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Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. CRST International, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Jacksonville Division

November 1, 2017




         This Americans With Disabilities Act case is before the Court on Defendants CRST Expedited, Inc. and CRST International, Inc.'s (collectively, “CRST”) Motion to Dismiss for Improper Venue or Alternatively to Transfer This Case to the Northern District of Iowa. (Doc. 28). Plaintiff Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) filed a response in opposition. (Doc. 29).

         I. BACKGROUND

         Leon J. Laferriere is a United States military service veteran whose psychiatrist prescribed an emotional support dog to help him cope with his post-traumatic stress and mood disorders. (Doc. 19 ¶ 15). In May 2015, Laferriere applied online for a position as a long-haul truck driver with CRST, headquartered in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Doc. 21-1). As part of CRST's driver training program, applicants without experience must first attend driving school to earn a commercial driver's license. (Doc. 8 ¶ 7). Once the applicant completes driving school and orientation at a CRST facility, he is hired and then must drive with another, more experienced lead driver to complete on-the-road training. (Id.).

         Nichole Moreland, a CRST recruiter for driver development, conducted a phone interview from Cedar Rapids with Laferriere, who lives in Fort Myers, Florida. (Id.). When Laferriere applied, he was not an experienced truck driver and did not have a commercial driver's license; therefore, after he signed a Pre-Employment Driver Training Agreement, CRST issued Laferriere a conditional offer of employment and sent him to complete a driver training course at J-Tech Institute (“J-Tech”) in Jacksonville as a step in the hiring process.[1] (Doc. 19 ¶ 16; Doc. 32 at 3-4; Doc. 21-7; Doc. 8 ¶ 10). After completing training at J-Tech, Laferriere would continue to orientation at CRST's Oklahoma City, Oklahoma facility. (Doc. 21-7).

         Before he attended driver training, Laferriere informed Moreland that he wanted to bring his service dog on the truck. (Doc. 8 ¶ 8). Moreland explained that CRST could not force Laferriere's lead driver to take the dog on the truck when it came time to complete his over-the-road training. (Id.). Conveniently, however, Laferriere's brother is an experienced truck driver, and Moreland arranged for him to work for CRST and train Laferriere during the over-the-road training period. (Id. ¶ 9). After Laferriere completed his driver training, Moreland learned that his brother had decided not to work for CRST, and she contacted Marcus Schneider, CRST's Director of Capacity Development, to formulate an alternate arrangement. (Id. ¶ 12). On June 12, 2015, Schneider contacted Laferriere from Cedar Rapids to devise a plan; however, when they could not immediately develop one, CRST provided Laferriere with a bus ticket home from Jacksonville to Fort Myers, until arrangements could be made. (Doc. 9 ¶ 6). Ultimately, CRST did not hire Laferriere. (Id. ¶ 8). However, had Laferriere successfully completed orientation in Oklahoma City and been hired, he would have been dispatched onto a truck for over-the-road training from Oklahoma City and supervised by a driver manager located in Cedar Rapids. (Id.).

         In August 2015, Laferriere filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Milwaukee, Wisconsin Area Office of the EEOC, alleging that CRST discriminated against him on the basis of disability, denied him a reasonable accommodation, denied him hire, and retaliated against him in violation of the ADA. (Doc. 21-1; Doc. 22). Following the failure of informal conciliation efforts, the EEOC filed this lawsuit, seeking individualized relief on Laferriere's behalf and injunctive relief that will benefit other employees. In the Amended Complaint, filed on May 17, 2017, the EEOC alleges that CRST has engaged in unlawful employment practices in Jacksonville and Fort Myers in violation of Section 102(a) of Title I of the ADA, 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a), and Section 503 of Title V of the ADA, 42 U.S.C. § 12203. (Doc. 19 ¶ 14). Because the unlawful employment practices were allegedly committed within this District, the EEOC argues that venue here is proper. (Id. ¶ 2).

         On June 15, 2017, CRST filed a motion to dismiss or transfer, arguing that the EEOC has failed to allege that: any unlawful employment practices occurred in this District; CRST maintains employment records here; or Laferriere would have worked out of this District. (Doc. 28). In response, the EEOC argues that venue here is proper, as the complaint contains allegations stating that: CRST's unlawful employment practices partly occurred in this District; relevant documents are maintained here; and it is likely that Laferriere would have worked in this District.[2] (Doc. 32).

         II. LAW

         The ADA, as amended, borrows its jurisdiction and venue provisions from Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. See Bell v. United Air Lines, Inc., No. 11-61393-CIV, 2011 WL 11048116, at *2 (S.D. Fla. Nov. 30, 2011). Title VII's venue provision states, in relevant part, that the appropriate venue for Title VII claims is:

any judicial district in the State in which the unlawful employment practice is alleged to have been committed, in the judicial district in which the employment records relevant to such practice are maintained and administered, or in the judicial district in which the aggrieved person would have worked but for the alleged unlawful employment practice, but if the respondent is not found within any such district, such an action may be brought within the judicial district in which the respondent has his principal office.

         42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(3). “The venue provisions of § 2000e-5(f)(3) were intended to be the exclusive venue provisions for Title VII employment discrimination actions and that the more general provisions of § 1391 are not controlling in such cases.” Pinson v. Rumsfeld, 192 F. App'x 811, 816-17 (11th Cir. 2006) (citing Stebbins v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 413 F.2d 1100, 1102-03 (D.C. Cir. 1969) (per curiam)).

         Once the defendant challenges venue under Rule 12(b)(3), Fed. R. Civ. P., the plaintiff has the burden of showing that venue in the forum is proper. Id. (citation omitted). “The court must accept all allegations of the complaint as true, unless contradicted by the defendants' affidavits.” Bell, 2011 WL 11048116, at *1 (citations omitted). “When an allegation of the complaint is challenged, the court may examine facts outside of the complaint to determine whether venue is proper.” Id. The court must draw all reasonable inferences and resolve all factual conflicts in favor of the plaintiff. Id.

         III. ...

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