United States District Court, D. Columbia
December 8, 2005.
JOHN F. FORD Plaintiff,
NATION'S CAPITAL SOUTHERN MARYLAND AREA LOCAL, AMERICAN POSTAL WORKERS UNION, AFL-CIO, Defendant.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: REGGIE WALTON, District Judge
The plaintiff, who is proceeding pro se, initiated this
action against his employer, defendant Nation's Capital Southern
Maryland Area Local, American Postal Workers Union, AFL-CIO
("NCSMAL" or "Local"), alleging breach of the Local's
constitution and bylaws and discrimination based on his age.
Complaint ("Compl.") at 1-2. This matter is currently before the
Court on the defendant's motion to dismiss the complaint for lack
of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(1), and for failure to state a claim upon which
relief can be granted pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
12(b)(6). Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, for Summary
Judgment of Defendant ("Def.'s Mot.") at 1.*fn1 In the
alternative, the defendant moves for summary judgment, pursuant
to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c). Id. Upon consideration of the parties'
submissions, the Court concludes that the defendant is entitled
to dismissal of this action pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6) for the reasons set forth below.
I. Factual Background
The defendant is a local affiliate of the American Postal
Workers Union, which represents individuals employed in the
Clerk, Maintenance and Motor Vehicle Crafts Division of the
United States Postal Service in the District of Columbia and
Southern Maryland. Def.'s Mem. at 2. The Local's operations are
governed by a constitution and bylaws. Id. The constitution
addresses the relationship between the Local and its members, the
Local's internal workings and affairs, and the internal governing
structure of the Local. Def.'s Mem., Exhibit ("Ex.") 1 at 1-25.
In January 1990, the defendant hired the plaintiff, a retired
postal worker and certified drug counselor, as the part-time
Employee Assistance Program ("EAP") Representative.*fn2
Def.'s Mem., Ex. 5 at 00108. In 1998, the defendant converted the
plaintiff's employment to full-time, so that he could address a
backlog of grievances from postal employees who had been
discharged for alleged abuse of drugs and alcohol. Id. On
January 12, 2003, the defendant notified the plaintiff that he
would be returned to part-time status effective January 18, 2003,
because the backlog of grievances had been resolved and a
national EAP has been established. Def.'s Mem., Ex. 2. In a
letter dated January 31, 2003, the defendant again informed the
plaintiff of the change in his employment status. Def.'s Mem.,
Ex. 3. On March 24, 2003, the plaintiff filed an administrative
complaint with the District of Columbia Office of Human Rights
("OHR"), alleging that the change in his employment from
full-time to part-time status was the result of disparate
treatment based on his age.*fn3 Def.'s Mem., Ex. 4. On
December 16, 2003, the OHR issued a Letter of Determination which
found "no probable cause" for the plaintiff's claim that he was
the victim of discriminatory treatment. Def.'s Mem., Ex. 5 at
00118. Specifically, the OHR found that the Local did not
discriminate against the plaintiff "by converting him from a
full-time to a part-time employee." Id. at 00113. The Letter of
Determination notified the plaintiff that he could appeal the "no
probable cause" determination by either applying for
reconsideration with the OHR within thirty (30) calendar days
from the receipt of the letter or requesting a "Substantial
Weight Review" from the United States Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") within fifteen (15) calendar days
from the receipt of the letter. Id. at 00118. In addition, the
decision notified the plaintiff of the applicable time periods in
which he could file a petition for review with the Superior Court
of the District of Columbia.*fn4 Id.
