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Hodge v. Walrus Oyster Ale House

United States District Court, D. Maryland

November 15, 2019

CHANTE' HODGE, Plaintiff,
v.
WALRUS OYSTER ALE HOUSE, STAR RESTAURANT GROUP, LLC, JASON FLEMING, STUART R. DAMON, KRISTOPHER S. CARR, DESMOND J. REILLY, WILLIAM GROBEN, RACHEL BAROODY, CAROL SEVILLA, NICOLE BAUMGARTNER and "DOE" RESTAURANT HOST, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Theodore D. Chuang United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Chante' Hodge has filed a civil action against Defendants Walrus Oyster & Ale House, Star Restaurant Group, LLC, Jason Fleming, Stuart R. Damon, Kristopher S. Carr, Desmond J. Reilly, William Groben, Rachel Baroody, Carla Sevilla, Nicole Baumgartner, and Doe Restaurant Host (collectively, "Defendants"), alleging race and age discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-2000e-17 (2012); 42 U.S.C. § 1981 ("Section 1981"); and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 621-634 (2018). Pending before the Court are a Motion to Dismiss by all named Defendants other than Baumgartner and a separate Motion to Dismiss in which Baumgartner joins in the first Motion (collectively, "the Motions"). Having reviewed the filings, the Court finds that no hearing is necessary. See D. Md. Local R. 105. 6. For the following reasons, the Motions to Dismiss are GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

         BACKGROUND

         Hodge, an African American woman, worked at the Walrus Oyster & Ale House ("Walrus Oyster House" or "the Restaurant") as a server from March 24, 2015 until her resignation on April 1, 2017. She turned 40 years old during her first year of employment. Walrus Oyster House, which opened in September 2014, is a restaurant located at National Harbor in Prince George's County, Maryland and is owned by Defendant Star Restaurant Group, LLC ("Star Restaurant Group"). The rest of Defendants were either owners of Walrus Oyster House or Star Restaurant Group, or were employed in a management position at Walrus Oyster House during Hodge's tenure there.

         According to Hodge, she quickly showed herself to be an especially adept server, so much so that in May 2015 she was offered and accepted a position as a "Server Trainer," which required her to train the Restaurant's existing and incoming service staff. Compl. ¶¶ 50-55, ECF No. 1. Considering this position to be a stepping stone to a managerial role, Hodge then submitted a proposal that she be placed in a floor manager position. Defendant Stuart Damon, an owner and manager of Walrus Oyster House, denied Hodge her proposed managerial position, but he told her in the same time frame that she would be promoted to a higher position known as "Captain Server" or to a manager position as additional restaurants were opened. Id. ¶¶ 84-86.

         Nevertheless, starting from Hodge's designation as a Server Trainer through the following year, Defendants filled several other managerial positions without offering them to Hodge. None of the individuals hired to fill these positions were African American. For example, in August 2016, Damon and Defendant Jason Fleming, the General Manager of Walrus Oyster House, promoted to a supervisory position Taylor Blare, a 20-year-old white woman who was hired in July 2015 as a server and was trained by Hodge, even though Blare had not sought the promotion. Defendant Rachel Baroody, who was hired as a floor manager in 2016, had to ask Hodge on several occasions for work-related advice. Although it is unclear whether Hodge officially applied for these positions, she had previously expressed interest in being promoted to a managerial position. Nevertheless, none of these positions were offered to her, and they were apparently filled through an informal and opaque process.

         Hodge also alleges that during her time at Walrus Oyster House, she was subjected to discrimination in how tables and customers were allocated to servers. She contends that from June 2016 to January 2017, she was repeatedly skipped in the seating rotation, meaning that a party of customers that should have been seated in her designated section in the Restaurant was instead seated in a white or Hispanic server's section. She further alleges that on some occasions tables in her designated section were allocated to white servers' sections, without any other tables being placed in Hodge's section to balance out the assignments. These practices of reducing the number of tables and customers allocated to Hodge, which reduced the amount of the tips she received, cut her overall earnings by as much as 25 percent. The servers who benefited from this unequal treatment in assigning customers and tables were both younger than Hodge and not African American.

