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Stepan v. Bloomington Burrito Group, LLC

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

December 22, 2014

Josie Stepan, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
Bloomington Burrito Group, LLC d/b/a Panchero's Mexican Grill, Panchero's Franchise Corp., and Lamont Companies, Inc., Defendants.

Steven Andrew Smith, Esq., Nichols Kaster, PLLP, Minneapolis, MN, appeared on behalf of Plaintiffs.

Andrew J. Sveen, Esq., Nilan Johnson Lewis PA, Minneapolis, MN, appeared on behalf of Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

ANN D. MONTGOMERY, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

On December 11, 2014, the undersigned United States District Judge heard oral argument on Defendant Lamont Companies, Inc.'s ("Lamont Companies") Motion to Dismiss [Docket No. 10]. Plaintiffs Josie Stepan ("Stepan"), et al. (collectively, "Plaintiffs") oppose the motion. For the reasons set forth below, Lamont Companies' motion is denied.

II. BACKGROUND[1]

This is a case alleging "reverse discrimination" by eight former employees of Panchero's Mexican Grill ("Panchero's") located in Bloomington, Minnesota. Am. Compl. [Docket No. 4] ¶ 1. Panchero's is a franchised restaurant that specializes in burritos and other Mexican fare. Id . ¶¶ 16, 24. Lamont Companies is a South Dakota corporation that owns and operates restaurants and hotels throughout the Midwest. Id . ¶ 4. Bloomington Burrito Group, LLC is a South Dakota limited liability corporation that is managed solely by Lamont Companies. Id . ¶¶ 13-14. While at Panchero's, five plaintiffs were employed as line cooks, one plaintiff was employed as a delivery driver, one plaintiff was employed as both a line cook and an assistant manager, and one plaintiff was employed as a general manager. Id . ¶¶ 4-12.

Plaintiffs allege that they were all fired because they were non-Hispanic and non-Mexican. Id . ¶ 1. According to Stepan, Panchero's hired only Mexican people for all nonmanagement positions, and only white people for management positions. Id . ¶ 28. Defendants allegedly justified the policy by stating "Mexicans work hard" and "don't complain about wages, " and that it was the "Panchero's way." Id . According to Plaintiffs, this practice resulted in the termination of seven of the plaintiffs on November 1, 2010, with the eighth plaintiff losing his job sometime in the summer of the following year. Id., ¶¶ 41-42.

On November 1, 2010, Stepan was told by managing partner and part-owner Alex Gese ("Gese") that everyone except "you-know-who" was going to be fired. Id . ¶ 36. Gese confirmed this meant everyone except two employees named Carlos and Raul. Id . ¶ 37. Gese said his hands were tied and "that's how Panchero's works." Id . ¶ 38. When Stepan reported that Gese's intentions were discriminatory, he corrected her and said, "No, it's reverse discrimination." Id . ¶ 40.

Plaintiffs allege that, with the exception of Stepan's position, they were each replaced by Hispanic employees. Id . ¶ 47. Plaintiffs filed charges of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Minnesota Department of Human Rights. Id . ¶ 47. This suit was commenced on August 28, 2014.

Plaintiffs principally allege race, national origin, and reprisal violations pursuant to Title VII and the Minnesota Human Rights Act ("MHRA"). Id . ¶¶ 51-88. Stepan further alleges a common law conversion claim for chattels that were allegedly lost or destroyed while under the control of Defendants. Id . ¶¶ 89-95. Plaintiffs allege Defendants jointly operated the Bloomington Panchero's and are employers within the meaning of Title VII and the MHRA. Id., ¶¶ 15, 17, 20. Lamont Companies presently challenges the sufficiency of the pleadings regarding its status as an employer as defined in Title VII and the MHRA.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Motion To Dismiss Standard

Under Rule 8(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, pleadings "shall contain a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." A pleading must contain "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw a reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1940 (2009). Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief is "a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id. at 1950. "But where the well-pleaded ...


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