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Ramirez v. Hotel Equities Group, LLC

United States District Court, D. Colorado

November 13, 2019

CATHERINE RAMIREZ, Plaintiff,
v.
HOTEL EQUITIES GROUP, LLC, JACKSON CREEK HOTEL HOLDINGS, LLLP, Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' PARTIAL MOTION TO DISMISS

          WILLIAM J. MARTÍNEZ UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Defendants' Hotel Equities Group, LLC (“Hotel Equities”) and Jackson Creek Hotel Holdings, LLLP (“Jackson Creek”) Amended Partial Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff Catherine Ramirez's Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Claims for Relief (ECF No. 28). For the reasons that follow, the Motion is GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff, a former employee of Defendants at Fairfield Inn & Suites, Colorado Springs North (ECF No. 1 at 3), filed a Complaint in this Court on February 1, 2019. (ECF No. 1.) Plaintiff alleges that she was unlawfully terminated by Defendants, and brings numerous state and federal claims against them. (ECF No. 1 at 13-29.) Defendants on April 22, 2019 filed an Amended Partial Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Claims for Relief pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). (ECF No. 28.) At issue in the Motion are Plaintiff's claims under Colorado law for breach of contract and promissory estoppel (Claims 6 & 7), and wrongful termination in violation of public policy (Claim 8).

         Claims 6 and 7 depend on language in Defendant Hotel Equities' Associate Handbook (“the Handbook”). Plaintiff with her Complaint submitted a copy of the Handbook (ECF No. 1-3) to the Court.

         The Handbook provides for, among other things, a “POSITIVE DISCIPLINE PROCEDURE” by which an employee may be terminated if she is the subject of “TWO (2) documented verbal/written warnings and a THIRD (3rd) incident or situation occurs within a twelve (12)-month period which either violates policy or rules or indicates inappropriate behavior or poor judgment.” (ECF No. 1-3 at 13.) Plaintiff argues that these procedures were legally binding on Defendants, and alleges that in terminating her, they failed to follow them. (ECF No. 1 at 22-29.)

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a party may move to dismiss a cause of action for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” The 12(b)(6) standard requires the Court to “assume the truth of the plaintiff's well-pleaded factual allegations and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Ridge at Red Hawk, LLC v. Schneider, 493 F.3d 1174, 1177 (10th Cir. 2007). In ruling on such a motion, the dispositive inquiry is “whether the complaint contains ‘enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Id. (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). The Court may consider a document outside the pleadings, even in a Rule 12(b)(6) analysis, if the document is (1) “mentioned in the complaint, ” (2) “central to [the] claims [at issue], ” and (3) not challenged as inauthentic. Toone v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., 716 F.3d 516, 521 (10th Cir. 2013).

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Claims 6 & 7 - Breach of Contract & Promissory Estoppel

         In Colorado, employees hired for indefinite periods are presumptively terminable at will. Continental Air Lines, Inc. v. Keenan, 731 P.2d 708, 711 (Colo. 1987) (en banc). Termination procedures in an employee handbook may nevertheless be binding on an employer under ordinary contract principles or a theory of promissory estoppel. Id. (internal citations omitted).

         Even so, dismissal “based on a handbook is appropriate if the employer has clearly and conspicuously disclaimed intent to enter a contract limiting the right to discharge employees.” Ferrera v. Nielsen, 799 P.2d 458, 461 (Colo.App. 1990) (citing Therrien v. United Air Lines, Inc., 670 F.Supp. 1517 (D. Colo. 1987)). “Whether a contract disclaimer is clear and conspicuous is a question of law for the court.” Id. (citing Durtsche v. Am. Colloid Co., 958 F.2d 1007, 1010 (10th Cir. 1992)). Defendants, arguing that the Handbook contains such a disclaimer, point to two of its provisions:

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This handbook is designed to provide basic information on certain policies and procedures in place at Hotel Equities Group LLC. The policies contained in thishandbook are intended as guidelines only and are subject to change or elimination at the sole discretion of Hotel Equities Group, LLC, depending on the policy. This handbook should not be construed as, and does ...


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