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Hills v. AT&T Mobility Services, LLC

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division

December 4, 2018

KATIA HILLS, Plaintiff,
v.
AT&T MOBILITY SERVICES, LCC, a/k/a AT&T Mobility LLC, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          MICHAEL G. GOTSCH, SR. UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         On May 14, 2018, Plaintiff, Katia Hills (“Hills”), filed her Motion for Leave to Add New Party and Class Action Allegations to Second Amended Complaint. [DE 36]. Hills seeks the Court's permission to add Cynthia Allen as an additional named plaintiff in her putative class action. On May 29, 2018, Defendants, AT&T Mobility Services LLC (“AT&T Mobility”) and AT&T Services, Inc. (“AT&T Services”) (collectively “AT&T”) filed their Memorandum of Law in Opposition to Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to Amend. [DE 44]. Hills's Motion to Amend became ripe on June 5, 2018, when she filed her reply brief. [DE 48].

         On the same day, Hills also filed a Conditional Motion to Transfer Venue [DE 47]. Hills asks the Court to transfer this case to the Northern District of Georgia in the event she is not granted permission to add Allen as a plaintiff in this action. AT&T objected to the requested transfer in their response brief filed on June 19, 2018 [DE 53]. The Motion to Transfer became ripe when Hills filed a reply brief on June 26, 2018. [DE 54]. Notably, Hills filed a Notice on August 3, 2018, informing the Court that the day before, Cynthia Allen filed a complaint in the Northern District of Georgia to preserve her claims in case Hills's Motion to Amend is denied in this Court. [DE 57].

         As explained below, the Court grants Hills's Motion to Amend as to the class action allegations but denies the Motion to Amend as to the addition of Allen as a plaintiff. Further, the Court denies Hills's Motion to Transfer.

         I. Relevant Background

         This action arises from AT&T's alleged violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), the American with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), and the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) related to Hills's employment with an AT&T Mobility retail store in Indiana, between April 2014 and July 2015. Hills filed her original complaint with this Court on July 14, 2017, alleging disparate treatment based on sex arising from her pregnancy as well as claims of sexual harassment under Title VII; failure to provide a reasonable accommodation under the ADA; and interference and retaliation under the FMLA.

         In support, Hills alleged discrimination in AT&T's application of its “Sales Attendance Guidance” policy (“SAG”) under which employees accrue “points” or fractions thereof for unexcused absences and tardiness. Points can be avoided if an absence qualifies as “excused” under SAG. SAG delineates thirteen categories of excused absences, none of which explicitly relate to pregnancy. Hills was terminated after accruing points under SAG for a series of unexcused absences arising from her pregnancy. Hills alleges that AT&T applied SAG more strictly against her than against male or non-pregnant employees; that her store manager was hostile toward her pregnancy; and that her FMLA request related to her pregnancy was denied improperly. On February 6, 2018, however, Hills filed her First Amended Complaint- the current operative complaint-raising only the FMLA claims.

         Meanwhile, Hills had filed an Amended Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) adding claims that similarly situated employees were being treated like her. Allen also had a similar Charge pending before the EEOC. Allen, an AT&T Mobility employee in two New York stores and one Nevada store from December 2012 through April 2017, had received excused leave for her pregnancy-related medical needs for her two pregnancies in New York but was terminated in Nevada after accumulating points during her third pregnancy and while tending to her newborn child. In her EEOC Charge, Allen alleged that she was unable to secure excused absences and faced hostility from her Nevada store manager, without help from an area manager, when seeking assistance with her FMLA requests under SAG.

         Both EEOC Charges explained that AT&T amended SAG in the spring of 2015, in the middle of both Hills's and Allen's tenure with AT&T Mobility. Hills outlined the changes to the point accrual policy, including but not limited to, a shift in who was authorized to make exceptions in the application of SAG. Hills reported that the old policy allowed exceptions to SAG “in an employee's supervisor's discretion” while the new policy allowed SAG exceptions “at the company's discretion.” [Compare DE 30-1 at 4, ¶ 8, with DE 30-1 at 5, ¶ 11].

         After Hills informed this Court of the pending status of both hers and Allen's EEOC Charges through a motion to stay [DE 18] and a subsequent status report [DE 30], the Court directed her to request a Right to Sue letter from the EEOC to keep this case progressing. [DE 32]. Having timely made that request, Hills filed the instant Motion to Amend on May 14, 2018. Hills's proposed Second Amended Complaint adds Allen as a named plaintiff and presents class action allegations focused on the alleged creation, implementation, and enforcement of SAG by a corporate level committee rather than by local managers. [DE 37].

         AT&T does not object to the addition of class action allegations, but argues that Allen cannot be joined because (1) her claims do not arise out of the same transactions or occurrences as required under Fed.R.Civ.P. 20, (2) Allen's and Hills's claims turn on disparate evidence and witnesses, and (3) the proposed joinder would be futile because this Court does not have personal jurisdiction over AT&T with respect to Allen's claims. AT&T also objects to Hills's alternative motion for transfer contending that (1) Hills is attempting improper forum shopping by seeking transfer, (2) Georgia is neither a proper nor convenient forum given the location of key witnesses in Indiana not Georgia, and (3) the interests of justice related to judicial efficiencies favor this forum. Hills, on the other hand, argues that the interests of justice warrant transfer-in the event Allen is not added as a plaintiff in this action-to prevent inconsistent results between her putative class action here and the Allen putative class action already filed in Georgia.

         II. Analysis

         A. Amend to Add Class Allegations

         Without any objection from AT&T, the Court finds no reason to deny Hills's request to amend her complaint to add class action allegations. Moreover, granting this requested amendment comports with the liberal standard for amendment set forth in Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2), which provides that the court should “freely give leave” to amend a pleading “when justice so requires.” See also Koeneke v. West, 791 F.3d 801, 807 (7th Cir. 2015).

         B. Amend to Add Plaintiff

         1. Rule 20 Same Transaction or Occurrence Requirement

         Hills's request to amend her complaint to add Allen as named plaintiff, however, cannot be granted. Under Fed.R.Civ.P. 20(a)(1), a court may grant permissive joinder of a plaintiff only if the person seeking joinder seeks a right to relief “arising out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences; and any question of law or fact common to all plaintiffs will arise in the action.” As to the first prong of Rule 20(a)(1), “the Seventh Circuit has not yet fashioned a definitive standard for determining what constitutes a single transaction or occurrence.” McDowell v. Morgan Stanley & Co., 645 F.Supp.2d 690, 694 (N.D. Ill. 2009); see alsoBailey v. N. Trust Co., 196 F.R.D. 513, 515 (N.D. Ill. ...


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