The opinion of the court was delivered by: SPORKIN
This matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment
and Plaintiff's opposition thereto. The Court heard oral argument on May 29, 1997 and has considered all of the parties' submissions. For the reasons stated below, the Court will grant Defendants' motion for summary judgment in all respects.
The Defendant organization Interfaith Impact for Justice and Peace ("IIJP") was formed in 1990 for the purpose of advancing various public policy concerns. Plaintiff, an ordained minister of the United Church of Christ ("UCC"), was hired in 1991 as executive director of IIJP. Underlying this case is the circumstances surrounding Plaintiff's June 1995 termination from that position.
The individually named defendants, with the exception of Jerald Scott, are members of the Board of Directors of IIJP ("IIJP Board"), each representing various religious denominations. Defendants Elenora Giddings Ivory, Lionel Derenoncourt and Vernon Broyles
represent the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). IIJP Board chair Jane Hull Harvey and Anna Rhee, represent the United Methodist Church. James Lintner represents Plaintiff's church, the UCC.
IIJP leases space in a building on Maryland Ave., NE, Washington, D.C. owned by the United Methodist Church. The building is managed through the Methodist Church's General Board of Church and Society ("Methodist General Board"). As well as being chair of the IIJP Board, defendant Harvey is Assistant General Secretary of the Methodist General Board. Former defendant Scott is an employee of the Methodist General Board.
The IIJP Board voted to hire Plaintiff as executive director in June 1991. Plaintiff began working in the position in August 1991. The terms of Plaintiff's employment were memorialized in a October 4, 1991 letter to Plaintiff, addressed from Defendant Ivory.
In summary, the October 4 letter: (1) welcomed Plaintiff to IIJP; (2) recognized that the local chapter of the UCC would have the ability to review the terms of the agreement; (3) stated that the "terms of [Plaintiff's] employment [would] be governed by the [IIJP] Personnel Policy . . . except where modified by this letter"; (4) detailed Plaintiff's salary and social security offset; (5) stated that IIJP would make payments to Plaintiff's UCC pension plan, rather than covering Plaintiff under the IIJP plan; (6) noted that Plaintiff was receiving health coverage from UCC; (7) stated that the IIJP would cover Plaintiff's moving expenses; and (8) stated that benefits not addressed in the letter were to be as set forth in the IIJP Personnel Policy.
IIJP's financial collapse and subsequent RIF of employees
Although there is dispute over who knew what, and when, it is clear that IIJP had various financial problems for most of its existence. These problems came to a head on May 8, 1995, when Ivory wrote a letter on behalf of the Presbyterian Church to IIJP Chair Harvey. In the letter, Ivory expressed her church's great concern at the financial status of IIJP. She informed Harvey that the Presbyterian Church would not provide any funding to IIJP in 1996 and would only complete its 1995 obligations if the IIJP Board took steps to lay off its staff, and pay off its debt. The Presbyterian Church was one of IIJP's major contributors. In a May 15, 1995 reply addressed to Ivory, Defendant Harvey expressed her disappointment at the Presbyterian's decision to withdraw financial support, claiming that in doing so, Presbyterian members of the Board had shown a total disregard for the Board's efforts to find a solution to IIJP's problems. She went on to state that by publishing the letter to others, the Presbyterians' had made it "very difficult to raise any new money."
On June 16, 1995, the IIJP Board held a meeting to discuss its options. Three possible courses of action were presented: (1) keeping IIJP operating with a small paid staff, including Plaintiff; (2) terminating the paid staff and keeping the IIJP in operation with a volunteer staff; or (3) terminating all staff. In a straw ballot, 16 of 28 Board members voted for Option 2. The Board then voted 20 to 6 to accept the results of that straw ballot. Finally, the Board voted 21 to 1, with four abstentions, "to terminate Jim Bell, as executive director, and the remaining staff as [a] reduction in force as of June 16, 1995." Minutes of June 16, 1995 IIJP Board Meeting at 6.
In a June 23, 1995 letter to the Plaintiff, IIJP Personnel Committee chair James McDonald confirmed the June 16 RIF and provided details of Plaintiff's severance package, which included 60 days of salary, four weeks of severance pay, two-and-a-half weeks of vacation pay and some pension benefits.
In the letter, McDonald stated "it is my understanding that your contract is in agreement with [the severance provisions of the Personnel Policy manual]."
Alleged removal of furniture from IIJP offices
In July 1995, Defendant Harvey allegedly discovered that several pieces of furniture were missing from the IIJP offices. She raised the matter of the missing furniture at a Methodist General Board staff meeting, asking if anyone knew about the matter. Former Defendant Scott was at the meeting. She reported that on Saturday, June 24, 1995, shortly after Plaintiff's termination, she saw Plaintiff removing furniture from the IIJP offices, using the passenger elevators. Scott claims she spoke to Plaintiff at the time.
On July 26, 1995, at Harvey's request, Scott prepared a memorandum describing the events of June 24. As she had at the meeting, Scott described seeing Plaintiff move furniture. She did not claim that he was moving IIJP furniture and certainly did not claim he was "stealing" anything. Scott did assert that the incident caught her attention because moving furniture in the passenger elevator is generally unauthorized under building rules.
Although Scott's memorandum was addressed "to whom it may concern," it was transmitted to Harvey. Harvey, in turn, transmitted the information to two people: her superior, Martha Cline, Associate General Secretary of the Methodist General Board
and Anne Spielberg, IIJP's attorney.
In the same June-August time period, Plaintiff was engaged in correspondence with IIJP, grieving his termination. In a series of letters, Spielberg and Plaintiff's counsel debated the merits of Plaintiff's claims against IIJP. Included in those letters were IIJP's allegations that Plaintiff had removed furniture that did not belong to him and Plaintiff's denial that he had done so. In an August 22, 1995 letter to Spielberg, Plaintiff's counsel stated that "your continued accusations that [Plaintiff] is a thief are having a negative influence on any possibility of negotiations." Copies of this correspondence were apparently transmitted by one of the Defendants to all members of the Board.
After losing his position with IIJP, Plaintiff sought a position in his own church, the UCC. When Plaintiff told a representative of the UCC that he had been accused of "theft," he was advised not to circulate his resume within the UCC until the matter had been resolved. Plaintiff has now taken a position with a Chicago organization.
Commencement of litigation
Plaintiff refiled his action in this Court on May 10, 1996. He was granted leave to amend his complaint on December 23, 1996, at which time he added Scott as a defendant. In his seven-count amended complaint, Plaintiff makes the following District of Columbia tort and contract claims
Count I -- Intentional Interference with Contract;
Count II -- Breach of Contract;
Count III -- Breach of Covenant of Good Faith and Fair Dealing;
Count IV -- Interference of Prospective ...