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Ludwig v. Commonwealth, Department of Millitary Affairs

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division, London

May 28, 2014

DENISE LUDWIG, Plaintiffs,
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF KENTUCKY DEPARTMENT OF MILLITARY AFFAIRS, and KENTUCKY DIVISION OF EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

GREGORY F. VAN TATENHOVE, District Judge.

Plaintiff Denise Ludwig filed a complaint in Pulaski Circuit Court alleging that her former employers, Defendants Commonwealth of Kentucky Department of Military Affairs and Division of Emergency Management, paid her less than her male counterparts, which is "strictly prohibited by 29 U.S.C. § 206(d)(1) and KRS § 337.423." [R. 1-3 at 2]. The Commonwealth removed the case to federal court and Ludwig filed the instant motion to remand. [R. 5]. The question at the heart of the motion is whether Ludwig's reference to the Equal Pay Act, 29 U.S.C. § 206(d)(1), is sufficient to support federal question jurisdiction in this Court. Because the Court answers that question in the affirmative, Ludwig's motion to remand shall be DENIED.

I

Denise Ludwig is a merit-based employee of the Commonwealth of Kentucky Division of Emergency Management, a part of the Department of Military Affairs. [R. 1-3 at 1]. As an employee of this agency, Ludwig prepares for and responds to emergency situations arising in the eleven-county area encompassing Region 11. [R. 6 at 2]. According to her account of the facts, Ludwig has been met with resistance as she has tried to move up the ladder in this organization. Ludwig claims that she was passed over for a promotion to Training Development Supervisor II in 2010 in favor of a male applicant, despite the fact that she had more experience than him and had received positive evaluations during her tenure. [ Id. ] Later she was reclassified into the position of Training Development Supervisor II, but was paid less than her male counterpart. [ Id. ] When she complained of this disparate treatment, Ludwig claims the Commonwealth required her to transfer, reduced her pay, and demoted her to the position she currently occupies. [ Id. at 2-3]. Ludwig claims that she applied for a regional manager position in August 2012, but was again passed over for a less experienced and less qualified male applicant. [ Id. ]

On August 21, 2013, Ludwig filed a complaint against the Commonwealth in Pulaski Circuit Court, and it is the content of this complaint that is the subject of the present motion to remand. [R. 1-3]. Ludwig's first cause of action against the Commonwealth is for sex discrimination. She states the Commonwealth did not promote her to positions for which she is the best qualified applicant because of her sex, which "is prohibited under KRS §344.040(1)(b)." [ Id. at 5]. In her second cause of action Ludwig alleges that the Commonwealth retaliated against her when she opposed this disparate treatment, which is conduct "prohibited under KRS §344.280." [ Id. at 5-6]. Finally, Ludwig's third cause of action claims that the Commonwealth discriminates against women by paying them less than members of the opposite sex, which is "prohibited by 29 USC § 206(d)(1) and KRS § 337.423(1)." [ Id. at 6].

The Commonwealth subsequently removed the case to this Court claiming that jurisdiction was appropriate because Ludwig's equal pay claim under 29 U.S.C. § 206(d)(1) raised a federal question and supplemental jurisdiction supported the additional state claims. [R. 1].[1] Ludwig has countered with a motion to remand the case back to state court. [R. 5]. In that motion, Ludwig notes that in her third cause of action she "seeks relief under both a state statute, KRS § 337.423(1), and its federal counterpart 29 U.S.C. § 206(d)(1), which prohibit discrimination between the sexes in payment of wages for comparable work on jobs which have comparable requirements relating to skill, effort and responsibility.'" [R. 6 at 3-4]. However, she also argues that she only referenced the federal equal pay statute "as evidence of a nationwide policy that should affect the interpretation of the statute, " and, as a result, state law issues predominate and the case is properly remanded to state court. [ Id. at 4-5].

II

"Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, possessing only that power authorized by Constitution and statute." Gunn v. Minton, 133 S.Ct. 1059, 1064 (2013) (quoting Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of America, 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994)) (internal quotation marks omitted). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, Congress has opened the doors of the federal courts to "all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C., §1331. When a claim is brought in state court over which a federal court would have original jurisdiction on these grounds, the case may be removed to federal court under 28 U.S.C. §1441(a), so long as removal is effectuated in accordance with the procedure outlined in § 1446. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a) ("any civil action brought in a State court of which the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction, may be removed by the defendant or the defendants, to the district court of the United States for the district and division embracing the place where such action is pending.").

To determine whether a claim "arises under" federal law so as to provide jurisdiction under these statutory provisions, courts employ the "well-pleaded complaint" rule. Roddy v. Grand Trunk W. R.R. Inc., 395 F.3d 318, 322 (6th Cir. 2005) (citing Loftis v. United Parcel Serv., Inc., 342 F.3d 509, 514 (6th Cir. 2003)). Under this rule, "[f]ederal jurisdiction exists only when a federal question is presented on the face of the plaintiff's properly pleaded complaint." Id. at 322 (citing Caterpillar, Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392 (1987)). "The well-pleaded complaint rule recognizes that the plaintiff is the master of his complaint. Accordingly, if the plaintiff chooses to bring a state law claim, that claim generally cannot be recharacterized' as a federal claim for the purpose of removal." Id. (citations omitted).

The portion of the well pleaded complaint that is at issue herein is the third cause of action for "Equal Pay." [R. 1-3 at 6]. In full, that claim states as follows:

24. For her third cause of action, Plaintiff adopts by reference all allegations claims for damages set out above as if incorporated verbatim.
25. KYEM and KDMA discriminated against Plaintiff and other similarly situated women on the basis of their sex by paying wages to them at a rate less than the rate at which pay wages to employees of the opposite sex for equal work on jobs that the performance of which require skill, effort and responsibility and which are performed under similar working conditions. This discrimination IS specifically prohibited by 29 USC § 206(d)(1) and KRS 337.423(1).
26. As a direct or proximate result of Defendants' discrimination, Plaintiff is entitled to recover actual damages and attorney's fees as well as injunctive relief including promotion within her employment.

[R. 1-3 at 6]. Ludwig argues that this lone citation to federal statute is not substantial enough to give ...


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