United States District Court, D. Columbia
JOHN M. PETERSON, Plaintiff,
AT& T MOBILITY SERVICES, LLC, Defendant
JOHN M. PETERSON, Plaintiff: Patrick Guy Merkle, LEAD
ATTORNEY, LAW OFFICES OF PATRICK G. MERKLE, PLLC, Washington,
T MOBILITY SERVICES, LLC, Defendant: Ethan Daniel Balsam,
Alison N. Davis, LITTLER MENDELSON, P.C., Washington, DC.
A. HOWELL, United States District Judge.
plaintiff, John Peterson, filed this lawsuit against his
former employer AT& T Mobility Services, LLC (" AT&
T" ), claiming breach of contract and wrongful
termination stemming from his termination, on October 6,
2010, for violating an internal company policy requiring the
prompt reporting of certain driving infractions. See
Compl. ¶ 22, ECF No. 1. After six months of discovery,
see Minute Order, dated April 25, 2014, AT& T filed
the pending motions for summary judgment and for sanctions,
see Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. & Sanctions ("
Def.'s Mot." ), ECF No. 11. For the reasons
discussed below, AT& T's motion for summary judgment is
granted but the motion for sanctions is denied.
plaintiff, a resident of Maryland, began working for AT& T in
October 2004 in an hourly position covered by a collective
bargaining agreement, which called for graduated disciplinary
measures prior to termination. Def.'s Statement of
Undisputed Facts (" Def.'s SMF" ) ¶ 3;
Compl. ¶ 2. The plaintiff excelled in this
and, after about three years, was promoted to a salaried
managerial position, not covered by any collective bargaining
agreement, in the Fall of 2007. Def.'s SMF ¶ 4; Aff.
of John M. Peterson (January 22, 2015) (" Pl.'s
Aff." ) ¶ ¶ 4, 11, ECF No. 22-1. Indeed, the
plaintiff admits that upon his " promot[ion] to a
management position . . . he resigned from the union,"
Compl. ¶ 11, and " was aware that [he] would no
longer be part of the union because [he] was no longer in
retail and [he] wasn't hourly," Pl.'s Aff.
¶ 12. The plaintiff " clearly remember[s],"
however, that when he was promoted to this position in 2007,
his manager at the time assured him that graduated
disciplinary measures still applied. Id. (" I
clearly remember [my supervisor at the time] saying that the
same sort of graduated response for discipline--verbal
warning, written warning and final written discharge--applied
to the new job." ); Compl. ¶ 14. AT& T disputes
whether any such assurance was given, citing a portion of the
plaintiff's own deposition testimony, in which the
plaintiff responded " yes" to a question asking
whether " the entire conversation" with the manager
was how the plaintiff would " no longer have union
rights" in the new managerial position. Decl. of Alison
N. Davis, Esq. (" Davis Decl." ) Ex. 2 (" Pl.
Dep." ) 186:15-187:18 (" Q: So that initial
conversation was here is the position I'm offering you.
In order to get this position you have to get rid of
your--you will no longer have union rights? A: Now that is
what I have been trying to say for about two hours now is
that-- . . . Q: So that was the entire conversation? A:
Yes." ), ECF No. 11-3.
plaintiff switched jobs two more times and obtained, in
October 2009, the position of National Retail Account
Executive, which he held at the time of his termination.
Def.'s SMF ¶ ¶ 5, 7; Pl.'s Aff. ¶ 26.
In this position, the plaintiff's team was headquartered
in AT& T's Maryland office but his sales territory was in
Northern Virginia. Def.'s SMF ¶ 9; Pl.'s Aff.
¶ 27. As part of the plaintiff's job, he was
required to drive his own vehicle to visit wireless sales
personnel at national retail chains from the Pentagon to
Leesburg, Virginia, requiring travel, on average, of 250
miles per week. Def.'s SMF ¶ ¶ 8-9, 19;
Pl.'s Dep. 44:3-24. According to the plaintiff, he had
difficulties in his relationship with his immediate
supervisor. See Pl.'s Aff. ¶ ¶ 35-40.
August 2010, while his supervisor was on leave, the plaintiff
made an off-hand remark to his acting supervisor about his
poor driving record, which included two speeding citations
while he was on personal time in the prior year and a half.
Def's SMF ¶ ¶ 20, 22; Pl.'s Aff. ¶ 45.
advised of the plaintiff's remark, his supervisor
initiated an internal investigation into whether the
plaintiff had violated company policy, reflected in AT&
T's Code of Business Conduct, that all employees "
regardless of their job duties" were required to report
" any driving-related offense that involves
intoxication," and that employees " whose job
involves operation of a company-owned" or leased vehicle
" must also report [a]ll tickets, citations,
arrests, charges, convictions, guilty pleas . . . for any
driving-related offense other than parking tickets, equipment
violations or other non-moving violations." Davis Decl.
Ex. 4 (" AT& T Code of Business Conduct" ) at 6,
ECF No. 11-3 (emphasis in original); Def.'s SMF ¶
¶ 16, 23; Pl.'s Dep. 190:3-10; 213:4-7. Examination
of the plaintiff's driving record revealed driving
offenses that occurred on December 17, 2008, for failure to
obey a highway sign and an expired registration; on February
24, 2009, for speeding 20 MPH or above, for which he was
referred by the court to a mandatory driver improvement
program; and an arrest, on June 5, 2010, for reckless
driving, for which he was ultimately convicted on October 8,
2010, after AT& T had already terminated him. Davis Decl. Ex.
5 (" Pl.'s Driving Record" ), ECF No. 11-3;
Pl.'s Aff. ¶ 45.
result of this investigation, the plaintiff was terminated
for cause on October 6, 2010, without any prior verbal or
written warnings. Def.'s SMF ¶ 24; Compl. ¶
his termination, AT& T challenged the plaintiff's
unemployment benefits because he was terminated for cause.
Pl.'s Aff. ¶ 57. On November 10, 2011, the plaintiff
was ultimately awarded these unemployment benefits because
AT& T could not show that the plaintiff committed misconduct
connected with work under applicable Maryland law. Pl.'s
Aff. Ex. 2 (" Order, dated November 10, 2011, Circuit
Ct. for Prince George's Cty., Md." ) 6:17-21, ECF
No. 22-1. The plaintiff alleges that, in addition, AT& T
" blackball[ed]" him by labeling him "
Non-Rehirable," which has adversely affected his ability
to find a comparable job within the industry. Pl.'s Aff.
than three years after his termination, the plaintiff
initiated this lawsuit in the Superior Court of the District
of Columbia, and AT& T removed the lawsuit to this Court on
the basis of diversity jurisdiction, pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 1332. Now, after ample time for discovery, AT& T has
moved for summary judgment and for sanctions.
Rule of Civil Procedure 56 provides that summary judgment
shall be granted " if 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). Summary judgment is properly granted against a party
who, " after adequate time for discovery and upon
motion, . . . 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, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). The moving
party bears the burden to demonstrate the " absence of a
genuine issue of material fact" in dispute, id.
at 323, while the nonmoving party must present specific facts
supported by materials in the record that would be admissible
at trial and that could enable a reasonable jury to find in
its favor, seeAnderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc. (" Liberty Lobby " ), 477 U.S.
242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986); Allen v.
Johnson, 795 F.3d 34, 38 (D.C. Cir. 2015) (noting that,
on summary judgment, the appropriate inquiry is "
whether, on the evidence so viewed, a reasonable jury could
return a verdict for the nonmoving party" ...