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Hicks v. Association of American Medical Colleges

May 31, 2007

DEMETRIUS HICKS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ASSOCIATION OF AMERICAN MEDICAL COLLEGES, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ellen Segal Huvelle United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Demetrius Hicks has brought suit against his former employer, the Association of American Medical Colleges ("AAMC"); Dr. Darrell G. Kirch, M.D., the President of AAMC; and Donna Whitlock Stewart, the Vice President and Director of Human Resources at AAMC. Plaintiff alleges that his termination was retaliatory in violation of the District of Columbia Minimum Wage Act, D.C. Code §§ 32-1001 to -1015("DCMWA") (Count I) and the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 201-219 ("FLSA") (Count II), and that defendants wrongfully discharged him in violation of public policy (Count III). Defendants have moved to dismiss all counts for failure to state claims upon which relief may be granted. As explained herein, the Court will grant defendants' motion and dismiss this case with prejudice.

BACKGROUND

According to the complaint, plaintiff began employment with AAMC, an association of medical schools, in May 2005. (Compl. ¶ 6.) In June 2006, AAMC converted some of its employees from salaried to hourly status, entitling them to overtime compensation for subsequent hours worked. (Id. ¶ 10.) AAMC also decided to provide limited retroactive overtime pay to some employees. (Id. ¶ 11.) Its human resources department, led by Donna Whitlock Stewart, asked employees to submit information detailing their entitlement to such payments. (Id. ¶ 14.)

Plaintiff forwarded to Stewart a list of weekend work performed by a co-worker, Eric James. (Id. ¶ 15.) Stewart replied that she did not trust the information, and that she would fire plaintiff if she could demonstrate that it was inaccurate. (Id. ¶ 16.) Plaintiff then provided Stewart with records indicating that James had in fact been in the AAMC building on particular weekends. (Id. ¶ 17.)

James eventually received the overtime pay. (Id. ¶ 19.) However, on July 27, 2006, plaintiff was terminated from his employment. (Id. ¶ 21.) Stewart told plaintiff that she had discovered two inaccuracies in his original job application. (Id. ¶¶ 21-22.) On August 1, 2006, plaintiff responded by writing a letter to Dr. Kirch expressing his concern that he had been terminated in retaliation for his attempts to help James secure overtime pay. (Id. ¶ 25.) Kirch acknowledged receipt of the letter, but he did not respond to its allegations. (Id. ¶ 26.)

Plaintiff filed suit in the District of Columbia Superior Court on December 27, 2006. Defendants removed the action to federal court on January 18, 2007. Defendants have now moved to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), raising essentially two issues: (1) whether plaintiff's furnishing of documentation in support of James' request for overtime pay is protected activity under the anti-retaliation provisions of the FLSA, 29 U.S.C. § 215(a)(3) and the DCMWA, D.C. Code § 32-1010(3), and (2) whether plaintiff has stated a common law claim for wrongful discharge. As the Court concludes that plaintiff has no viable claims, it need not address the alternative argument of Kirch and Stewart that they cannot be sued individually.

ANALYSIS

I. Standard of Review

As the Supreme Court recently held in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, (May 21, 2007), a complaint must be dismissed pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted if it does not plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 1974 (rejecting the traditional 12(b)(6) standard set forth in Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957)). The allegations in plaintiff's complaint are presumed true at this stage and all reasonable factual inferences must be construed in plaintiff's favor. Maljack Prods., Inc. v. Motion Picture Ass'n of Am., Inc., 52 F.3d 373, 375 (D.C. Cir. 1995). However, "the court need not accept inferences drawn by plaintiff if such inferences are unsupported by the facts set out in the complaint. Nor must the court accept legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations." Kowal v. MCI Commc'ns Corp., 16 F.3d 1271, 1276 (D.C. Cir. 1994). To survive a motion to dismiss, the factual allegations in the complaint "must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atl., 127 S.Ct. at 1965.

II. The Fair Labor Standards Act and the D.C. Minimum Wage Act

The FLSA and the DCMWA contain nearly identical anti-retaliation provisions.*fn1 At issue in this case is the language, common to both statutes, rendering it unlawful for an employer to discharge an employee because he has "filed any complaint" under or related to the statute. Given the similarity of the language, the two provisions are best understood as embodying a similar legal standard. See Calles v. BPA Eastern US, Inc., No. 91-2298, 1991 WL 274268, at *1 (D.D.C. Dec. 6, 1991) (unreported) (noting legislative history suggesting the DCMWA and the FLSA should be similarly construed).

In order to state a claim for retaliation under the FLSA, plaintiff must allege that his employer was aware that he was engaged in statutorily protected activity, that his employer took adverse action against him, and that there was a causal relationship between the two. Caryk v. Coupe, 663 F. Supp. 1243, 1253 (D.D.C. 1987). The threshold question is thus whether plaintiff was involved in statutorily protected activity -- whether he had "filed any complaint" -- when he sought to aid James in procuring retroactive overtime pay.

There is disagreement in the circuit courts about whether an informal or internal complaint qualifies as "any complaint" within the meaning of § 215(a)(3). The Courts of Appeals for the First, Third, Sixth, Eighth, Ninth, Tenth, and Eleventh Circuits have all concluded that such a complaint is protected activity. See Valerio v. Putnam Assocs., 173 F.3d 35, 44 (1st Cir. 1999) ("[T]he FLSA's anti-retaliation provision will protect an employee who has filed a sufficient complaint with an employer."); Brock v. Richardson, 812 F.2d 121, 127 (3d Cir. 1987) (employer's mistaken belief that employee had filed an external complaint grants employee statutory protection); EEOC v. Romeo Cmty. Sch., 976 F.2d 985, 989-90 (6th Cir. 1992) (telling an employer it may be "breaking some sort of law" is protected activity); Brennan v. Maxey's Yamaha, Inc., 513 F.2d 179, 180 (8th Cir. 1975) ("The Act prohibits discrimination against an employee who asserts or threatens to assert his or her FLSA rights."); Lambert v. Ackerley, 180 F.3d 997, 1004 (9th Cir. 1999) ("[I]t must protect employees who complain about violations to their employers, as well as employees who turn to the Labor Department or the courts for a remedy."); Love v. RE/MAX of Am., Inc., 738 F.2d 383, 387 (10th ...


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