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Peterson v. AT&T Mobility Servs., LLC

United States District Court, D. Columbia

September 28, 2015

JOHN M. PETERSON, Plaintiff,

Page 113

          For JOHN M. PETERSON, Plaintiff: Patrick Guy Merkle, LEAD ATTORNEY, LAW OFFICES OF PATRICK G. MERKLE, PLLC, Washington, DC.

         For AT& T MOBILITY SERVICES, LLC, Defendant: Ethan Daniel Balsam, Alison N. Davis, LITTLER MENDELSON, P.C., Washington, DC.

Page 114


         BERYL A. HOWELL, United States District Judge.

         The 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.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The 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.[1] The plaintiff excelled in this position

Page 115

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.

         The 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.

         In 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.

         When 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

Page 116

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.

         As a 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. ¶ ¶ 24-26.

         Following 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. ¶ 54.

         More 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.


         Federal 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" ...

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