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Santiago v. Quality Inn

October 15, 2010

CHRISTINA SANTIAGO, PLAINTIFF
v.
QUALITY INN (PA 370), ET AL., DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Stengel, J.

MEMORANDUM

Christina Santiago brought this case against Quality Inn (PA 370), her former employer, its alleged parent corporation, its owners, and its managers for various claims of employment discrimination, retaliation, and defamation. Defendant Choice Hotel International filed a motion to dismiss*fn1 the complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the following reasons, I will deny the motion in its entirety.

I. BACKGROUND*fn2

Christina Santiago is a Puerto Rican woman who was hired as a housekeeper in May 2008 at the Quality Inn in Lancaster. She joined a staff of housekeepers who were all Hispanic. The maintenance staff at the hotel were all Caucasian. Miss Santiago claims that her Hispanic co-workers were treated differently than the non-Hispanic co-workers at the hotel. For example, Defendant Lynda Gibbons, the General Manager of the hotel, began a policy of "fining" the housekeepers if any customer made a complaint about the cleanliness of the room. In April 2009, Miss Santiago was fined and paid $12.50. A month later, Defendant Gibbons threatened the housekeepers that they would be suspended for a week if the fine was not paid/deducted from their next paycheck. On that same day, Miss Santiago was fined $25.00 for failing to clean a room which had a "malfunctioning moldy and disgusting refrigerator." Miss Santiago pointed out that refrigerators are the responsibility of the all-white-maintenance crew who were not fined. She complained about this disparate treatment and refused to pay the $25.00 fine.

Ten days later, Miss Santiago went to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to file a Charge of Discrimination. Her doing so allegedly prompted incidents of retaliation against her including suspension, written warnings, threats of termination, reduction of hours, and belittlement in front of co-workers and guests. Allegedly, Defendant Gibbons published disparaging remarks about Miss Santiago to her co-workers. For example, Miss Gibbons allegedly told them that Miss Santiago was troublesome, had a bad attitude, and violated work rules. This resulted in the co-workers distancing themselves and refusing to speak with Miss Santiago. Miss Gibbons allegedly told Miss Santiago that she was looking for a reason to fire her.

On June 7, 2009, Miss Santiago suffered a work injury when she moved furniture while performing her regular housekeeping duties. She promptly reported the injury to management, and received care and treatment for the injury at the Lancaster General Hospital. See Compl. Exh. C. On July 24, 2009, Miss Gibbons allegedly accused Miss Santiago of violating a work rule, and sent her home for wearing black pants. At the end of the shift on the following day, Miss Gibbons allegedly accused Miss Santiago of violating another work rule, i.e., calling the front desk for towels, and immediately terminated her employment.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted examines the legal sufficiency of the complaint. Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957). The factual allegations must be sufficient to make the claim for relief more than just speculative. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). In determining whether to grant a motion to dismiss, a federal court must construe the complaint liberally, accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true, and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Id.; see also D.P. Enters. v. Bucks County Cmty. Coll., 725 F.2d 943, 944 (3d Cir. 1984).

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure do not require a plaintiff to plead in detail all of the facts upon which he bases his claim. Conley, 355 U.S. at 47. Rather, the Rules require a "short and plain statement" of the claim that will give the defendant fair notice of the plaintiff's claim and the grounds upon which it rests. Id. The "complaint must allege facts suggestive of [the proscribed] conduct." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 564. Neither "bald assertions" nor "vague and conclusory allegations" are accepted as true. See Morse v. Lower Merion School Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997); Sterling v. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transp. Auth., 897 F. Supp. 893 (E.D. Pa. 1995). The claim must contain enough factual matters to suggest the required elements of the claim or to "raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of" those elements. Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

III. DISCUSSION

Defendant Choice Hotel International argues that it should be dismissed as a defendant in this action because: (1) Miss Santiago was never employed by Choice Hotel, and thus it cannot be liable for any of Miss Santiago's alleged employment-related claims; and (2)even if she were an employee, she failed to bring the claim before the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission.

As support for its first argument that Miss Santiago was not an employee, the defendant attempts to refer to a franchise agreement it entered into with Defendants SAI Management LLC and Pankha Sheth on March 30, 2006. This agreement is attached to the defendant's motion to dismiss as Exhibit B.

In considering a defendant's motion to dismiss, the district court's focus is on the complaint, including any attached exhibits and matters of public record, and will ordinarily not consider attachments to a defendant's motion. GSC Partners, CDO Fund v. Washington, 368 F.3d at 236. To consider matters outside the pleadings, the district court must treat the motion as a motion for summary judgment under Rule 56, rather than one under Rule 12(b)(6). Though a court may on its own initiative convert a motion to dismiss into one for summary judgment, it must first give notice to the parties of its intention to do so. See Rose v. Bartle, 871 F.2d 331, 342 (3d Cir. 1989). But if an attachment to a motion to dismiss is an "indisputably authentic document" upon which the plaintiff's claims are based, the district court may properly consider it when ruling on the motion. See Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993). Examples of such documents include criminal case dispositions, letter decisions of government agencies, and published reports of administrative bodies. Id. at 1197. Typically, courts limit their consideration of these public records to determine whether the procedural prerequisites of a plaintiff's claim have been met. Here, the attached franchise agreement is not such a document, and I will not consider the document at this stage of the proceedings. Instead, I will allow the parties to explore during discovery the relationship between the defendants, focusing on whether Choice Hotel maintained sufficient control over the other defendants to be treated as a single employer pursuant to Nesbit v. Pears Unlimited, Inc., 347 F.3d 72, 87 (3d Cir. 2003) (to determine whether the operations of two entities should be consolidated, a district court considers the following four factors: (1) the degree of unity between the entities with respect to ownership, management, and business functions, e.g., hiring and personnel matters; (2) whether they present themselves as a single company such that third parties dealt with them as one unit; (3) whether a parent company covers the salaries, expenses, or losses of its subsidiary; and (4) whether one entity does business exclusively with the other). Defendant Choice Hotel may raise this same argument again after discovery in a dispositive motion. The plaintiff would then be better prepared to address it.

Defendant Choice Hotel next argues that it should be dismissed as a defendant because the plaintiff failed to exhaust her administrative remedies. It contends that failure to bring a claim before the Pennsylvania Human ...


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