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BOYER v. JOHNSON MATTHEY

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania


April 16, 2004.

CURTIS BOYER, DAVID J. JARAMILLO, DARIEN WASHINGTON, SAMUEL LEE WELLS, and CITIRAH WHARTON
v.
JOHNSON MATTHEY, INC. and UNITED STEEL WORKERS OF AMERICA, LOCAL 1165-02

The opinion of the court was delivered by: RICHARD B. SURRICK, District Judge

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

Plaintiffs Curtis Boyer, David J. Jaramillo, Darien Washington, Samuel Lee Wells, and Citirah Wharton bring this discrimination action against Johnson Matthey, Inc. ("JMI") and United Steelworkers of America, Local 1165-02 ("Local 1165-02"). Presently before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Sever (Doc. No. 7). For the following reasons, we will deny Defendants' Motion without prejudice.

I. BACKGROUND

  Plaintiffs are current or former employees of JMI and members of Local 1165-02, a labor organization. (Compl. ¶¶ 13-14.) Each of the Plaintiffs was employed at JMI's Noble Metals Division in Malvern, Pennsylvania. (Id. ¶ 14.) Among other things, Plaintiffs allege that Defendants engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination. (Id. ¶ 15.) Based on these allegations, Plaintiffs filed the complaint on November 8, 2002, seeking relief under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (the "PHRA"), 43 PA. CONS. STAT. § 955(a), and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Defendants move to sever Plaintiffs' claims into separate actions. Defendants argue that Plaintiffs' claims are misjoined because Plaintiffs worked for JMI during different periods of time, on different shifts, and in separate departments. Plaintiffs, however, allege that Defendants engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination and created a hosfile work environment. (Compl. ¶ 15.) Specifically, Plaintiffs allege that:

For a number of years prior and continuing to the present, JMI and Local 1165-02 have tolerated and, through their officers and managers, created, an environment, pattern and practice of hostility towards members of racial minorities characterized by the frequent use of racial slurs and other offensive verbal references to race, tampering with the materials and property associated with minority employees, discrimination in hirings and assignments, and the discriminatory management of the system of bidding on job vacancies.
(Id.) Plaintiffs allege that pursuant to the pattern or practice of discrimination they each suffered adverse employment actions. (Id. ¶ 16.) Therefore, Plaintiffs argue, their claims are properly joined.

 II. DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO SEVER

  A. Standard for Motion to Sever

  A district court has broad discretion in deciding whether to sever a party pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 21. Fanning v. Black & Decker, Inc., No. 98-6141, 1999 WL 163628, at *1 (E.D. Pa. Mar. 18, 1999). Rule 21 provides, in relevant part, that "[p]arties maybe dropped or added by order of the court on motion of any party or of its own initiative at any stage of the action and on such terms as are just." FED. R. CIV. P. 21. Rule 21 is "most commonly invoked to sever parties improperly joined under Rule 20."*fn1 Norwood Co. v. RLI Ins. Co., No. 01-6153, 2002 WL 523946, at *1 (E.D. Pa. Apr. 4, 2002).

  Defendants argue that the Plaintiffs' claims are misjoined. Rule 20(a) permits plaintiffs to join in one action "if they assert any right to relief jointly, severally, or in the alternative in respect of or arising out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences and if any question of law or fact common to all these persons will arise in the action." FED. R. CIV. P. 20(a). "Both the same transaction(s) and the common question elements must be satisfied before joinder can be permitted." In re Orthopedic Bone Screw Prod. Liab. Litig., No. MDL 1014, 1995 WL 428683, at *1 (E.D. Pa. July 17, 1995).

  The purpose of Rule 20(a) is to "promote trial convenience and expedite the final determination of disputes, thereby preventing multiple law suits." Miller v. Hygrade Food Prods. Corp., 202 F.R.D. 142, 144 (E.D. Pa. 2001) (citing 7 CHARLES ALAN WRIGHT, ARTHUR R. MILLER AND MARY KAY KANE, FEDERAL PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE § 1652 (3d ed. 2001) and Mosley v. Gen. Motors Corp., 497 F.2d 1330, 1332 (8th Cir. 1974)). Permissive joinder "falls within the Court's sound discretion and is to be liberally granted; `[u]nder the rules, the impulse is toward entertaining the broadest possible scope of action consistent with fairness to the parties; joinder of claims, parties and remedies is strongly encouraged.'" Miller, 202 F.R.D. at 144 (quoting United Mine Workers of Am. v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715, 724 (1966)).

