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Banks v. Yoke's Foods, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Washington

December 16, 2014

JILL BANKS, an individual, STEVE BANKS, an individual, and the marital community comprised thereof, Plaintiffs,
v.
YOKE'S FOODS, INC., a Washington corporation, d/b/a Yoke's Fresh Market, Defendant

For Jill Banks, an individual and the marital community comprised thereof, Steve Banks, an individual and the marital community comprised thereof, Plaintiffs: Eowen S Rosentrater, LEAD ATTORNEY, Law Office of Eowen Rosentrater PLLC, Spokane, WA; Colin Francis McHugh, Eowen Rosentrater, Spokane, WA.

For Yoke's Foods Inc, a Washington Corporation doing business as Yoke's Fresh Market, Defendant: Laura J Black, LEAD ATTORNEY, Lukins & Annis, PS, Spokane, WA; Michael James Hines, LEAD ATTORNEY, Lukins & Annis PS - SPO, Spokane, WA.

ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS

THOMAS O. RICE, United States District Judge.

BEFORE THE COURT is Defendant's Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 3). This matter was heard on December 16, 2014. Eowen S. Rosentrater appeared on behalf of Plaintiffs. Laura J. Black and Michael J. Hines appeared on behalf of Defendant. The Court has reviewed the briefing and the record and files herein and heard from counsel, and is fully informed.

BACKGROUND

This case concerns, inter alia, disability discrimination arising from Plaintiff Jill Banks' former employment with Defendant Yoke's Food, Inc. Plaintiffs have asserted claims of disability and age discrimination, interference with medical leave, blacklisting, intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, and negligent retention. In the instant motion, Defendant moves to dismiss all claims pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). ECF No. 3.

FACTS[1]

Jill Banks began working for Yoke's Foods, Inc. (" Yoke's) in 1997. Yoke's initially hired Ms. Banks as an Assistant Deli Manager but eventually promoted her to the position of Corporate Assistant Deli Supervisor in 2002. Until her termination, Ms. Banks maintained an excellent employment record, was never previously disciplined or written up, and never received negative evaluations.

In 2007, Ms. Banks began experiencing episodes of severe panic and anxiety. Yoke's granted Ms. Banks leave to seek mental health treatment. It was at this time that Yoke's became aware of Ms. Banks' medical condition.

In 2008, Yoke's informed Ms. Banks her position as Corporate Assistant Deli Supervisor was " no longer needed." Subsequently, Yoke's relocated Ms. Banks to its North Foothills location and demoted her to the position of Deli Manager. Ms. Banks believed her anxiety issues were the cause of her demotion.

At Yoke's North Foothills location, Mr. Jeff Weisgerber served as Ms. Banks' manager. Mr. Weisgerber had " explosive anger outbursts in the workplace, which often include[d] inappropriate language and gestures, swearing, yelling, kicking items down the sales floor in front of employees and customers, punching trashcans, talking negatively about employees, and calling employees names like 'cry baby, ' 'clown, ' and 'idiot.'" Mr. Weisgerber's aggressive behavior exacerbated Ms. Banks' anxiety issues and other employees similarly feared confrontations with Mr. Weisgerber.

In the summer of 2013, Ms. Banks went to the emergency room for vertigo and anxiety and subsequently suffered from severe panic and anxiety episodes allegedly triggered by Mr. Weisgerber's behavior. As a result, Ms. Banks was placed on leave from July 12, 2013, to July 25, 2013, for her medical issues.

When Ms. Banks returned to work at the end of July 2013, she, along with other employees, approached Ms. Banks' direct supervisor with complaints about Mr. Weisberger's behavior. The issue was subsequently raised to Ms. Caroline Wyatt of Yoke's Human Resources Department, who spoke to Mr. Weisberger about the complaints and instructed him to attend an anger management class. Mr. Weisberger refused and instead placed a sticker on his work inbox, reading " The Offendinator." Ms. Banks states it was very apparent Mr. Weisberger knew which employees had lodged complaints, and his behavior became even more " crass and belittling."

At this point, Ms. Banks' anxiety " reached an all-time high." Ms. Banks was again treated for severe anxiety, panic, and vertigo and referred to a psychiatrist. Yoke's granted Ms. Banks leave but instructed her that she could not return to work until released by a psychiatrist. Ms. Banks was on leave between August 6, 2013, and September 17, 2013, and engaged in various forms of medical treatment. At some point during this period, Yoke's informed Ms. Banks that it would only keep her position open for twelve weeks. By September 18, 2013, Ms. Banks returned to work in her position as Deli Manager.

On December 4, 2013, an employee in the deli department placed an outdated container of macaroni salad on the deli's display shelf. Although Ms. Banks neither instructed her employees to engage in this practice nor was she aware of this specific occurrence, Ms. Banks was held responsible for the incident as Deli Manager. Yoke's employees escorted Ms. Banks off the premises, in view of other employees and customers, and placed Ms. Banks on an unpaid three-day suspension.

On the third day of Ms. Banks' suspension, Mr. Weisberger contacted Ms. Banks and instructed her to return to the store the following Monday at 6 a.m., out of uniform. Ms. Weisberger provided no additional explanation. After an anxiety-ridden weekend, Ms. Banks arrived for her morning meeting and was informed that Yoke's was " letting her go due to extended absences and the salad incident." [2] Yoke's provided Ms. Banks with no paperwork or more detailed explanation as to why she was being terminated. Ms. Banks subsequently met with Ms. Wyatt, but without any resolution.

By the end of the week following her termination, Ms. Wyatt contacted Ms. Banks to set up a meeting. In their meeting, Ms. Wyatt informed Ms. Banks that there was an open position as a checker at Yoke's Airway Heights location. Although the position paid substantially less, was part-time, and lacked benefits, Ms. Banks inquired into the position. Management informed Ms. Banks there was no opening. Ms. Banks continued to inquire as to openings for the next several months. During this period, the Airway Heights location hired four younger or less experienced individuals as checkers.

Ms. Banks applied for a position at Barney's Harvest Foods, listing Yoke's as a reference. Barney's contacted Ms. Wyatt, requesting information about Ms. Banks. In response, Ms. Wyatt told Barney's, " We're not done with her yet." Barney's never contacted Ms. Banks. Unable to find work, Ms. Banks eventually filed for unemployment benefits.

Ms. Banks and her husband, Mr. Steve Banks, commenced this action on September 5, 2014, in Spokane County Superior Court, which Yoke's subsequently removed to this Court on September 29, 2014. ECF No. 1. Plaintiffs' First Amended Complaint, filed September 26, 2014, asserts six causes of action: (1) Disability Discrimination under the Revised Code of Washington (" RCW") § 46.90; (2) Age Discrimination under RCW § 46.90; (3) Violation of the Family Medical Leave Act and Washington Family Leave Act; (4) Blacklisting under RCW § 49.44; (5) Intentional and Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress; and (6) Negligent Retention. ECF No. 1 at 40-61. Defendant now moves to dismiss all claims within Plaintiffs' First Amended Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). ECF No. 3. For the reasons discussed below, this Court grants Defendant's motion in part.

DISCUSSION

A. Legal Standard


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