KOVALEVSKA v. BURLINGTON COAT FACTORY OF INDIANA, LLC et al
ORDER ON PARTIAL MOTION TO DISMISS - The Court GRANTS Burlington's Partial Motion to Dismiss. (Filing No. 13 .) Kovalevska's retaliation claim is dismissed with prejudice because Burlington constructively discharged Kovalevska on February 28, 2015--well beyond the one hundred and eighty day limitation period for filing a charge with the EEOC. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(e)(1) (an EEOC charge "shall be filed within one hundred and eighty days after the alleged unlawful employment practice occurred"). See Order for details. Signed by Judge Tanya Walton Pratt on 7/3/2017. (MAT)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF INDIANA
NEW ALBANY DIVISION
TATIANA Y. KOVALEVSKA,
BURLINGTON COAT FACTORY OF
INDIANA, LLC doing business as
BURLINGTON COAT FACTORY, and
BURLINGTON COAT FACTORY DIRECT
Case No. 4:16-cv-00203-TWP-TAB
ORDER ON PARTIAL MOTION TO DISMISS
Before the Court is a Partial Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendants Burlington Coat
Factory of Indiana, LLC and Burlington Coat Factory Direct Corporation (collectively,
“Burlington”), pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (Filing No. 13.)
November 14, 2016, Plaintiff Tatiana Y. Kovalevska (“Kovalevska”) filed a Complaint alleging
that her former employer, Burlington, violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title
VII”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e. Specifically, Kovalevska alleges: 1) Burlington caused her to suffer a
hostile work environment because of her national origin; 2) retaliated against her for complaining
about their alleged discriminatory practices; and 3) subjected her to discrimination because of her
national origin. (Filing No. 1.) Burlington moves to partially dismiss the Complaint, asserting
Kovalevska’s retaliation allegation fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. For the
following reasons, the Court GRANTS the Partial Motion to Dismiss.
The following facts are not necessarily objectively true, but as required when reviewing a
motion to dismiss, the Court accepts as true all well-pleaded facts alleged in the Complaint, and
draws all possible inferences in Kovalevska’s favor. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94
(2007) (“[W]hen ruling on a defendant’s motion to dismiss, a judge must accept as true all of the
factual allegations contained in the complaint.”).
Kovalevska is a resident of Jeffersonville, Indiana. In October 2014, she began working
as a Receiving Clerk at a Burlington retail store in Clarksville, Indiana. While working at
Burlington, Kovalevska’s supervisors and co-workers engaged in unwelcomed and highly
offensive conduct. They ridiculed Kovalevska’s accent and referred to her as a “stupid Russian”
and a “dirty Russian”.
Kovalevska complained to management about the discriminatory
comments, intimidation, and ridicule on at least two occasions.
Despite her complaints,
Kovalevska’s supervisors and co-workers continued engaging in discriminatory conduct.
Two days after filing a complaint, Kovalevska’s store manager screamed at her for
improperly stacking boxes in a display, despite Burlington’s failure to instruct Kovalevska on
how to properly complete the task. Kovalevska’s supervisors also forbade her from taking rest
breaks, shortened her lunch breaks and, at times, did not allow her to take a lunch break at all.
When Kovalevska’s family visited her at Burlington, a supervisor approached Kovalevska and
her family in an intimidating fashion and threatened to physically harm Kovalevska.
Due to the treatment Kovalevska received from Burlington, Kovalevska resigned on
February 28, 2015. Several months later, on October, 19, 2015, Kovalevska submitted an Intake
Questionnaire to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), asserting
employment discrimination and hostile work environment based on race and national origin.
(Filing No. 15-2 at 3.) Kovalevska indicated that she sought help from attorney Tony Gubbel,
regarding the discrimination she faced at Burlington. The Questionnaire included an attached
statement detailing Kovalevska’s work history, health issues, as well as an instance where
Burlington employees reduced Kovalevska’s breaks and called her “stupid or an idiot”. Id. at 6.
Three months later, on January 18, 2016, Kovalevska filed a Charge of Discrimination with
the EEOC. (Filing No. 19-1). Her Charge also asserted employment discrimination and hostile
work environment based on race and national origin. The Charge specifically alleged:
In October 2014, [Kovalevska] was hired as a Receiving Clerk by
Burlington Coat Factory in Clarksville, Indiana. Almost immediately,
[Kovalevska] began to be harassed and spoken to harshly by
management. [Kovalevska’s] work would be criticized unnecessarily
and [she] would not be allowed to take…break[s] and lunch periods. In
February 2015, [Kovalevska] resigned due to the harassment and harsh
treatment. [Kovalevska] believe that [she] was harassed and
constructively discharged because of [her] national origin, Ukrainian, in
violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended.
(Filing No. 19-1).
Thereafter, on August 15, 2016, the EEOC sent Kovalevska a Notice of Right to Sue.
Approximately three months later, on November 14, 2016, Kovalevska sought relief in this Court,
alleging she suffered a hostile work environment, retaliation, and discrimination based upon her
race and national origin. (Filing No. 1.) Burlington filed a Partial Motion to Dismiss the
Complaint, asserting Kovalevska failed to exhaust all administrative remedies regarding her
retaliation claim. (Filing No. 13.)
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) allows a defendant to move to dismiss a complaint
that has failed to “state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). When
deciding a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the Court accepts as
true all factual allegations in the complaint and draws all inferences in favor of the
plaintiff. Bielanski v. County of Kane, 550 F.3d 632, 633 (7th Cir.2008). However, courts “are
not obliged to accept as true legal conclusions or unsupported conclusions of fact.” Hickey v.