         Hodge also describes several other incidents that she claims further demonstrate Defendants' discrimination against her. One evening, she was forced to compensate Walrus Oyster House for a counterfeit $100 bill she had accepted, while less than a week later a white server was not forced to do so when she could not account for $70 in sales. On another occasion, on November 27, 2016, Fleming, who is white, "stalked" and "followed" Hodge around the Restaurant, "watching everything she would do" and directing "hostile, hateful, evil, discriminatory and very angry looking expressions" at her. Compl. ¶ 111. That same day, Fleming threw out a carton of fresh grapes Hodge had purchased for herself and left in the storage room, even though he had allowed a non-African American employee to eat in the storage room around the same time. According to Hodge, Fleming maliciously threw out her personal food and drinks without justification on other occasions as well.

         Hodge also alleges that on December 1, 2016, Walrus Oyster House management deliberately failed to assign her to work a lucrative, 200-person special event at the Restaurant. When another server arranged to have Hodge substitute for her that evening, Fleming and Damon refused to let Hodge take the shift. In January 2017, Hodge was again denied the opportunity to work an unfilled shift. That same month, Hodge's normal schedule was reduced to just two shifts a week, while the Restaurant's white servers were still scheduled for four or five shifts a week. Finally, she points to other instances in which African American employees were passed over for promotions or had their shifts changed. Hodge ultimately resigned from Walrus Oyster House on April 1, 2017.

         Meanwhile, on December 5, 2016, Hodge sent a letter to the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") detailing some of her complaints. She then filed an official EEOC charge of discrimination ("the EEOC Charge") on January 10, 2017. The EEOC Charge alleges that "[b]eginning in or about July 2015, and continuing, I have been subjected to unequal terms and conditions of employment based on my race (Black) and age (40). The unequal terms and conditions of employment have taken the form of being subjected to unfavorable treatment, skipped in assignment of guests, and denied equal and fair assignment of duties (seating tables in my section)." EEOC Charge, Mot. Dismiss Ex. B, ECF No. 27-3. On September 27, 2018, the EEOC issued Hodge a right-to-sue letter.

         On December 21, 2018, Hodge filed this action. Construed liberally, the Complaint asserts claims of: (1) discriminatory treatment on the basis of race and age, in violation of Title VII, Section 1981, and the ADEA; (2) failure to promote on the basis of race and age, in violation of Title VII, Section 1981, and the ADEA; (3) a racially hostile work environment, in violation of Title VII and Section 1981; (4) constructive discharge on the basis of race, in violation of Title VII and Section 1981; and (5) intentional infliction of emotional distress.

         DISCUSSION

         In their Motions to Dismiss, Defendants seek dismissal of most, but not all, of Hodge's claims. Defendants argue that (1) Hodge's failure-to-promote claims must be dismissed because she failed to exhaust administrative remedies as to those claims; and (2) Hodge has not alleged sufficient facts to state plausible claims of discriminatory failure to promote, hostile work environment, constructive discharge, or intentional infliction of emotional distress. Notably, Defendants have not sought dismissal of Hodge's discriminatory treatment claims under Title VII, Section 1981, and the ADEA based on her allegations of discriminatory table assignments at Walrus Oyster House. Such claims, which allege discriminatory treatment in terms and conditions of employment that impacted Hodge's wages and earnings, will remain in the case regardless of the arguments asserted in the Motions. See, e.g., Ray v. Int'l Paper Co., 909 F.3d 661, 670 (4th Cir. 2018) (holding that an employee who was prevented from working voluntary overtime shifts and thus lost "a significant part of [her] earnings" had suffered an adverse employment action for purposes of Title VII).

         I. ...


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