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Danielle Ware v. Jenny Craig

November 10, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Herman J. Weber, Senior Judge United States District Court


This matter is before the Court upon the "Partial Motion to Dismiss" (doc. no. 6) by Jenny Craig, Inc. ("Jenny Craig") and Maria Levine (collectively "defendants"). Plaintiff opposes the motion. Having considered the record, including the pleadings, the parties' briefs, and relevant authority, the Court will deny the motion for the following reasons:

I. Factual Allegations

In her complaint, plaintiff indicates that beginning in April 1996, she worked part-time, i.e. 15 to 20 hours per week, as a weight loss consultant at a Jenny Craig weight management center (doc. no. 3 at ¶¶ 2, 8, 10). In 2008, plaintiff became pregnant (¶ 12). She discussed her need for some time off and her desire to return to work thereafter with the director at Jenny Craig. After some time off for childbirth, plaintiff returned and continued to work at Jenny Craig (¶ 13). In November of 2009, a new director, Maria Levine, was appointed at the Jenny Craig center where plaintiff worked. Plaintiff, who is African-American, alleges that despite her excellent job performance record, Levine "acted coolly" toward her and treated her unfavorably and disparately from Caucasian employees (¶¶ 14-21).

In 2010, plaintiff became pregnant again, with a due date of October 15, 2010 (¶ 28). As before, plaintiff informed her employer that she needed to take six to eight weeks off from work for childbirth and that she intended to return to work afterwards (¶¶ 35). However, according to plaintiff, Levine advised her that her last day of work would be October 15, 2010 (¶ 33). Jenny Craig advertised for and hired an employee to replace plaintiff (¶ 37) and terminated plaintiff's employment on October 15, 2010 (¶¶ 34, 39).*fn1 Plaintiff alleges that this new employee "quit shortly after she was hired" (¶ 37), but that when plaintiff inquired about returning to work at Jenny Craig, Levine told her that there was no longer any position available for her (¶ 36).

Plaintiff filed a two-count complaint in the Ohio Court of Common Pleas in Warren County against Jenny Craig, Inc. and its local director, Maria Levine. The complaint alleges employment discrimination under Ohio law on the basis of race (Count One) and pregnancy/gender (Count Two). The defendants removed the case to federal court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction. Defendants filed a "Partial Answer" (doc. no. 5) denying the allegations of Count One, and a "Partial Motion to Dismiss" (doc. no. 6) moving for dismissal of Count Two. Plaintiff responded (doc. no. 9), and defendants replied (doc. no. 10).

II. Standard of Review

Initially, the parties dispute which procedural rules apply here. Defendants assert that Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure applies and cites the well-known decisions in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007) (explaining that a complaint must contain "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face") and Ashcroft v. Iqbal,129 S.Ct. 1937, 1953 (2009) (holding that this standard applies to "all civil actions" in federal court).

Plaintiff argues that Ohio's Rules of Civil Procedure apply, rather than the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Plaintiff contends that her complaint was filed "solely under Ohio law, in an Ohio court" and that "Ohio's pleadings standards are significantly different from those set forth in Ashcroft and Twombly" (doc. no. 9 at 11). Plaintiff argues that "Ohio is a 'notice-pleading state' and . . . does not ordinarily require a plaintiff to plead operative facts with particularity" (Id. at 4). Plaintiff contends that "[t]here should be no question that Plaintiff's complaint complies with Ohio's pleading standard" (Id. at 5, underlining in original). After suggesting that the Ohio pleading rules are allegedly less demanding than their federal counterparts, plaintiff then argues that her complaint nonetheless also satisfies the federal pleading requirements.

In the first place, and contrary to plaintiff's suggestion, the federal rules also require "notice" pleading. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)(providing that a complaint need only contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing the pleader is entitled to relief"). Moreover, as various courts have observed, the pertinent Ohio and federal rules are substantially similar. See, e.g., Fink v. Twentieth Century Homes, Inc., 2010 WL 4520482 (Ohio App. 8th Dist) (citing Bell Atlantic extensively in ruling on motion to dismiss under Ohio's Rule 12). That said, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure apply in this federal diversity action. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 81(c) ("These rules apply to a civil action after it is removed from a state court."). The only issue here is whether Count Two states a claim for which relief may be granted pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6).

A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of a complaint. Iqbal,129 S.Ct. at 1950. To survive a motion to dismiss, "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.' " Id. at 1949 (quoting Bell Atlantic, 550 U.S. at 550). "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. "Although the court must accept well-pleaded factual allegations of the complaint as true for purposes of a motion to dismiss, the court is not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation." Id. The plaintiff must provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief "rather than a blanket assertion of entitlement to relief." Bell Atlantic, 550 U.S. at 556 n.3.

III. Discussion

Count Two alleges pregnancy/gender discrimination in violation of the Ohio Civil Rights Act, Ohio Rev. Code § 4112 et. seq. The Ohio anti-discrimination statute is patterned on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination because of sex. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a). This includes the Pregnancy Discrimination Act ("PDA"), which in 1978 amended Title VII to include discrimination on the basis of pregnancy within the category of unlawful gender discrimination. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e (k).

The Ohio anti-discrimination statute, at § 4112.02, specifically provides in relevant part: "it shall be an unlawful discriminatory practice: (A) for any employer, because of any person, to discharge without just cause, to refuse to hire, or otherwise to discriminate against that person with respect to hire, tenure, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, or any matters directly or indirectly relating to employment" (doc. no. 9 at 8, underlining added). The Ohio statute further specifies that "the terms 'because of sex' or 'on the basis of sex' include, but are not limited to, because of or on the basis of pregnancy, any illness arising out of and occurring during the course of a pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions." Ohio Rev. Code § 4112.01(B). The latter section is Ohio's analogue to the federal PDA, which protects female workers from being ...

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