbor filed its Reply on December 13, 2018. ECF No. 14. Felder moved for leave to file a Surreply on January 29, 2019. ECF No. 17. The Court granted Felder's motion, ECF No. 18, and accepted her Surreply on March 5, 2019. ECF No. 19.

         Felder also filed a Motion to Remand on November 30, 2018. ECF No. 11. National Harbor filed its Opposition on 13, 2018. ECF No. 13. Felder filed her Reply on January 11, 2019. ECF No. 15.

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. Plaintiff's Motion to Remand

         Felder has moved to remand on the grounds that (1) the Notice of Removal is invalid because it contains a misspelling of her name, (2) state courts have concurrent jurisdiction to hear federal claims, and (3) absent removal, she will be required to litigate her state and federal claims separately. National Harbor contends that removal and subject matter jurisdiction are proper. The Court agrees with National Harbor.

         District courts have supplemental jurisdiction over claims that are derived from a “nucleus of operative fact” common to additional claims over which the court has original jurisdiction. Axel Johnson, Inc. v. Carroll Carolina Oil Co., 145 F.3d 660, 662 (4th Cir. 1998); see also 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a). The Court has original jurisdiction over Felder's discrimination claims because they arise under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Because all of Felder's claims arise from incidents that allegedly occurred during her period of employment at National Harbor, the Court may exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state law claims in her Complaint. Further, National Harbor timely removed the case to federal court on November 2, 2018, within thirty days of receiving service of a copy of Felder's Complaint and Summons on October 4, 2018.

         Felder's arguments for remand lack merit. Her name is misspelled only once in the Notice of Removal-on the civil cover sheet, not the actual notice-and there is no indication that she did not receive a copy of the Notice. See Khepera-Bey v. Santander Consumer USA, Inc., Civil No. WDQ-11-1269, 2012 WL 1965444, at *6 (D. Md. May 30, 2012) (holding that a misspelling alone did not invalidate service of process when a defendant received actual notice and was not prejudiced). And although Felder is correct that state courts may exercise concurrent jurisdiction over federal claims, that alone does not preclude removal to federal court if the conditions for removal are met. See, e.g., Bahari v. Countrywide Home Loans, Civil No. CCB-05-2085, 2005 WL 3505604, at *3 (D. Md. Dec. 16, 2005) (noting the Fourth Circuit has long held concurrent jurisdiction does not bar removal in the absence of express provisions by Congress).

         Accordingly, the Court DENIES Plaintiff's Motion to Remand.

         B. Defendant's Motion to Dismiss

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) prescribes “liberal pleading standards” that require a plaintiff to submit only a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that [she] is entitled to relief.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93-94 (2007) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). The plaintiff's statement must contain facts sufficient to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face” in order to survive a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 554, 570 (2007). The plausibility standard requires that the plaintiff plead facts sufficient to show by “more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Although a court will accept the plaintiff's factual allegations as true, “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id. Legal conclusions couched as factual allegations or “unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments” do not satisfy the plausibility pleading standard. E. Shore Markets, Inc. v. J.D. Associates Ltd. P'ship, 213 F.3d 175, 180 (4th Cir. 2000). The complaint must contain factual allegations sufficient to apprise a defendant of “what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (internal quotations and citations omitted).

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 9(b) requires that a party “alleging fraud or mistake” must plead “with particularity the circumstances constituting fraud or mistake.” The certain “circumstances” of a fraud or mistake claim that must be plead with particularity are the “time, place, and contents of the false representations, as well as the identity of the person making the misrepresentation and what he obtained thereby.” SeeSpaulding v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A.,714 F.3d 769, 781 (4th Cir. 2013) (quoting Harrison v. Westinghouse Savannah River Co.,176 F.3d 776, 784 (4th Cir. 1999) (internal quotation marks omitted). Lack of compliance with the heightened pleading standard for claims of ...

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