The plaintiff elected to seek reconsideration of the "no
probable cause" determination with the OHR. Def.'s Mem., Ex. 6 at
1. On June 7, 2004, the OHR issued a Determination on
Complainant's Request for Reconsideration denying the plaintiff's
request and affirming the OHR's "no probable cause"
determination. Id. at 2. In this letter, the Director of the
OHR found that the plaintiff had failed to submit a timely request for
reconsideration.*fn5 Id. The OHR further found that even
assuming that the plaintiff's request had been submitted timely,
the plaintiff failed to satisfy the evidentiary and factual
standards that are necessary to demonstrate that he was entitled
to reconsideration because he merely reasserted the general
allegations that were set forth in his original administrative
complaint. Id. at 2. In addition, the Determination on
Complainant's Request for Reconsideration notified the plaintiff
that he had "thirty (30) days from receipt of the decision to
file a petition for review with the Superior Court of the
District of Columbia." Id. at 3. However, rather than petitioning
for review with the Superior Court, the plaintiff mistakenly
petitioned for review with the District of Columbia Court of
Appeals, which dismissed his petition for lack of subject matter
jurisdiction. Def.'s Mem., Ex. 7.*fn6 The plaintiff also
filed an identical administrative complaint with the Equal
Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), which was also
denied. Compl., Ex. 1 & 3. Specifically, the EEOC concluded that
it would not be able to prove the plaintiff's age discrimination
claim, and thus it would not pursue an action against the
On March 25, 2005, the plaintiff filed his pro se complaint
with this Court, in which he claims that the defendant breached
its contractual obligations to him by failing to follow procedures included in its constitution and bylaws before
altering his employment status from full-time to part-time.
Compl. at 2. The plaintiff argues that the defendant's
obligations arise from him being "a member and employee of the
Local," and that he is therefore entitled to "any protection"
afforded by the Local's constitution and bylaws. Pl.'s Opp'n at
2-3; see also Compl. at 2. Specifically, the plaintiff seeks to
invoke article 7, section 2 of the Local's constitution and
bylaws, which the plaintiff asserts required the union President
to seek approval from the Executive Board before changing the
plaintiff's employment status to part-time.*fn8 Compl. at 2.
Consequently, because the President failed to consult with the
Executive Board before altering his employment status, the
plaintiff contends that the President breached the Local's
constitution and bylaws. Id. at 2-3. In addition, the plaintiff
asserts that the defendant failed to adhere to the conditions set
forth in the Local's constitution and bylaws because the
defendant took "personal issue" with the plaintiff's age. Id.
The defendant has now filed a motion to dismiss the plaintiff's
complaint under Rule 12(b)(6).*fn9 Specifically, the
plaintiff argues that the plaintiff has failed to state a claim
upon which relief can be granted on either his breach of contract
claim or his age discrimination claim. Def.'s Mem. at 5-12.
Specifically, the defendant contends that neither the Local's
constitution and bylaws nor the EAP Counselor Job Description
created an employment contract between the Local and the
plaintiff. Id. at 5-6. Accordingly, the defendant argues that
the plaintiff was an at-will employee, and as such the Local had
the "right to reduce [the plaintiff's] employment to part-time
status." Id. at 6; Def.'s Reply at 2. In addition, the
defendant opines that the plaintiff cannot pursue his age
discrimination claim because he has previously fully litigated
this claim. Def.'s Mem. at 11. Thus, the defendant contends that
dismissal is appropriate under Rule 12(b)(6). In his opposition
brief, the plaintiff contends, however, that the Local's
constitution and bylaws created an employment contract, which has
been breached. Pl.'s Opp'n at 3.
II. Standard of Review
On a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which
relief can be granted pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), this Court must
construe the allegations and facts in the complaint in the light
most favorable to the plaintiff and must grant the plaintiff the
benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts
alleged. Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957); Barr v.
Clinton, 370 F.3d 1196, 1199 (D.C. Cir. 2004) (citing Kowal v.
MCI Commc'ns Corp., 16 F.3d 1271, 1276 (D.C. Cir. 1994)).
However, the Court need not accept asserted inferences or
conclusory allegations that are unsupported by the facts set
forth in the complaint. Kowal, 16 F.3d at 1276. In deciding whether to dismiss a claim under Rule
12(b)(6), the Court can only consider the facts alleged in the
complaint, documents attached as exhibits or incorporated by
reference into the complaint, and matters about which the Court
may take judicial notice. EEOC v. Xavier Parochial Sch. St.
Francis, 117 F.3d 621, 624-25 (D.C. Cir. 1997). The Court will
dismiss a claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) only if the defendant
can demonstrate "beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set
of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to
relief." Conley, 355 U.S. at 45-46.
