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Grays v. Granicus, LLC

United States District Court, D. Colorado

April 18, 2019

TIFFANY GRAYS, Plaintiff,
v.
GRANICUS, LLC, JESSICA RICHEY, and CHRIS DOWNARD, Defendants.

          ORDER AFFIRMING AND ADOPTING IN PART AND REJECTING IN PART THE RECOMMENDATION OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE N. REID NEUREITER

          CHRISTINE M. ARGUELLO UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on review of the Recommendation by United States Magistrate Judge N. Reid Neureiter (“Recommendation”) (Doc. # 33), wherein he recommends that this Court grant Defendants Jessica Richey's, Chris Downard's, and Granicus, LLC's (“Defendant Granicus, ” and collectively “Defendants”) Motions to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint. (Doc. ## 17, 20, 21.) Plaintiff Tiffany Grays timely objected to portions of Judge Neureiter's Recommendation. (Doc. # 34.) For the reasons set forth below, the Court affirms and adopts in part and rejects in part the Recommendation.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Magistrate Judge Neureiter's Recommendation provides a thorough recitation of the factual and procedural background of this case. The Recommendation is incorporated herein by reference, see 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b), and the facts will be repeated only to the extent necessary to address Plaintiff's Objection.

         Plaintiff is an information technology specialist with more than a decade of experience. (Doc. # 6-1 at ¶ 6.) Defendant Granicus hired Plaintiff on January 2, 2018, as a Product Owner, a position that the company described as being responsible for “gathering business requirements from cross-functional stakeholders, then guiding the vision of what needs to be built and conveying that vision to their agile team and business partners.” (Id. at ¶¶ 1, 11.) Defendant Richey was Defendant Granicus's Program Manager and Plaintiff's direct supervisor. (Id. at ¶ 9.) Defendant Downard was the company's Director of Software Development but had no organizational authority over Plaintiff. (Id. at ¶ 10.)

         On March 20, 2018, 77 days after Plaintiff started, Defendant Granicus terminated Plaintiff. (Id. at ¶ 78.) Plaintiff alleges that during her employment, she “encountered and endured many acts of disparate treatment sustained by and through the will of decisions of her direct boss, [Defendant] Richey.” (Id. at ¶ 2.) More generally, Plaintiff contends that all Defendants “disparately impact the African-American community by employing hiring practices” that alienate African Americans and by “unfairly assess[ing] the performance” of African American employees. (Id.) According to Plaintiff, only seven percent of Defendant Granicus's workforce was African American, and Defendant Granicus did not employ any other African Americans at or above her position level. (Id. at ¶ 12.) Plaintiff also alleges that “[c]ommunication issues where [sic] abundant in the company.” (Id. at ¶ 86.) She contends that “[t]he fact that [her] communication issues were pointed out and used . . . to remove [her] from the company shows that [she] was being targeted and discriminated against.” (Id.) She was “held to a higher standard than all other counterparts, whom were all Caucasian, ” Plaintiff states. (Id.)

         After her termination, Plaintiff filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) against Defendant Granicus, alleging retaliation and discrimination on the basis of color, race, and sex. (Id. at ¶ 7.) Plaintiff received a right to sue letter from the EEOC on June 2, 2018. (Id.)

         Plaintiff soon thereafter initiated a lawsuit in Colorado state court (the “State Court Action”) against Defendant Granicus and four employees of its human resources department, [1] asserting claims for declaratory relief as to the validity of an employee agreement, outrageous conduct, and breach of fiduciary duty. See (Doc. # 20-3.) The District Court for the City and County of Denver granted the defendants' motion to dismiss and dismissed the State Court Action in its entirety on August 5, 2018. (Doc. # 20-4.) Plaintiff attempted to appeal the state court's dismissal of the action to the Colorado Court of Appeals, but on January 14, 2019, the Colorado Court of Appeals dismissed her appeal with prejudice due to Plaintiff's untimely filing of the appeal. See (Doc. # 35-2.)

