Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

NEWMAN v. LEGAL SERVS. CORP.

January 27, 1986

PAUL NEWMAN, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
LEGAL SERVICES CORPORATION, et al., Defendants


Thomas A. Flannery


The opinion of the court was delivered by: FLANNERY

THOMAS A. FLANNERY

MEMORANDUM

 This matter is before the court on defendants' motions for summary judgment.

 I. Background

 Plaintiff Newman was the regional director of Legal Services Corporation's (hereinafter "LSC") Denver regional office and Plaintiff Gilbert was regional director of LSC's Boston regional office. On August 10, 1984, Defendant Potack, LSC's President fired both plaintiffs.

 Defendants in the case are the Legal Services Corporation; and Donald P. Bogard, LSC's President and Gene Potack LSC's Director of Office of Field Services at the time plaintiffs were fired. The Legal Service Corporation Act provides that neither the LSC nor its employees (with certain exceptions not relevant in this case) are to be deemed part of the federal government. 42 U.S.C. ยง 2996d(e)(1). However, all of LSC's funding is from the federal government, it publishes its regulations in the Code of Federal Regulations, and it is subject to FOIA.

 Plaintiffs have alleged four types of claims against defendants. First, plaintiffs contend that they were wrongfully terminated in violation of their employment contract and in violation of public policy. Second, plaintiffs claim that their terminations violate the First and Fifth Amendments of the United States Constitution. Third, plaintiffs claim that defendants defamed them in their testimony to a Congressional committee and by sending a copy of that testimony to someone under FOIA, in statements allegedly made to LSC employees and directors, and in a letter to the Massachusetts Bar Association. Finally, plaintiffs complain of intentional infliction of emotional distress based on defendants allegedly outrageous conduct of preventing plaintiffs from communicating with co-workers and from keeping plaintiffs from immediately removing their personal belongings from their offices.

 Defendants contend, first, that plaintiffs had no employment contracts and thus were at-will employees who could be dismissed for any reason at any time. Second, defendants argue that they are not federal or state actors and, therefore, cannot be sued for alleged constitutional violations. Third, defendants state that their communications to Congress are absolutely privileged from suit and that communications within LSC are qualifiedly immune. Finally, defendants argue that they did not act outrageously, and as a matter of law, cannot be liable to plaintiffs for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Defendants have moved for summary judgment on all plaintiffs' claims.

 II. Discussion

 At the outset, it must be noted that there is a potential conflict of laws issue in this case. LSC is a District of Columbia corporation and, at the time of their firings, plaintiff Newman was a Massachusetts resident and plaintiff Gilbert was a Colorado resident. However, the case law of the three jurisdictions on the non-federal issues involved in the motions for summary judgment is not in conflict, and the parties do not raise choice of law as an issue for purposes of this motion. Thus, the court will apply District of Columbia law to the nonfederal issues involved in this case.

 A. Wrongful Termination Claims

 The individual defendants, Potack and Bogard, argue that they cannot be held personally liable to plaintiffs for violation of their employment contracts. Rather, Potack and Bogard argue that only LSC can be liable since LSC was plaintiffs' employer, not them. Since plaintiffs do not allege that they had an employment contract with either individual defendant, summary judgment is granted to individual defendants on plaintiffs' violation of employment contract claim.

 The next set of questions the court must address is whether plaintiffs were at-will employees, and if so, whether there is a public policy exception to the at-will employment doctrine in this jurisdiction.

 Plaintiffs contend that they had an employment contract with defendant LSC. While plaintiffs admit that there is no single document regarding their employment entitled "employment contract", they argue that LSC's written offer (Plaintiffs Appendix, Tab 1), each plaintiff's written acceptance (Id. at Tab 2), and the LSC Personnel Procedures Manual (Id. at Tab 3) constitute an employment contract.

 That argument is not well taken. As this court has stated, an employment contract is terminable at will unless it is for a specified term. Prouty v. Nat'l Passenger R.R. Corp., 572 F. Supp. 200, 204 (D.D.C. 1983) (June Green, J.). None of the documents plaintiffs rely on contain a specified term of employment. Moreover, the LSC Act specifically provides that the President of LSC may terminate employees at will. 42 U.S.C. 2996d(b)(1) (1982). Thus, this court holds that plaintiffs were at-will employees.

 Having decided that plaintiffs were at-will employees, the court must now consider whether this jurisdiction would recognize a public policy exception to the at-will employment doctrine.

 In Ivy v. Army Times Publishing Co., 428 A.2d 831 (D.C. Ct. App. 1981), the court denied a petition for rehearing en banc a panel decision which held that there was no public policy exception in the District. However, there was no majority opinion, and four judges dissented from the decision not to grant rehearing en banc. A dissent in which three of the dissenting justices fully joined, indicates with convincing force that the District would recognize a public policy exception to the at-will employment doctrine.

 The general rule in the District of Columbia is that an at-will employee may be terminated for any reason -- right or wrong -- or for no reason at all. See Taylor v. Greenway Restaurant, Inc., 173 A.2d 211 (D.C. Mun. App. 1961). And that rule ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.