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Williams v. On-Belay of Minnesota, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

October 31, 2017

7ARIES WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
ON-BELAY OF MINNESOTA, INC., Defendant.

          Jennie M. Brown, BROWN LAW OFFICE, for plaintiff.

          Barry A. O'Neil, LOMMEN ABDO, PA, for defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS

          JOHN R. TUNHEIM, United States District Court Chief Judge

         Alleging that she was fired because of her Christian beliefs, Plaintiff Aries Williams (“Williams”) brings this wrongful termination case against Defendant On-Belay of Minnesota, Inc. (“On-Belay”). Williams filed a state-court action under both the federal Civil Rights Act and the Minnesota Human Rights Act (“MHRA”), and On-Belay removed the case to federal court. Now, On-Belay moves to dismiss the case under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), contending that the claims are time-barred under Minnesota state law, and under Rule 12(b)(2) or 12(b)(5), contending that service of process was inadequate.

         Considering all facts alleged in the complaint as true, Williams did not properly serve On-Belay as required by Minnesota law prior to the expiration of the statute of limitations for her federal-law claim. Because that claim would be time-barred had this case remained in state court, it must be dismissed with prejudice in federal court. But it is unclear whether the state-law claim would be similarly barred. Accordingly, the Court will grant On-Belay's motion to dismiss the federal claim and remand the remaining state-law claim to state court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(3).

         BACKGROUND

         I. UNDERLYING EVENTS

         In November 2014, Williams was hired by On-Belay as a drug and alcohol counselor. (Compl. ¶ 6, Feb. 23, 2017, Docket No. 1-1; Ans. ¶ 6, Feb. 27, 2017, Docket No. 4.) On-Belay operates substance-abuse rehabilitation centers in Blaine, Burnsville, Eden Prairie, Plymouth, and Woodbury. (Decl. of Melissa Brogger (“Brogger Decl.”) ¶ 3, Apr. 21, 2017, Docket No. 17.) Its Executive Director is Melissa Brogger. (Id. ¶ 1.)

         On December 16, 2014, Williams met with Brogger. (Compl. ¶ 7, 10; Ans. ¶ 7, 10.) The nature of that meeting is in dispute. Williams alleges that Brogger asked her to travel from the Burnsville facility to Brogger's Plymouth office for the meeting. (Compl. ¶ 7). According to Williams, soon after she arrived for the meeting, Brogger asked Williams how she felt about the music. (Id. ¶ 11.) Williams says that she told Brogger that “she did not prefer the music because she was a Christian and the lyrics were about taking drugs [and] getting high.” (Id.) Williams alleges that the meeting ended as soon as she said that she was a Christian and preferred Christian music. (Id. ¶ 12.) On-Belay denies these allegations. (Ans. ¶ 10.) Williams was later told that she was terminated due to her job performance. (Compl. ¶ 13; Ans. ¶ 11.)

         II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On July 10, 2015, Williams filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), alleging religious discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. In her complaint, Williams stated: “I was treated differently and less favorably than my coworkers because of my religion/Christian. I opposed the differential treatment. I was discharged after I disclosed my religion to the respondent.” (Decl. of Michael N. Leonard (“Leonard Decl.”) ¶ 2, Ex. A at 1, Apr. 21, 2017, Docket No. 18.)

         On August 31, 2016, the EEOC closed its investigation and issued a right-to-sue letter. (Leonard Decl. ¶ 2, Ex. C at 1.) On-Belay's counsel received a courtesy copy of the letter the next day. (Id.) Williams did not receive her copy of the letter in the mail because she had used her attorney's mailing address on the EEOC complaint. (Pl.'s Obj. to Mot. to Dismiss (“Pl.'s Obj.”) at 3, Ex. 4 at 1, May 11, 2017, Docket No. 21.) Williams's attorney does not know if she ever received the letter in the mail. (Id.) Williams and her attorney acknowledge that they received a copy of the letter on November 4, 2016. (Id.) The letter was emailed to Williams's attorney by the EEOC investigator “along with [Williams's] entire file under the Freedom of Information Act.” (Pl.'s Obj. at 1.)

         On December 2, 2016, Williams filed a state-court complaint against On-Belay, asserting that she was terminated for being Christian in violation of the Civil Rights Act and the Minnesota Human Rights Act. (Compl. ¶ 14.)

         On December 19, 2016, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights (“MDHR”) issued a separate right-to-sue letter stating that it had also processed Williams's complaint under a work-sharing agreement and had adopted the EEOC's dismissal. (Pl.'s Obj. at 1, Ex. 2 at 1.) The MDHR letter was postmarked December 20. (Pl.'s Obj. at 1, Ex. 3 at 1.) Under the MHRA, “receipt of notice is presumed to be five days from the date of service by mail of the written notice.” Minn. Stat. § 363A.33 subd. 1.

         On February 23, 2016, On-Belay removed this case to federal court. (Notice of Removal, Feb. 23, 2017, Docket No. 1.) On April 21, 2017, On-Belay moved to dismiss the case. (Mot. to Dismiss, Apr. 21, 2017, Docket No. 13.)

         III. ...


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