         Plaintiff initiated the instant litigation against Defendants Granicus, Richey, and Downward on August 31, 2018. (Doc. # 1.) She asserts nine claims against Defendants: (1) employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, and sex under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-2, 2000e-3; (2) conspiracy pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3); (3) deprivation of equal rights on the basis of race and color pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1981; (4) wrongful termination; (5) outrageous conduct; (6) “breach of contract - promissory estoppel;” (7) blacklisting; (8) slander; and (9) breach of fiduciary duty. (Doc. # 6); see (Doc. # 6-1.) Plaintiff's Amended Complaint does not specify which claims she asserts against which Defendant(s).

         Each Defendant separately filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), though the motions are very similar to one another and were prepared by the same counsel. (Doc. ## 17, 20, 21.) Defendant Richey filed her Motion to Dismiss on October 16, 2018, and assumed that Plaintiff asserts her claims for conspiracy pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3), for promissory estoppel, and for breach of fiduciary duty against her (Defendant Richey) in her individual capacity. (Doc. # 17 at 2.) Defendant Downard filed his Motion to Dismiss on October 23, 2018, assuming that only Plaintiff's conspiracy claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3) pertains to him. (Doc. # 20 at 2.) Defendant Granicus also filed a Motion to Dismiss on October 23, 2018, and responded to all claims except for the conspiracy claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3) and the claim for “breach of contract - promissory estoppel.” (Doc. # 21 at 2 n.2.) This Court referred the Motions to Magistrate Judge Neureiter. (Doc. ## 18, 22.)

         Magistrate Judge Neureiter heard argument on the Motions to Dismiss on November 20, 2018. (Doc. # 24.) He noted that Plaintiff had not timely filed responses to the Motions to Dismiss and ordered her to do so by November 27, 2018.[2] (Id.)

         Plaintiff filed a Response to the Motions to Dismiss on November 27, 2018. (Doc. # 25.) Defendants filed a joint Reply on December 4, 2018 (Doc. # 26), and, with the Court's permission, see (Doc. # 31), Plaintiff filed a Surreply on December 14, 2018 (Doc. # 32).

         Magistrate Judge Neureiter issued his Recommendation on December 26, 2018. (Doc. # 33.) At the outset, he observed that Plaintiff's Response provided little clarification about what claims she asserts against which Defendant(s), and he therefore “adopt[ed] Defendants' framing of the relevant claims.” (Id. at 7.) He assumed that Plaintiff alleges the Section 1985 conspiracy, promissory estoppel, and breach of fiduciary duty claims against Defendant Richey; that Plaintiff alleges only the Section 1985 conspiracy claim against Defendant Downard; and that Plaintiff alleges the Title VII, Section 1981, wrongful termination, outrageous conduct, blacklisting, slander, and breach of fiduciary duty claims against Defendant Granicus.

         Turning to the merits of Defendants' Motions to Dismiss, Magistrate Judge Neureiter recommended:

i. Dismissal of the T itle V II, 42 U.S . C. § 1981, wrongful term ination, outrageous conduct, blacklisting, and slander claims against Defendant Granicus pursuant to the doctrine of claim preclusion (id. at 16);
ii. Dismissal of the conspiracy claim against Defendants Richey and Downward pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim for relief (id. at 17);
iii. Dismissal of the promissory estoppel claim against Defendant Richey pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim for relief (id. At 18) and;
iv. Dismissal of the breach of fiduciary duty claim against Def e ndan t Richey pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim for relief (id. at 20).

         In sum, Magistrate Judge Neureiter recommended that the Court grant all Defendants' Motions to Dismiss and dismiss, in its entirety, Plaintiff's Complaint. (Id.)

         Plaintiff timely filed her Objection on January 9, 2019. (Doc. # 34.) Defendants jointly responded to the Objection on January 23, 2019. (Doc. # 35.)

         II. APPLICABLE LEGAL PRINCIPLES

         A. REVIEW OF A MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S RECOMMENDATION

         When a magistrate judge issues a recommendation on a dispositive matter, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(b)(3) requires that the district judge “determine de novo any part of the magistrate judge's [recommended] disposition that has been properly objected to.” An objection is properly made if it is both timely and specific. United States v. One Parcel of Real Property Known As 2121 East 30th Street, 73 F.3d 1057, 1059 (10th Cir. 1996). In conducting its review, “[t]he district judge may accept, reject, or modify the recommended disposition; receive further evidence; or return the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3).

         B. REVIEW OF A PRO SE ...


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