III. Legal Analysis
A. The Plaintiff's Breach of Contract Claim
The defendant moves to dismiss the plaintiff's action for
breach of the Local's constitution and bylaws, arguing that the
defendant had no contractual obligations to the plaintiff because
the plaintiff was an employee at-will. Def.'s Mem. at 5-6. In
response, the plaintiff contends that the Local's constitution
and bylaws created an enforceable employment contract and that
the defendant breached the contract by changing his work status
to part-time employment because of his age. Pl.'s Opp'n at 3.
The plaintiff's position is clearly without merit. Another
member of this Court held that a local union's constitution and
bylaws do not create an employment contract between the union and
its employees. Def.'s Mem., Ex. B (Davis v. Nation's Capital S.
Md. Area Local, No. 99-2314, at 32-33 (D.D.C. February 4, 2000)
(transcript of hearing)).*fn10 Rather than governing the union's relationship with its employees, a union's constitution
and bylaws govern the relationship between members of the union
and the union. Korzen v. Local Union 705, Int'l Broth. of
Teamsters, 75 F.3d 285, 288 (7th Cir. 1996) (citations omitted)
(stating "[t]he constitution of a local union . . . is a contract
between the union and its members"). In this regard, the Local's
duty to the plaintiff as the plaintiff's employer is completely
distinct from the Local's duty to the plaintiff when the
plaintiff is acting in the capacity as a member of the union.
Accordingly, the Local's constitution and bylaws do not create an
employment contract between the plaintiff and the defendant and,
because no employment contract existed, the plaintiff is presumed
to be an at-will employee. See, e.g., Adams v. George W.
Cochran & Co., Inc., 597 A.2d 28, 30 (D.C. 1991) (citations
omitted) (under District of Columbia law, it is a general rule
that "an employer may discharge an at-will employee at anytime
and for any reason, or no reason at all.").
In the District of Columbia, absent express language indicating
particular terms or a fixed duration of employment, an employment
relationship is presumed to be at-will. Carter,
180 F. Supp. 2d at 109 (citing Sisco v. GSA Nat'l Capital Fed. Credit Union,
689 A.2d 52, 53 (D.C. 1997); United States ex rel. Yesudian v.
Howard Univ., 153 F.3d 731, 745 (D.C. Cir. 1998)). In order to
rebut the presumption of at-will employment and proceed with a
cause of action for wrongful discharge under a breach of contract
theory, a plaintiff must provide evidence of clear contractual
intent on the part of both the employer and the employee. Choate
v. TRW, Inc., 14 F.3d 74, 76 (D.C. Cir. 1994); see also Minihan
v. Am. Pharm. Ass'n, 812 F.2d 726, 728 (D.C. Cir. 1987) (quoting Littell v. Evening Star Newspaper Co.,
120 F.2d 36, 37 (D.C. Cir. 1941) ("Contracting parties may rebut the
presumption of terminable-at-will employment only by `stating
clearly their intention to do so.'")); Taylor v. Wash. Metro.
Area Transit Auth., 922 F. Supp. 665, 674 (D.D.C. 1996). The
same is necessarily true with regard to other alterations of an
at-will employee's employment status.
Here, the plaintiff attempts to rebut this presumption by
offering his EAP Job Description as an employment contract. Pl.'s
Opp'n at 3-4. However, the job description is insufficient to
rebut the presumption because it fails to establish mutually
expressed contractual intent. Rather, the job description is
merely a list of job duties and benefits. Pl.'s Opp'n, Ex. 3. It
does not define the duration of employment, nor does it outline
the particular terms of the plaintiff's employment, including
whether the position was intended to be full-time or
part-time.*fn11 This lack of specificity is consistent with
at-will employment. See, e.g., Domen v. Nat'l Rehab. Hosp.,
Inc., 925 F. Supp. 830, 834 (D.D.C. 1996) (to demonstrate lack
of at-will employment a plaintiff must show that there is
"`evidence of a `clearly expressed' contractual intent on the
part of both the employer and the employee.'" (quoting Choate,
14 F.3d at 76)). Therefore, because the plaintiff has not
asserted facts that would establish that both parties intended a
relationship inconsistent with the presumption of at-will
employment, he is not entitled to redress pursuant to contract
law for the change in his employment status.*fn12 See
Wilson v. Prudential Fin., 332 F. Supp. 2d 83, 91 (D.C. Cir. 2004) (stating that "[t]o rebut the
at-will presumption, there must be a showing that `the parties
intended that the termination be subject to specific
preconditions'" (quoting Strass v. Kaiser Found. Health Plan of
Mid-Atl., 744 A.2d 1000, 1011 (D.C. Cir. 2000))); see also
Daisley v. Riggs Bank, N.A., 372 F. Supp. 2d 61, 69-70 (D.D.C.
