On Thursday, a judge for the Middle District of Florida ordered an employment discrimination case against Pepperidge Farm, Inc. to continue with one count. Pepperidge Farm’s motion to dismiss the amended complaint was granted in part and denied in part without prejudice, with leave to amend.
District Judge Tom Barber ordered counts II-V of plaintiff Stephanie Dickens’ amended complaint to be dismissed, but count I was allowed to proceed. Dickens was hired by Pepperidge Farm in 2009. In February 2018, she “discovered a roach infestation in one of Defendant’s wheat gluten tanks.” Dickens notified her supervisor, but no remedial actions were taken. However, in April 2018, she was “suspended and demoted.”
Dickens brought this case originally in state court in July 2019, and Pepperidge removed the case. The amended complaint was filed in February containing the following counts: “(1) retaliation under the Florida Private Whistleblower Act (“FWA”); (2) gender discrimination under Title VII; (3) retaliation under Title VII; (4) gender discrimination under the Florida Civil Rights Act (“FCRA”); and (5) retaliation under the FCRA.”
Pepperidge Farms had two arguments in its motion to dismiss. First, they alleged that Dickens has not exhausted her administrative remedies under Title VII or the FCRA; second, they argued she failed to state a claim as to all counts.
The court first examined the retaliation claim. Under the FWA, the employee has to object to or refuse to participate in any illegal activity or policy of the employer which is a violation of the law. The court held that the plaintiff has sufficiently pled “she objected to Defendant’s allegedly illegal failure to sufficiently follow federal regulations protecting against pest infestations” and that her demotion was “casually connected to her objection.” Therefore, Judge Barber denied the motion to dismiss as to this count.
As for the remaining counts, the judge agreed with the defendant that the amended complaint failed to “include the basic facts” of the claims, specifically the pertinent dates of the alleged activity. The only allegation including dates is the denial of promotion and transfer of opportunities, disciplinary action, suspension, and demotion. Thus when Dickens intends to seek relief for any other actions she needs more basic facts such as dates in order to proceed. Additionally, the plaintiff failed to timely file claims under Title VII and FCRA, because her EEOC intake questionnaire does not count as formal charges.
The court left the opportunity open for the plaintiff to amend her claims. Dickens is represented by Patrick Elliot, and Pepperidge Farm is represented by Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick.