United States District Court, E.D. Washington
ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR PARTIAL
SALVADOR MENDOZA, JR. United States District Judge
the Court, without oral argument, is Defendants Rob Hardwick
DDS, Robert W. Hardwick, Jr., DDS, Robert W. Hardwick, Jr.,
and Michelle Hardwick's (collectively
“Defendants”) Motion for Partial Summary
Judgment, ECF No. 12. Through this motion, Defendants ask
this Court to grant partial summary judgment dismissing the
retaliation claims asserted by Plaintiffs Shanna Rugo and
Belinda Dunn (collectively “Plaintiffs”) under
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. ECF No. 12 at 1.
For their part, Plaintiffs resist this motion and ask the
Court to deny the motion. See generally ECF No. 17.
Plaintiffs argue that because Defendants' two dental
office locations are sole proprietorships, they cannot be
separate businesses for Title VII purposes. ECF No. 17 at 2.
In the alternative, Plaintiffs argue that issues of material
fact exist regarding whether the two offices in question are
an integrated business for Title VII purposes, thus
precluding summary judgment. As explained below, because
issues of material fact remain regarding whether
Defendants' offices are separate businesses or an
integrated enterprise for Title VII purposes, the Court
denies Defendants' motion.
Shanna Rugo and Belinda Dunn are former employees of
Defendants' dental practice. ECF No. 1 at 3. Dr. Robert
Hardwick, one of the defendants in this lawsuit, owns and
operates as sole proprietor two dental offices in northeast
Washington. ECF No. 25 at 1. Ms. Rugo began working for
Defendants in 1985, serving as office manager of the Hardwick
Dental Clinic in Republic, Washington since 1989. ECF No. 1
at 3. Ms. Dunn began working as office manager in the
Colville, Washington office in the fall of 1986. Id.
Plaintiffs had similar authority and responsibilities as
office managers for their respective offices. ECF No. 25 at
2. Plaintiffs set employees' work schedules, set
employees' vacation schedules, and identified candidates
to hire. Id. In their complaint, Plaintiffs allege
that prior to their terminations they were involved in a
state investigation and subsequent internal investigation of
alleged sexual misconduct by Dr. Hardwick against female
employees. ECF No. 1 at 5. It is undisputed that in August
2014, Dr. Hardwick, who personally supervised both Ms. Rugo
and Ms. Dunn, terminated Plaintiffs' employment. ECF No.
25 at 2.
April 2015, Plaintiffs submitted charges of discrimination to
the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which was
followed by the EEOC's issuance of right to sue letters
to Plaintiffs in November 2016. ECF No. 1 at 6. Plaintiffs
then filed this lawsuit on December 22, 2016. See
ECF No. 1.
to the present motion is how the two dental practice
locations- one in Colville and the other in
Republic-operated, were managed, and relate to one another.
The following undisputed facts are gathered from the
parties' Joint Statement of Uncontroverted Facts
Regarding Defendants' Motion for Partial Summary
Judgment, ECF No. 25, and the declarations submitted in
support and opposition to the present motion.
both offices employed between 18 and 26 employees each month
from August 2013 through August 2014. ECF No. 25 at 4. Dr.
Hardwick owns and operates both offices as sole proprietor.
ECF No. 25 at 1. Throughout calendar years 2013 and 2014, the
Colville office employed slightly more employees than the
Republic office. Id. at 2-3 (charts indicating that
during this time period, the number of employees in the
Colville office fluctuated between 11 and 14 per month while
the Republic office employed between 7 and 12 people). Though
Defendants' certified public accountant (CPA) Stephen H.
Oswin, ECF No. 15 at 1, produced profit and loss statements
for each office and also for the combined offices, ECF No. 25
at 5, discretionary employee bonuses were paid at Dr.
Hardwick's sole discretion and the combined performance
of the Colville and Republic offices was a factor in setting
bonus amounts, ECF No. 25 at 4. These profit and loss
statements were made under the general heading “Rob
Hardwick DDS.” Id. at 5. Mr. Oswin also
maintained a separate payroll account for the benefit of both
meetings were held in each office and also jointly at one
office during combined employee meetings. Id. at 5.
Dr. Hardwick referred to the two offices as one dental
practice, Id. (citing ECF No. 19, Ex. 1). Both
offices use the same Uniform Business Identification Number,
and an insurance policy document from 2014-15 lists the
Colville office as the “primary” location and the
Republic office as the “secondary” location.
Id. (citing ECF No. 21, Exs. 2 & 3).
SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD
judgment is appropriate if the “movant shows that there
is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant
is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Once a party has moved for summary
judgment, the opposing party must point to specific facts
establishing that there is a genuine dispute for trial.
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986).
If the nonmoving party fails to make such a showing for any
of the elements essential to its case for which it bears the
burden of proof, the trial court should grant the summary
judgment motion. Id. at 322. “When the moving
party has carried its burden under Rule [56(a)], its opponent
must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical
doubt as to the material facts. . . . [T]he nonmoving party
must come forward with ‘specific facts showing that
there is a genuine issue for trial.'”
Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp.,
475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986) (internal citation omitted). When
considering a motion for summary judgment, the Court does not
weigh the evidence or assess credibility; instead, “the
evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all
justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.”
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255
initial matter, the Court clarifies that the issue addressed
here- whether Defendants' dental practice employed 15 or
more employees for twenty or more calendar weeks in 2014, the
year Plaintiffs were terminated, or 2013, and therefore is an
employer for Title VII purposes-is an element of
Plaintiffs' claims and not a jurisdictional requirement.
See Arbaugh v. Y&H. Corp., 546 U.S. 500, 515
(2006) (“[W]e hold that the threshold number of
employees for application of Title VII is an element of a
plaintiff's claim for relief, not a jurisdictional
issue.”); 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(b). To the extent the
Court and the parties previously addressed it as a
jurisdictional issue that was incorrect. ECF No. 10; ECF No.
12 at 6 n. 1; ECF No. 17 at 3.
though Plaintiffs ask this Court to rule that Dr.
Hardwick's status as a sole proprietor precludes him from
arguing that the Colville and Republic locations are separate
for Title VII purposes, the Court declines the invitation to
do so. As Plaintiffs concede, courts have not held that sole
proprietorships are categorically barred from arguing that
different locations, in this case clinical offices, are
separate businesses for Title VII purposes. This Court has
not found authority to support creating such a categorical
rule here. However, Plaintiffs' apparently novel argument
positing that sole proprietorships and their owners are
legally indistinguishable and therefore cannot be separate
enterprises for Title VII purposes, carries some purchase.
Nevertheless, the ...