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Trayon Robinson v. Securitas Services

October 18, 2011

TRAYON ROBINSON,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
SECURITAS SERVICES, INC.,
DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: James E. Boasberg United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff Trayon Robinson was employed as a security guard by Defendant Securitas Services, Inc. After being terminated in October 2010, she filed this suit asserting causes of action for wrongful termination, breach of contract, and defamation. In now moving to dismiss the Complaint, Defendant correctly argues that Plaintiff cannot invoke the public-policy exception to the doctrine that bars at-will employees from suing for wrongful discharge. As her other claims are similarly infirm, the Court will grant Defendant's Motion.

I.Background

According to Plaintiff's Amended Complaint, which must be presumed true for purposes of this Motion, she worked for Securitas as a security guard assigned to the District of Columbia Public Schools. Compl. at 1-2. At some point during her employment, she "complained to management about the lack of proper training she received, the absence of defensive equipment, [the] shortage of personnel," and other issues. Id. at 3. On Oct. 7, 2010, while assigned to Ballou High School, she was involved in a struggle while apprehending a student the Metropolitan Police Department was seeking to arrest. Id. at 3-4. During the struggle, the MPD officer was injured, and Plaintiff was held responsible. Id. at 4. Securitas accused her of violating its training and policies and, consequently, terminated her on Oct. 14. She claims that any failures on her part may be ascribed to the lack of training that Defendant provided her. Id. at 5.

She filed this suit in the D.C. Superior Court on Jan. 11, 2011, from where it was subsequently removed to this Court. Following Plaintiff's filing of an Amended Complaint, Defendant moved to dismiss the case or, in the alternative, for summary judgment on Count II. In dismissing the case, the Court need not convert the Motion into one for summary judgment under Fed. R. Civ. P. 56.*fn1

II.Legal Standard

Rule 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of an action where a complaint fails "to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." When the sufficiency of a complaint is challenged under Rule 12(b)(6), the factual allegations presented in it must be presumed true and should be liberally construed in plaintiff's favor. Leatherman v. Tarrant Cty. Narcotics & Coordination Unit, 507 U.S. 163, 164 (1993). The notice pleading rules are "not meant to impose a great burden on a plaintiff," Dura Pharm., Inc. v. Broudo, 544 U.S. 336, 347 (2005), and he or she must thus be given every favorable inference that may be drawn from the allegations of fact. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 584 (2007). Although "detailed factual allegations" are not necessary to withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (internal quotation omitted). Plaintiff must put forth "factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. Though a plaintiff may survive a 12(b)(6) motion even if "recovery is very remote and unlikely," Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citing Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)), the facts alleged in the complaint "must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id. at 555.

III.Analysis

A. Wrongful Termination

Plaintiff's central claim here is that she was wrongfully terminated from her employment with Securitas. At no point does Plaintiff assert that she was anything other than an at-will employee, and her Opposition appears to concede that was her status. See Opp. at 2. As Defendant rightly explains, however, being an at-will employee does not necessarily doom Plaintiff's case. See Mot. at 4. The general law "in the District of Columbia [is] 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) (citations omitted). In Adams, the D.C. Court of Appeals held that "there is a very narrow exception to the at-will doctrine under which a discharged at-will employee may sue his or her former employer for wrongful discharge 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 DCCA then expanded this exception six years later in its en banc decision in Carl v. Children's Hospital, 702 A.2d 159 (D.C. 1997). The plaintiff in Carl was a nurse who was terminated after she testified in the City Council against the hospital's interests and also as an expert witness for plaintiffs in malpractice cases. Id. at 160. The majority of the DCCA -- as constituted by those joining Judge Terry's concurrence and Judge Steadman's dissent -- held that Adams's exception was not the only possible one, but that "the recognition of any such [future public-policy] exception must be firmly anchored either in the Constitution or in a statute or regulation which clearly reflects the particular 'public policy' being relied upon." Id. at 162 (Terry, J., concurring). In addition, "[t]his court should consider seriously only those arguments that reflect a clear mandate of public policy- i.e., those that make a clear showing, based on some identifiable policy that has been 'officially declared' in a statute or municipal regulation, or in the Constitution, that a new exception is needed. Furthermore, there must be a close fit between the policy thus declared and the conduct at issue in the allegedly wrongful termination." Id. at 164 (Terry, J., concurring) (footnotes omitted).

Plaintiff argues that "she spoke out on an issue of public policy and was terminated for doing so." Opp. at 3. This, she believes, places her within Carl's umbrella. Despite Carl's expansion of the public-policy exception, Plaintiff may not benefit from its protection for two independent reasons. First, there is no causal link between any allegedly protected activity and her termination. Second, even if such link existed, Plaintiff has not articulated the particular public policy that would apply here.

1. No Causal Link

A close examination of Plaintiff's actual allegations reveals that she was not terminated for any protected activity. She initially asserts that she "complained to management about the lack of proper training she received, the absence of defensive equipment, [the] shortage of personnel, and how the lack of communications equipment necessary for her to perform her security officer functions impacted safety at the school to which she was assigned." Compl. at 3. She "also complained to management about the failure [of Defendant] to pay her a full salary for a full week[']s work." Id. She then describes the incident at Ballou and that "the specific allegations . . . levied [against her] . . . [were that she] did not conduct the wand check in accordance with her training . . .[that] she only checked the front ...


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