MEMORANDUM OPINION DENYING THE DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT Re Document No.: 40
RUDOLPH CONTRERAS, District Judge.
The plaintiff is a former Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority ("WMATA") engineer who worked on projects with outside contractors. He alleges that Peter Kaputsos, an employee of one of these contractors, continually harassed, threatened, and maligned him with his superiors, engaging in defamation, and tortious interference with contract resulting in a constructive discharge. The plaintiff has brought this action against Mr. Kaputsos and his employer, ARINC, Inc. The defendants have filed a motion for summary judgment. Because a reasonable factfinder could conclude that Mr. Kaputsos sufficiently disparaged the plaintiff to cause him to be stripped of his duties, and that he thus intentionally procured a breach of his employment contract and caused his constructive discharge, the motion is denied as to the tortious interference and constructive discharge claim. Further, because the plaintiff was unaware, prior to 2010, of certain defamatory statements capable of causing special harm, such statements and the resulting defamation claim are not time-barred. Finally, because a reasonable factfinder could conclude that Mr. Kaputsos made statements that tended to injure the plaintiff in his trade or profession, the motion as to the defamation claim is denied.
II. FACTUAL & PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
The plaintiff began working for WMATA in 1999 as an independent contractor employed by Raytheon Company. Defs.' Stmt. of Mat. Facts ¶ 1. In 2003, he became a WMATA employee, as a construction engineer. Id. ¶ 2. His assignments included working on the Integrated Intercommunications System ("Intercom"), and on the Carrier Transportation and Fiber Optic System ("CTS/FOS"). Id. ¶ 3. Kaputsos and ARINC, Inc. were contractors or subcontractors who worked on these two WMATA contracts. Id. ¶ 4. On the Intercom project, ARINC, Inc. was a subcontractor to Ramex, who had a contract with WMATA. Id. ¶ 5. Some of the plaintiff's duties included monitoring contractors' activities. Id. ¶ 6; Pl.'s Opp'n at 6. Only the project manager or contracting officer, as opposed to the construction engineer, was authorized to make changes to contracts on behalf of WMATA. Id. ¶ 9. The plaintiff's direct supervisor was the project manager, Mr. Sarj Akhund, and his second-level supervisor was Mr. Beck Pak, the senior project manager of systems. Id. ¶ 11. Mr. Akhund indicated to Mr. Pak that the plaintiff would occasionally agree to one thing and then later take a different position. Id. ¶ 23. Mr. Akhund also told Mr. Pak that the plaintiff was causing problems on more than one project by making decisions outside of his authority, which Mr. Pak discussed with the plaintiff. Id. ¶ 24.
Mr. Kaputsos worked on the CTS/FOS contract and carry-on, the Intercom contract, and on the Remote Terminal Unit ("RTU") replacement, all of which were contracts with WMATA. Id. ¶ 32. His duties as project manager on these contracts included interfacing with the WMATA project manager, managing his staff, and in-house reporting to his management. Id. ¶ 33. For the Intercom project, he also had to report to Ramex. Id. ¶ 34. For the RTU project, he was the manager overseeing his employer's project managers, such that these project managers who worked with WMATA were under his direct supervision. Id. ¶ 35. When he worked on some contracts, including the CTS/FOS contract, it was his job to communicate with Mr. Akhund. Id. ¶ 36. If issues arose regarding the scope of the plaintiff's exercise of authority on a contract, Mr. Kaputsos was responsible for communicating these issues to the plaintiff's supervisor at WMATA. Id. ¶ 37. WMATA expected its contractors' project managers, such as Mr. Kaputsos, to communicate such concerns to it. Id. ¶ 38.
The plaintiff was a conduit for information on serious issues involving these projects, and was responsible for passing information to the project manager for decisions. Id. ¶ 41. On the CTS/FOS contract, Mr. Akhund was designated as the WMATA point of contact, with the authority to make changes. Id. ¶ 50. The plaintiff claims that Mr. Kaputsos continually threatened, harassed, and disparaged him to the plaintiff's superiors. Am. Compl. ¶ 9. The plaintiff further claims that he was thereafter removed from email correspondence and meeting lists-essentially removed altogether-from several of the projects in which he was directly involved. Id. ¶ 11. Ultimately, the plaintiff claims that the harassment made him sick, forcing him to take leave, and resulting in a constructive discharge. Id. ¶¶ 25, 28.
The plaintiff has filed this action alleging that Mr. Kaputsos repeatedly threatened and harassed him, and that he made negative comments about the plaintiff to the plaintiff's superiors. The plaintiff claims that Mr. Kaputsos engaged in tortious interference with the plaintiff's employment contract and defamation. The defendants have filed a motion for summary judgment. The court now turns to the parties' arguments and the applicable legal standards.
A. Legal Standard for a Rule 56 Motion for Summary Judgment
Summary judgment may be granted when "the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(a). A fact is "material" if it is capable of affecting the substantive outcome of the litigation. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute is "genuine" if sufficient evidence exists such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. See Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007).
The principal purpose of summary judgment is to streamline litigation by disposing of factually unsupported claims or defenses and determining whether there is a genuine need for trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986). The moving party bears the initial responsibility of identifying those portions of the record which demonstrate the absence of any genuine issue of material fact. Id. at 323; FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c)(1)(A) (noting that the movant may cite to "depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, ... admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials"). In response, the non-moving party must similarly designate specific facts in the record that reveal a genuine issue that is suitable for trial. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. On a motion for summary judgment, the court must "eschew making credibility determinations or weighing the evidence, " Czekalski v. Peters, 475 F.3d 360, 363 (D.C. Cir. 2007), and all underlying facts and inferences must be analyzed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. Nevertheless, conclusory assertions offered without any evidentiary support do not establish a genuine issue for trial. Greene v. Dalton, 164 F.3d 671, 675 (D.C. Cir. 1999).
B. The Plaintiff's Tortious Interference and Constructive Discharge Claim
According to the defendants, there is no merit to the plaintiff's claim that Mr. Kaputsos tortiously interfered with the plaintiff's employment contract and caused him to be constructively discharged. Defs.' MSJ at 6. The defendants state there is no indication that the plaintiff's employment agreement was breached, or that Mr. Kaputsos caused him to change his relationship with WMATA. Id. The defendants contend that instead of being ...