2005) (stating that plaintiff had no remedy in contract law for
his termination because he failed to show that both parties
intended to alter the presumption of at-will employment).
Accordingly, the Court must grant the defendant's motion to
dismiss the plaintiff's breach of contract claim for failure to
state a claim upon which relief may be granted.
B. The Plaintiff's Age Discrimination Claim
The defendant also contends that the plaintiff's age
discrimination claim must be dismissed for failure to state a
claim upon which relief can be granted. Specifically, the
defendant opines that the plaintiff has fully litigated the
identical claim in earlier proceedings. Def.'s Mem. at 9-12. The
Court agrees. 28 U.S.C. § 1738 (2000) requires that federal
courts "give the same preclusive effect to state court judgments
that those judgments would be given in the courts of the State
from which the judgments emerged." Kremer v. Chem. Constr.
Corp., 456 U.S. 461, 466 (1982); Flynn v. 3900 Watson Place,
Inc., 63 F. Supp. 2d 18, 22 (D.D.C. 1990) Accordingly, this
Court looks to the District of Columbia law for guidance on the
question of claim preclusion. In the District of Columbia,
[u]nder the doctrine of res judicata, or claim
preclusion, "a prior judgment on the merits raises an
absolute bar to the relitigation of the same cause of
action between the original parties or those in
privity with them." The doctrine bars relitigation
"not only as to every ground of recovery or defense
actually presented in the action, but also as to
every ground which might have been presented. . . ."
Shin v. Portals Confederation Corp., 728 A.2d 615
, 618 (D.C.
1999) (internal citations omitted); see also Smith v.
Jenkins, 562 A.2d 610
, 613 (D.C. 1989). A party asserting that
res judicata bars relitigation of a claim must establish (1)
"that the prior decision on which [they base their] res
judicata claim was a decision on the merits" and (2) "that the
earlier litigation was based on the same cause of
Amos v. Shelton, 497 A.2d 1082
, 1084 (D.C.
1985) (citations omitted).
In this case, the claims raised before the EEOC, which appear
to also form the basis for the plaintiff's age discrimination
claim here, are identical to claims that the plaintiff had
previously raised before the District of Columbia Office of Human
Rights ("DCOHR"). Compare Compl., Ex. 3, with, Def.'s Mem.,
Ex. 4. And, the parties fully litigated these claims before the
DCOHR, and the plaintiff appealed the DCOHR's adverse ruling
against him.*fn14 Def.'s Mem., Ex. 5, Ex. 6, Ex. 7.
Specifically, the plaintiff advanced the claims he raises here
before the OHR, which issued an adverse ruling. Def.'s Mem., Ex.
5 at 00118. The plaintiff sought reconsideration of the OHR
decision, Def.'s Mem., Ex. 6 at 1, and he ultimately filed an
appeal with the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. Def.'s
Mem., Ex. 7. Although the District of Columbia Court of Appeals
did not have jurisdiction to hear the plaintiff's challenge, he
has nonetheless been afforded a full opportunity to litigate his
claims, which are identical to the claims raised here, Compl.,
Ex. 1 & 3, and he has received a final decision on the merits.
See, e.g., Shin, 728 A.2d at 618-19. Accordingly, the
plaintiff cannot now relitigate these claims here. Thus, the
plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be
granted, and his claim must be dismissed.*fn15
For the foregoing reasons, this Court concludes that the
plaintiff failed to state a claim upon which relief can be
granted. Accordingly, the Court grants the defendant's motions to
dismiss the plaintiff's complaint.
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