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Monda v. Wal-Mart, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Western Division, Dayton

December 20, 2019

KATHY MONDA, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
WAL-MART, INC., Defendant.

          ENTRY AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S RENEWED MOTION TO SEVER PLAINTIFFS' CLAIMS OR, IN THE ALTERNATIVE, TO TRY PLAINTIFFS' CLAIMS SEPARATELY (DOC. 16), INSTRUCTING CLERK AND PARTIES CONCERNING PROCEDURE FOR SEVERANCE, AND DENYING WITHOUT PREJUDICE DEFENDANT'S PARTIAL MOTION TO DISMISS PLAINTIFFS' AMENDED COMPLAINT (DOC. 14)

          THOMAS M. ROSE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pending before the Court are two motions filed by Defendant Wal-Mart, Inc. (“Walmart”): (1) Defendant's Renewed Motion to Sever Plaintiffs' Claims or, in the Alternative, to Try Plaintiffs' Claims Separately (Doc. 16) (“Motion to Sever”), and (2) Defendant's Partial Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint (Doc. 14) (“Motion to Dismiss”).[1] Plaintiffs[2] filed separate responses in opposition to both the Motion to Dismiss and the Motion to Sever. (Docs. 18, 20.) Walmart filed separate replies in support of each motion. (Docs. 21, 24.) Following briefing, Plaintiffs also filed a Statement of Recent Ruling. (Doc. 25.) The Motion to Sever and the Motion to Dismiss are fully briefed and ripe for review. (Docs. 14, 16, 18, 20, 21, 24.)

         For the reasons discussed below, the Court GRANTS the Motion to Sever (Doc. 16), finding that the claims of each of the Plaintiffs must be severed from the claims of the other Plaintiffs.[3] Given this ruling, the Court does not substantively address, and instead DENIES WITHOUT PREJUDICE, the Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 14).

         I. BACKGROUND

         The Amended Complaint (the “Complaint”) contains four claims, each brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e, et seq., alleging that Walmart discriminated against one or more of the Plaintiffs (all of whom are women) based on their gender:

Count 1 - Disparate Treatment on the Basis of Pay (brought by all Plaintiffs);
Count 2 - Disparate Treatment on the Basis of Promotion (brought by Morgan, Shearer-Luke, McKinney, Thomas, and Monda);
Count 3 - Disparate Impact on the Basis of Pay (brought by all Plaintiffs); and
Count 4 - Disparate Impact on the Basis of Promotion[4] (brought by Morgan, Shearer-Luke, McKinney, Thomas, and Monda, i.e., the same five women who bring Count 2).

         Plaintiffs allege that they are former members of a national class action lawsuit that alleged sex discrimination in pay and promotion by Walmart. In 2011, the United States Supreme Court reversed the district court's order that had certified the proposed nationwide class in that lawsuit. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, 564 U.S. 338 (2011). Plaintiffs allege that this action stems from Dukes, and that they previously filed EEOC charges and Amended EEOC charges. Attached as an exhibit to the Complaint is a composite exhibit of their EEOC charges from 2012.

         Plaintiffs contend that, throughout its stores in the State of Ohio, Walmart maintained a pattern or practice of gender discrimination in either compensation or promotion, and that the evidence that Walmart engaged in such a pattern is relevant evidence that may be used by each individual plaintiff to support her assertion that Walmart's actions with respect to her own pay or promotion (or both) were driven by gender discrimination. Plaintiffs allege that, in each of Walmart's regions, the compensation and/or promotion policies and practices of Walmart had a disparate impact (not justified by business necessity) on female employees, including the Plaintiffs.

         Plaintiffs also allege that Walmart introduced a new pay structure in 2004, that-starting in 2005-Walmart changed how start pay was established for hourly employees, and that-in 2006-Walmart added a cap on the pay permitted for each job class.

         Additionally, Plaintiffs allege that stores within Walmart's Ohio regions have common formats, hourly jobs, positions, department structure, and management jobs. Within each region, each individual store has Assistant Managers who supervise staff, and all stores have Store Managers who are in charge of the store. Also within each region, stores are supervised by District Managers, who are responsible for ensuring store compliance with company policies and have authority to make or approve compensation and promotion decisions for hourly employees in the stores within their district. Each region consists of multiple districts that are each headed by a Regional Vice President.

         The Complaint also contains paragraphs with allegations concerning each plaintiff individually. (See Doc. 11 at ¶¶105-159.) Each of the Plaintiffs worked at different stores from one another and worked at different points in time-and for various lengths of time-during the overarching time frame of 1991 through 2015. With a few exceptions, the Plaintiffs worked in different positions and departments (ranging from Greeter to Pharmacy Technician to Assistant Manager). (Id.) Each has different male comparators. (Id.) For each separate plaintiff, those paragraphs detail allegedly discriminatory treatment, describing specific incidents when a plaintiff was passed over for a promotion that went to an allegedly less qualified male employee and/or learned that an allegedly similarly-situated male employee was being paid more than she was paid. (Id.) Some paragraphs identify a particular plaintiff's supervisor(s) with whom that plaintiff allegedly discussed, or who was involved in, such treatment. (Id.)

         II. ANALYSIS

         In its Motion to Sever, Walmart asks that this Court sever the claims of each of the Plaintiffs from one another, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 21 (“Rule 21”). In this context, the Motion to Sever involves both Rule 21 (Misjoinder and Nonjoinder of Parties) and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 20 (“Rule 20”) (Permissive Joinder of Parties). It is appropriate to address potential misjoinder of parties at an early stage of the case. See, e.g., Lovett v. Lucas, No. 1:08-CV-1253, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 48536, at *3-5 (N.D. Ohio May 13, 2009); Reynolds v. Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp., No. 3:15-cv-397, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 72120, at *3 (N.D. Ohio June 2, 2016) (“deferring a ruling [on a motion to sever] does not necessarily promote efficiency”). Accord: 4 James Wm. Moore et al., Moore's Federal Practice, § 21.02[3] (2019) (“a party's delay in seeking relief [for misjoinder] may counsel ...


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