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Krakat v. Brooks Range Contract Services

August 12, 2008

ROBERT KRAKAT AND DONALD KRAKAT, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
BROOKS RANGE CONTRACT SERVICES, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Royce C. Lamberth, Chief Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

I. BACKGROUND

Beginning in 1973 and 2005, respectively, Plaintiffs Robert and Donald Krakat were employed at the Armed Forces' Retirement Home (the "Home"), located in the District of Columbia. (Comp. ¶¶ 3-4.) In 2005, defendant Brooks Range Contract Services, Inc. ("Brooks Range") was awarded the contract to manage the facility. Shortly thereafter, Brooks Range hired the Krakats to continue working at the Home. (Comp. ¶¶ 4-5.) During their period of employment, the plaintiffs were supervised by Kevin Heffern, defendant's Project Manager for the Home. (Comp. ¶ 6.) The Krakats do not dispute that they were at-will employees.

In their complaint the plaintiffs allege numerous improprieties in the manner in which the Home was operated by Brooks Range under Heffern. (See Comp. ¶¶ 8-12.) Plaintiffs further allege that Robert Krakat reported such improprieties to various employees of Brooks Range in November or December of 2005 (Comp. ¶ 14), and to various officials responsible for overseeing Brooks Range's contract to operate the Home on February 17, 2006 (Comp. ¶ 16). According to plaintiffs, on February 21, 2006 they were suspended "pending an investigation into theft alleged [against them] by Heffern and [Brooks Range]." (Comp. ¶ 17.) On February 23, 2008, the Krakats were fired. (Comp. ¶ 23.)

The Krakats assert they were fired in retaliation for "refusal to knowingly participate in the alleged fraudulent activity" undertaken by Brooks Range at the Home. (Comp. ¶¶ 31, 42.) This assertion forms the basis of their wrongful termination claims in Counts I and III of the complaint. Brooks Range denies that the Krakats were terminated because of any allegations of theft, but instead "as a result of their ongoing poor performance issues." (Def.'s Mem. 9.)

In Counts II and IV, plaintiffs each allege they were victims of "[d]efamation, [s]lander and [l]ibel" at the hands of Brooks Range. (Comp. 6, 8.)

II. DISCUSSION

A. Legal Standard

A motion for summary judgment can only be granted if the record shows that "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). A moving party is "entitled to judgment as a matter of law" against "a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). "Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment. Factual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary will not be counted."

Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

There is a genuine issue as to a material fact "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id. "If factual issues can 'reasonably be resolved in favor of either party,' there is a need for a trial." Dunaway v. International Broth. of Teamsters,310 F.3d 758, 761 (D.C. Cir. 2002) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250). For this reason, the court "should review all of the evidence in the record." Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000). In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and according that party the benefit of all reasonable inferences. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255 (citing Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 158-59 (1970)). "However, the court need not accept inferences drawn by plaintiffs 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 Communications Corp., 16 F.3d 1271, 1276 (D.C. Cir. 1994).

B. Plaintiffs' Wrongful Termination Claims

"It has long been settled in the District of Columbia that an employer may discharge an at-will employee at any time and for any reason, or for no reason at all." Adams v. George W. Cochran & Co., Inc., 597 A.2d 28, 30 (D.C. 1991). A "very narrow" exception to the at-will doctrine exists "when the sole reason for the discharge is the employee's refusal to violate the law, as expressed in a statute or municipal regulation." Id. at 34. The so-called "Adams exception" requires "an outright refusal to violate a specific law, with the employer putting the employee to the choice of breaking the law or losing his job." Thigpen v. Greenpeace, Inc., 657 A.2d 770, 771 (D.C. 1995). Plaintiff must prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that this outright refusal was the "sole reason" for his dismissal. Adams, 597 A.2d at 34.

As in the present case, in Thigpen the plaintiff claiming wrongful termination from at-will employment had the burden of demonstrating his allegedly wrongful termination fell within the Adams exception. The plaintiff, a payroll clerk, believed his employer was in violation of the District of Columbia's minimum wage law and reported this to his superiors and to the District's Wage and Hour Office. Thigpen, 657 A.2d at 770. Several months later the plaintiff was "discharged by [his employer] assertedly due to downsizing but in fact, the complaint alleged, for refusing ...


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