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Noll v. Club Fit, Ltd.

United States District Court, N.D. Ohio

August 23, 2017

COURTNEY NOLL, Plaintiff,
v.
CLUB FIT, LTD., Defendant.

          OPINION & ORDER [RESOLVING DOC. 8, 10, 19]

          JAMES S. GWIN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE:

         Plaintiff Courtney Noll brings gender discrimination and Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) claims against her former employer, Defendant Club Fit, LTD.[1] Defendant Club Fit moves to dismiss Plaintiff Noll's gender discrimination claim for failure to state a claim.[2]

         For the reasons below, the Court DENIES the motion to dismiss.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case concerns whether Plaintiff Courtney Noll's supervisor, Club Fit CEO Phillip Stotter, fired Noll because of her gender, her engagement to be married, and her plans to have children.

         Plaintiff Noll worked at Club Fit from June 7, 2016 through January 4, 2017 as an Operations Manager.[3] During that time, she reported to Club Fit's CEO Phillip Stotter.[4]

         Plaintiff Noll alleges that Stotter “became aware that Noll had a serious boyfriend and the couple was close to be engaged.”[5] In November 2016, Noll says Stotter “confront[ed] her about the relationship.”[6] He “pulled Noll into his office and questioned her about her future with the company.”[7] Specifically, Stotter asked Noll if her job at Club Fit was “just a bridge until [she got] married and ha[d] kids.”[8] According to Noll, Stotter said if Noll viewed her job that way, he “d[id]n't think it is the right fit.”[9] Noll says she responded to Stotter that she “did not plan on leaving the company.”[10]

         Noll says she was “extremely offended by Stotter interrogating her about whether she was going to get married and have children and equating her starting a family with her not being a committed employee.”[11] Further, Noll “felt that Stotter's questions would never be asked of a male employee in her situation.”[12]

         On December 30, 2016, Noll became engaged to be married.[13] On January 2, 2017, Stotter became aware of Noll's engagement and sent Noll a text message congratulating her.[14]

         The next day, Stotter again pulled Noll into his office and “berated her about her future with Club Fit.”[15] Stotter again asked if Noll planned to stay at Club Fit and accused her of seeming “miserable” at work.[16] Noll says she again told Stotter that she planned to stay at Club Fit despite her recent engagement.[17]

         The following day, January 4, 2017, Stotter fired Noll.[18] Plaintiff Noll notes Stotter fired her one month after “Stotter threatened Noll's employment if she was planning on getting married and having children, and two days after he found out she was engaged to be married.”[19]

         On April 26, 2017, Noll filed a complaint against Defendant Club Fit, LTD, for gender discrimination under Ohio Rev. Code § 4112.02 and overtime compensation under the FLSA.[20]

         On June 26, 2017, Defendant Club Fit filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiff Noll's gender discrimination claim for failure to state a claim.[21] Plaintiff opposes Defendant's motion.[22]

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.'”[23] The plausibility requirement is not a “probability requirement.”[24] The Plaintiff need not try to prove her case in the complaint. But there must be “more than a sheer possibility that the defendant has acted unlawfully.”[25]

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8 provides the general pleading standard and only requires that a complaint “contain . . . a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.”[26] “Rule 8 marks a notable and generous departure from the hypertechnical, code-pleading regime of a prior era, but it does not unlock the doors of discovery for a plaintiff armed with nothing more than conclusions.”[27] In deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), “a court should assume the[] veracity” of “well-pleaded factual allegations, ” but need not accept a plaintiff's conclusory allegations as true.[28]

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Gender Discrimination Claim

         The Court first addresses whether Plaintiff Noll brings a gender-plus claim.

         Defendant Club Fit argues Plaintiff brings a “gender-plus claim, ” meaning Plaintiff was discriminated against not solely based on gender, but based on her gender coupled with another characteristic.[29] Defendant reads Plaintiff's claim to be that she was discriminated against because she was engaged.[30]

         Plaintiff Noll responds that Defendant's motion ignores a central part of her claim. In her Complaint, Plaintiff said that Defendant discriminated against her not only for her engagement, but also for her future plans to have children.[31] Plaintiff says that discriminating against a female for plans to have children is gender discrimination, not “gender-plus” discrimination.[32]

         Ohio's employment discrimination statute prohibits discrimination based on a person's sex.[33] In Ohio, “federal case law interpreting Title VII . . . is generally applicable to cases involving alleged violations of R.C. Chapter 4112.”[34]

         With respect to Title VII, “[t]he United States Supreme Court has held that gender discrimination claims based on childbearing capacity fall under [the statute's] protection.”[35]

         In Int'l Union v. Johnson Controls, the Supreme Court considered whether a “fetal protection policy” excluding women from jobs because they were capable of pregnancy constituted sex discrimination.[36] The policy classified people on the basis of childbearing capacity rather than fertility. Because only women possess the former characteristic, the Court found that the policy “must be regarded, for Title VII purposes, in the same light as explicit sex discrimination.”[37]

         Courts of Appeals across the country have read Johnson Controls to mean that “classifying employees on the basis of childbearing capacity, whether or not they were already pregnant, ‘must be regarded, for Title VII purposes, in the same light as explicit sex discrimination.'”[38]

         Therefore, where a woman “alleges that she was targeted for her intent to become pregnant, ” she brings a sex ...


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