O'Bannon, 287 F.3d 656, 658 (7th Cir. 2002).
The complaint must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the
pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). In Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, the
Supreme Court explained that the complaint must allege facts that are “enough to raise a right to
relief above the speculative level.” 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Although “detailed factual
allegations” are not required, mere “labels,” “conclusions,” or “formulaic recitation[s] of the
elements of a cause of action” are insufficient. Id.; see also Bissessur v. Ind. Univ. Bd. of Trs., 581
F.3d 599, 603 (7th Cir. 2009) (“it is not enough to give a threadbare recitation of the elements of
a claim without factual support”). The allegations must “give the defendant fair notice of what the
... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests,” and the “[f]actual allegations must be enough to
raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555
(2007) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). Stated differently, the complaint must
include “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Hecker v. Deere &
Co., 556 F.3d 575, 580 (7th Cir.2009) (internal citation and quotation marks omitted). To be
facially plausible, the complaint must allow “the court to draw the reasonable inference that the
defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678
(2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).
Burlington asks the Court to dismiss Kovalevska’s retaliation claim because, when filing
her Charge, Kovalevska alleged only hostile work environment and discrimination claims.
Kovalevska did not allege retaliation.
A plaintiff wishing to bring a claim pursuant to Title VII must exhaust all administrative
remedies prior to seeking relief in federal court. Alam v. Miller Brewing Co., 709 F.3d 662, 666–
67 (7th Cir. 2013). In order to exhaust administrative remedies, a plaintiff must first file with the
EEOC a charge detailing the alleged discrimination and the EEOC must issue a right-to-sue letter.
Conner v. Illinois Dep't of Natural Res., 413 F.3d 675, 680 (7th Cir. 2005). As a general rule, a
plaintiff “may not complain to the EEOC of only certain instances of discrimination, and then seek
judicial relief for different instances of discrimination.” See Rush v. McDonald’s Corp., 966 F.2d
1104, 1110 (7th Cir.1992). However, claims set forth in a complaint are cognizable, even if not
specifically asserted in an EEOC charge, when the claims are “like or reasonably related to the
allegations of the [EEOC] charge and growing out of such allegations.” Cheek v. Western and
Southern Life Ins. Co., 31 F.3d 497, 500 (7th Cir.1994).
In response, Kovalevska relies on Wilburn when contending her retaliation claim meets the
exception to the general rule because: it arises out of a common factual basis as the claims in the
EEOC charge, it concerns the same employees, and the retaliation occurred within a relatively
small time frame. See Wilburn v. Watry Indus., LLC, 2016 WL 5107080 at *4 (E.D. Wis. Sept.
19, 2006). Kovalevska also argues that Burlington and the EEOC were aware of her retaliation
claim because she explicitly explained in the Questionnaire that she opposed Burlington limiting
her breaks and, following her opposition, a Burlington employee named Matthew called
Kovalevska “stupid or an idiot.” (Filing No. 15-2 at 6.) Kovalevska further notes that the Charge
provided notice of the retaliation claim because, in Burlington’s response to the EEOC Charge,
Burlington mentions that “this is the second time Kovalevska brought violence to the workplace
by having her husband come to the store after…a disagreement…” (Filing No. 15-3 at 6).
The Court first notes, even when reading the Charge broadly, neither the Charge, the
Questionnaire, nor Burlington’s response provides notice of Kovalevska’s retaliation claim. See
(Filing No. 19-1). Kovalevska never mentioned to the EEOC that she made reports to Burlington’s
management about suffering discrimination or harassment; nor did Kovalevska mention suffering
adverse employment actions after engaging in activities protected by Title VII. See Wojtanek v.
Pactiv LLC, 492 F. App’x 650, 653 (7th Cir. 2012) (holding, although plaintiff informed the EEOC
that defendant “retaliated” by firing plaintiff after plaintiff refused to complete certain paperwork,
plaintiff did “not allege that [he] was retaliated against for engaging in protected activity”).
The Court also finds that the exception to the general rule does not apply and Kovalevska’s
reliance on Wilburn is without merit. Unlike Kovalevska, the plaintiff in Wilburn made clear in
his EEOC charge and complaint that he was called racial slurs by specific employees and later
terminated after filing two reports with human resources. Wilburn, 2016 WL 5107080, at *2-3
(emphasis added). Accordingly, the Court grants Burlington’s Partial Motion to Dismiss because,
without any mention of Kovalevska’s reports to management, “the allegations of retaliation alleged
in the complaint could [not] reasonably be expected to grow out of…the allegations in
[Kovalevska’s] EEOC charge.” Id. “[A]llowing a complaint to encompass allegations outside the
ambit of the predicate EEOC charge would frustrate the EEOC’s investigatory and conciliatory
role, as well as deprive the charged party of notice of the charge.” Cheek, 31 F.3d at 500.
For the reasons mentioned above, the Court GRANTS Burlington’s Partial Motion to
Dismiss. (Filing No. 13.) Kovalevska’s retaliation claim is dismissed with prejudice because
Burlington constructively discharged Kovalevska on February 28, 2015—well beyond the one
hundred and eighty day limitation period for filing a charge with the EEOC. See 42 U.S.C. §
2000e-5(e)(1) (an EEOC charge “shall be filed within one hundred and eighty days after the
alleged unlawful employment practice occurred”).
Charles W. Miller
MILLER & FALKNER
Rheanne D. Falkner
MILLER & FALKNER
Blake J. Burgan
TAFT STETTINIUS & HOLLISTER LLP
Erin Thornton Escoffery
TAFT STETTINIUS & HOLLISTER LLP
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