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SHEPPARD v. DICKSTEIN

July 7, 1999

JAMES R. SHEPPARD, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DICKSTEIN, SHAPIRO, MORIN & OSHINSKY, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lamberth, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter comes before the court on defendants' motion to dismiss Counts II and III of the complaint filed by plaintiff James R. Sheppard. Specifically, defendants move to dismiss Count II, based on 42 U.S.C. § 1981, and Count III, which is based on tortious interference with contractual relations. Upon consideration of the written submissions of the parties, and the relevant law, defendants' motion to dismiss the claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 is denied. Defendants' motion to dismiss the claim based on tortious interference with contractual relations is granted.

I. Background

A. Introduction

Plaintiff, an African-American male, brings this action to recover damages for injuries he suffered as a result of discriminatory employment practices by defendants Dickstein, Shapiro, Morin & Oshinsky ("Dickstein"); Ms. Sharon O'Meara ("O'Meara"); Tyanna Ertter ("Ertter"); and Natalie Bernstein ("Bernstein"). Dickstein is the law firm where plaintiff worked, while the remaining defendants were plaintiff's supervisors. Plaintiff alleges that defendant Dickstein has violated Title VII through its actions. Dickstein has not moved to dismiss that claim. Further, plaintiff alleges that all defendants violated his rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1981, and that defendants O'Meara, Ertter, and Bernstein tortiously interfered with his employment relationship and economic advantage with Dickstein. Defendants oppose both these claims in their motion to dismiss.

B. Employment Position With Dickstein

Plaintiff was employed as a Records Manager at Dickstein from July 1996 until July 9, 1997. Plaintiff was an at-will employee, whose employment could be terminated at any time by either party. Dickstein offered plaintiff employment when his previous employer, Anderson Kill Olick Oshinsky ("Anderson Kill") merged with Dickstein. Plaintiff began his employment with Anderson Kill in 1993, and was promoted to Records Manager in June 1995. Throughout his employment at Anderson Kill, plaintiff's performance was considered excellent.

After the merger, plaintiff's position at Dickstein entailed the same duties as he performed at Anderson Kill. Plaintiff was primarily responsible for maintaining a database of all active and inactive client records. Plaintiff continued to work with many of the same support staff and attorneys that he worked with at Anderson Kill. However, plaintiff was no longer managed by the same immediate supervisor.

After the merger, Dickstein renovated its offices. During this period, only plaintiff and two other managers, who were white females, were constantly moved and shuffled between several different office spaces. Of the three, plaintiff was the only manager assigned a small, windowless room for training. Conversely, the other two managers were given window offices. The other support staff managers were not moved during the renovation and were assigned window offices.

C. Allegations of Racial Statements By Supervisors

Plaintiff alleges that his supervisors made several racially biased statements during his employment. Specifically, plaintiff recalls suggesting where defendant Ertter, his supervisor, asked plaintiff to interview a part-time Dickstein employee who was interested in a full-time position. Defendant Ertter allegedly attacked the intelligence of the employee, an African-American, and asked plaintiff to determine if the employee was "trainable."

Further, plaintiff asserts that defendant Ertter made other allegedly racially biased remarks. Specifically, plaintiff recalls an incident where he suggested that the storage supervisor, an African-American male, learn the computer software system to facilitate data entry of files in storage. Ertter responded that the employee was incapable of performing simple tasks, and that "we should take it one day at a time. It took him a year to learn how to log-in." See Pl.Comp. at 5.

Plaintiff contends that racially biased statements were also made by defendant O'Meara, his other supervisor. During a job search for a relief receptionist, O'Meara was approached by a Dickstein employee to consider an internal, African-American candidate who worked part-time in the firm's supply department. Plaintiff asserts that O'Meara would not consider the candidate, stating that he was "too black" for the job. See Pl.Comp. at 6.

D. Salary Increase

In January 1997, plaintiff received an annual increase in salary of approximately four percent. Plaintiff submits evidence that four percent was the maximum pay increase Dickstein employees received that year. In June 1997, plaintiff was offered another position with a law firm at a substantial increase in salary. Upon learning this, plaintiff asserts that many of the attorneys with whom he worked with at Anderson Kill actively sought to keep him employed at Dickstein. Plaintiff requested a raise and other employment concessions to remain at Dickstein. Dickstein agreed to these concessions, including a substantial pay raise.

E. Explanation And Problems With RMS Software

Prior to plaintiff's employment with Dickstein, the firm purchased a records management software program ("RMS") from MDY Advanced Technologies, Inc. ("MDY"), a computer service company. As Records Manager, plaintiff was assigned the task of implementing the RMS software firm-wide to automate Dickstein's client records and files. Plaintiff was trained on the RMS software by an MDY representative. Plaintiff contends that he had an excellent knowledge of the RMS software and was the only employee at Dickstein to use the software on a daily basis. Plaintiff also trained several employees to use the RMS software.

Dickstein encountered several problems with the RMS software. For example, the Insurance Practice Group could not utilize the software because the group utilized an extensive WordPerfect index to organize their client files. Dickstein also encountered problems involving the numbering of consecutive volumes of pleadings files. Finally, Dickstein encountered "bugs" in the RMS system, which would abruptly terminate the RMS system during data entry into the database. Plaintiff contends that MDY either delayed in solving these problems, or did not solve them at all. Despite these deficiencies, plaintiff was able to successfully automate the file records of the Civil Litigation Practice Group.

F. RMS Demonstration With MDY

In June 1997, Miriam Kramer ("Kramer"), an MDY representative, called plaintiff and asked if they could give a demonstration of the RMS software at Dickstein to the law firm of Arent Fox Kintner Plotkin & Kahn ("Arent Fox") as a courtesy. Plaintiff asserts that his job duties and responsibilities at Dickstein did not require ...


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