  In determining whether a particular factual situation constitutes a single transaction or occurrence, courts "generally apply a case-by-case approach." Miller, 202 F.R.D. at 144. "`Transaction' is a word of flexible meaning. It may comprehend a series of many occurrences, depending not so much upon the immediateness of their connection as upon their logical relationship." Mosley, 497 F.2d at 1333 (quoting Moore v. New York Cotton Exch., 270 U.S. 593, 610 (1926)).

  B. Analysis

  Plaintiffs allege that JMI and Local 1165-02 have "tolerated and, through their officers and managers, created, an environment, pattern and practice of hostility towards members of racial minorities. . . ." (Compl. ¶ 15.) Essentially, Plaintiffs allege that each specific discriminatory action described in the complaint stemmed from the same pattern or practice of hostility. Thus, each discriminatory act should be considered part of the same transaction or occurrence. At this early stage in the proceedings we will not attempt to determine whether Defendants have engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination. At this juncture, it is sufficient that Plaintiffs have alleged that Defendants engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination. Other courts have found the common transaction element met when the plaintiffs alleged that a pattern or practice of discrimination existed. See Mosley, 497 F.2d at 1333-1334 (finding common transaction element when the plaintiffs alleged the defendants has a "company-wide policy purportedly designed to discriminate against blacks in employment"); Miller, 202 F.R.D at 144 (finding common transaction element when the plaintiffs alleged that the defendants employed a discriminatory policy); King v. Pepsi Cola Metro. Bottling Co., 86 F.R.D. 4, 5-6 (E.D. Pa. 1979) (finding common transaction element met when the plaintiffs alleged the defendants had "a general and pervasive corporate policy of discrimination"). We conclude that at this early stage, Plaintiffs' allegations are sufficient to meet the common transaction element required for joinder. The second requirement for joinder is that each of Plaintiffs' claims involve a common question of law or fact. Plaintiffs only need to share a single question of law or fact to meet this "very low threshold." Barnes v. Am. Tobacco. Co., 161 F.3d 127, 140, 141 n.15 (3d Cir. 1998) (quotations omitted). Though Plaintiffs allegedly suffered different incidents of discrimination, some occurring on different work shifts, at the hands of different supervisors, and at different times, the purported existence of a discriminatory pattern or practice is a common question of fact that Plaintiffs' claims share. See Miller, 202 F.R.D at 145 (citing Mosley, 497 F.2d at 1334). At this stage in the proceedings, we conclude that Plaintiffs' have met the commonality element.

  Sufficient facts have been alleged by Plaintiffs regarding each element required for joinder under Rule 20(a). Accordingly, we will deny Defendants' motion to sever. We note that severance might be appropriate after discovery is completed if Plaintiffs' pattern or practice allegations are not established. Thus, our decision to deny Defendants' motion to sever is without prejudice. See Madison v. Hennepin County, No. 02-4756 JRTFLN, 2003 WL 21639176, at *4 (D. Minn. July 1, 2003) (denying motion to sever, but noting that it might be appropriate to revisit the issue after discovery); see also Miller, 202 F.R.D. at 145 (finding that "as discovery has not yet closed and dispositive motions have not yet been filed, it is too soon to determine whether the claims should be severed for trial. The Court cannot make such a determination until it is clear exactly what issues, if any, will go to trial.").

  An appropriate Order follows.

  ORDER

  AND NOW, this 16th day of April, 2004, upon consideration of Defendants' Motion to Sever (Doc. No. 7), and all papers filed in support thereof and opposition thereto, it is ORDERED that the Motion is DENIED without prejudice.

  IT IS SO ORDERED.


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