United States District Court, D. Columbia
November 1, 2005.
TYRONE WIGFALL, Plaintiff,
WOLPOFF & ABRAMSON, LLP, et al., Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: JAMES ROBERTSON, District Judge
Plaintiff, a resident of the District of Columbia, brought this
diversity*fn1 wrongful termination action pro se against
his former employer, a law firm with its principal place of
business in Maryland, and against individual employees of the
firm. Defendants' motion for summary judgment will be granted
because the undisputed facts establish that plaintiff was an
Plaintiff interviewed for a paralegal debt collector position
at Wolpoff and Abramson, LLP ("W & A") on November 4, 2004.
Complaint ("Compl."), ¶ 2. He completed and signed an employment
application which acknowledged that he could be terminated from
his employment at any time and for any reason. Defendants' Motion
for Summary Judgment, Affidavit of Angela Stokes ("Stokes Aff."),
Exhibit 1. W & A offered Mr. Wigfall a position on November 5,
2004. Compl., ¶ 3. The offer required that plaintiff complete an
eight-week training course upon commencement of his employment.
Id., ¶ 4. On November 15, 2004, plaintiff began his employment
at W & A and signed the firm's "Employee Statement of Policy."
Stokes Aff., Exhibit 2. That statement provided that plaintiff
could be terminated at will. Id.
At the conclusion of the training classes, W & A informed
plaintiff that his employment was being terminated for
unsatisfactory performance. Compl., ¶ 9; Stokes Aff., ¶ 13.
Plaintiff alleges that the specific reasons given by defendants
for his termination were that he "didn't perform well on phone
calls in class training and would expose W&A to liability" and
that he wasn't "aggressive" enough or a "go getter type of
collector," Compl., ¶ 10, and those allegations are taken as true
for purposes of this motion.
Standard of Review
Under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary
judgment is appropriate if the pleadings on file, together with
the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to
any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). Material facts
are those that "might affect the outcome of the suit under the
governing law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242,
248 (1986). The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial
burden of demonstrating an absence of a genuine issue of material
fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Tao
v. Freeh, 27 F.3d 635, 638 (D.C. Cir. 1994).
In considering whether there is a triable issue of fact, the
Court must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the
non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255; see also
Washington Post Co. v. United States Dep't of Health and Human Servs.,
865 F.2d 320, 325 (D.C. Cir. 1989). The party opposing a motion for
summary judgment, however, "may not rest upon the mere
allegations or denials of his pleading, but . . . must set forth
specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial."
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. The non-moving party must do more
than simply "show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the
material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio
Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). Moreover, "any factual
assertions in the movant's affidavits will be accepted as being
true unless [the opposing party] submits his own affidavits or
other documentary evidence contradicting the assertion." Neal v.
Kelly, 963 F.2d 453, 456 (D.C. Cir. 1992) (quoting Lewis v.
Faulkner, 689 F.2d 100, 102 (7th Cir. 1982)). The mere
existence of a factual dispute by itself, however, is not enough
to bar summary judgment. The party opposing the motion must show
that there is a genuine issue of material fact. See Anderson,
477 U.S. at 247-48. To be material, the fact must be capable of
affecting the outcome of the litigation; to be genuine, the issue
must be supported by admissible evidence sufficient for a
reasonable trier of fact to find in favor of the nonmoving party.
Id.; see also Laningham v. United States Navy, 813 F.2d 1236,
1242-43 (D.C. Cir. 1987).
Addressing the merits of defendants' motion, the first question
is which state law to apply. In cases based on diversity
jurisdiction, the applicable choice of law rules are those of the
forum state. Ideal Electronic Sec. Co. v. Int'l Fidelity Ins.
Co., 129 F.3d 143, 148 (D.C. Cir. 1997); Samra v. Shaheen
Business & Investment Group, Inc., 355 F.Supp. 2d 483, 496
(D.D.C. 2005). District of Columbia law provides that the law of
the jurisdiction having the "more substantial interest" applies in the absence of an agreement
between the parties. See Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co. v.
Richardson, 270 F.3d 948, 953 (D.C. Cir. 2001); Greycoat
Hanover F Street Ltd. P'ship v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co.,
657 A.2d 764, 767-68 (D.C. 1995).
All of the relevant facts indicate that Maryland is the
jurisdiction with the more substantial interest in this case.
Plaintiff interviewed for the paralegal position in Maryland. The
employment contract was offered and executed in Maryland.
Plaintiff's job duties were performed in Maryland. W&A's
principal place of business is in Maryland. Other than being the
location of plaintiff's current residence, the District of
Columbia has no connection with the employment contract at issue.
For all these reasons, the Court will apply Maryland law.
Under Maryland law, an employment contract is presumptively
at-will. Gwinn v. Food Lion, LLC, 195 F.Supp. 2d 728, 730 (D.
Md. 2002); Porterfield v. Mascari, 823 A.2d 590, 6010-2 (Md.
2003). An at-will employee is one who has an employment contract
of infinite duration that is terminable for any reason by either
party. King v. Marriot Inter. Inc., 866 A.2d 895, 901 (Md.
2005). Absent a contravening public policy, a court may not
review an employer's decision to terminate an at-will employee
even if the reason is arbitrary, capricious, or fundamentally
unfair. Towson Univ. v. Conte, 862 A.2d 941, 949 (Md. 2004).
The employment agreement between plaintiff and W& A stated that
plaintiff could leave his employment at any time and for any
reason and that W&A could terminate his employment at any time
for any reason. See Stokes Aff., Exhibits 1 & 2. There is no
dispute that these were the terms of plaintiff's employment, and
plaintiff has identified no public policy that was violated by
his termination. Therefore, there is no basis for plaintiff's
claim and summary judgment will be granted in favor of
defendants. A separate order accompanies this Memorandum Opinion.
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