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Hall v. BNSF Railway Co.

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

September 22, 2014

MICHAEL HALL, and ELIJAH UBER a/k/a Elijah Hall, and their marital community; and AMIE GARRAND and CAROL GARRAND and their marital community, Plaintiffs,
BNSF RAILWAY COMPANY, a Delaware Corporation, Defendant.


RICARDO S. MARTINEZ, District Judge.


This matter comes before the Court on Defendant's Motion to Dismiss under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) and/or 12(b)(1). (Dkt. #16). Defendant argues that, accepting all factual allegations as true, Plaintiffs' claims fail on the merits for a number of reasons, but primarily because federal law does not provide protection against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Plaintiffs respond that Defendant has misconstrued and mischaracterized their claims, and they have demonstrated on the face of the Amended Complaint that they have valid federal and state claims based on sex discrimination. Dkt. #20. Amicus curiae Lambda Legal Defense joins Plaintiffs' opposition to the motion pertaining to the Title VII and EPA claims for similar reasons. For the reasons set forth below, the Court agrees in part with Plaintiffs and DENIES IN PART and GRANTS IN PART Defendant's motion to dismiss.


BNSF Northwest Division employees Michael Hall and Amie Garrand legally married their respective same-sex partners in Washington State in 2013. Collectively, Mr. Hall and Ms. Garrand and their spouses are the Plaintiffs in this matter. When Mr. Hall married his partner, Elijah Uber, he (Hall) sought health benefits for him (Uber) under his employer's health plan. Defendant denied coverage on the basis that its plan defined marriage as between one man and one woman and therefore provided coverage only for spouses of the opposite sex. After getting married, Amie Garrand sought health care coverage for her partner, Carol Garrand, as well. Defendant denied coverage for Carol for the same reasons. Defendant has since voluntarily provided coverage for same-sex spouses, effective January 1, 2014, and Plaintiffs do not deny that they have received health benefits since that date.

Plaintiffs now assert claims under the Equal Pay Act ("EPA"), the Employment Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA"), and Washington's Law Against Discrimination ("WLAD") based on Defendant's failure to cover same sex spouses in the time period between the dates of their marriage and January of 2014. Dkt. #8. Defendant Michael Hall also asserts a claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII") on the basis of sex discrimination.[1] Id. On this motion, Defendant seeks to dismiss the Amended Complaint in its entirety.


A. Standards of Review

1. Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim Under Rule 12(b)(6)

On a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), all allegations of material fact must be accepted as true and construed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Cahill v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 80 F.3d 336, 337-38 (9th Cir. 1996). However, the court is not required to accept as true a "legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). The Complaint "must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 678. This requirement is met when the Plaintiff "pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. Absent facial plausibility, Plaintiff's claim must be dismissed. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570.

Thought the Court limits its Rule 12(b)(6) review to allegations of material fact set forth in the complaint, the Court may consider documents for which it has taken judicial notice. See F.R.E. 201; Swartz v. KPMG LLP, 476 F.3d 756, 763 (9th Cir. 2007). Here, the Court has taken judicial notice of and considers herein Defendant's Summary Plan Description ("SPD") and other documents attached to or referenced in the Amended Complaint. Dkts. #8, Ex. 1 and #17, Exs. 1-4. The Court may properly take judicial notice of documents such as these whose authenticity is not contested and which Plaintiffs have relied on in their Amended Complaint.[2] Swartz, 476 F.3d at 763; Lee v. City of Los Angeles, 250 F.3d 668, 688 (9th Cir. 2001) (internal quotations and alterations omitted).

2. Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction Under Rule 12(b)(1)

Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. Gunn v. Minton, ___ U.S. ___, 133 S.Ct. 1059, 1064 (2013) (citation omitted). As such, this Court is to presume "that a cause lies outside this limited jurisdiction, and the burden of establishing the contrary rests upon the party asserting jurisdiction." Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377, 114 S.Ct. 1673 (1994) (citations omitted); see also Robinson v. United States, 586 F.3d 683, 685 (9th Cir. 2009); Safe Air for Everyone v. Meyer, 373 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 2004). A Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction may be either "facial" or "factual." See Safe Air for Everyone, 373 F.3d at 1039. A facial attack on subject matter jurisdiction is based on the assertion that the allegations contained in the complaint are insufficient to invoke federal jurisdiction. Id. "A jurisdictional challenge is factual where the challenger disputes the truth of the allegations that, by themselves, would otherwise invoke federal jurisdiction.'" Pride v. Correa, 719 F.3d 1130, 1133 n.6 (9th Cir. 2013) (quoting Safe Air for Everyone, 373 F.3d at 1039)). Defendant asserts a facial challenge to certain claims in the Amended Complaint under 12(b)(1).

B. Mr. Hall's Title VII Claim

Michael Hall alleges that Defendant violated Title VII by discriminating against him on the basis of his sex. Dkt. #8 at ¶ ¶ 112-116. Specifically, Mr. Hall alleges that he "is a male properly performing his job, who experienced adverse employment action in the denial of the spousal health benefit, due to his sex, where similarly situated females were treated more favorably by getting the benefit. If Michael Hall were female, the benefit would be provided; BNSF provides it to female employees who are married to males but denied it to Hall who is married to a male." Id. at ¶ 114. Defendant argues that this claim fails as a matter of law because Mr. Hall is really alleging a claim of discrimination based on his sexual orientation, not his sex, which cannot be maintained under Title VII. Dkt. #16 at 9-11. While acknowledging that it is often difficult to ...

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