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Williams v. Chugach Alaska Corp.

United States District Court, District of Columbia

September 28, 2016



          BERYL A. HOWELL, Chief Judge

         The plaintiff, Theresa Williams, brought a Complaint against the defendant, Chugach Alaska Corporation, alleging common law wrongful termination of her employment and infliction of emotional distress.[1] Compl. ¶¶ 23-24, ECF No. 5-1. Pending before the Court is the defendant's Motion to Dismiss the Complaint (“Def.'s Mot.”), ECF No. 7, and the plaintiff's Motion to Amend Complaint and Opposition to Defendant's Motion to Dismiss the Complaint (“Pl.'s Mot. Amend.”), ECF No. 10. For the reasons set forth below, the defendant's motion is granted and, because the proposed amendment would be futile, the plaintiff's motion is denied.[2]

         I. BACKGROUND

         The following facts, taken from the Complaint and the Proposed Amended Complaint, ECF No. 10-1, will be assumed as true for purposes of the pending motions. The Proposed Amended Complaint asserts only a single claim for wrongful termination, bolstered by new factual allegations, Proposed Am. Compl. ¶¶ 4-13, omits certain facts contained in the original Complaint, and drops the plaintiff's original claim for infliction of emotional distress. To aid in resolving both the defendant's motion to dismiss and the plaintiff's motion for leave to file an amended complaint, the factual allegations supporting both filings are set out below.

         The plaintiff was an employee at the Potomac Job Corps Center (“PJCC”), from December 2008 until her termination on October 3, 2014. Compl. ¶ 5. The defendant began operating the PJCC, pursuant to a contract with the Department of Labor (“DOL”), in May 2011, and employed plaintiff as a “Recreation Manager” until her termination. Id. ¶ 5. The Proposed Amended Complaint describes two incidents.

         The first incident allegedly occurred in August 2014, when the plaintiff and Fred Rowe, who was the Community Living Director and the plaintiff's supervisor, found themselves at loggerheads about a matter involving use of funds. Specifically, PJCC was “planning to celebrate 50 years of service.” Proposed Am. Compl. ¶ 5. Rowe instructed the plaintiff to contact a graphic designer to design banners to mark the occasion and to order the banners by August 25, 2014. Id. ¶ 6. The plaintiff contracted with FedEx to produce the banners at a cost of approximately $1060.00. Id. ¶ 7. Rowe approved the amount and paid for the banners from the funds allocated for the plaintiff's recreation activities. Id. ¶ 8.

         The plaintiff objected to this use of funds on the ground that PJCC was not permitted to “transfer funds from one budget . . . category to another without getting approval from the DOL Regional Office, ” and that the PJCC had not obtained that approval. Id. ¶¶ 9-10. According to the plaintiff, the “PJC[C], pursuant to OBM [sic] Circular 136, is restricted as it relates to illegal transfers between line items, ” and that “[n]o funds can be removed from one line item (department) without the permission of the regional Job Corps Office.” Id. ¶¶ 12-13. Nonetheless, the plaintiff alleges that she was ordered by Rowe, along with Roxanne Chin, PJCC's Director, to “expend recreation resources for the 50th Anniversary banners.” Id. ¶¶ 5, 10.

         The second incident related to the plaintiff's duty at PJCC to arrange monthly “incentive activit[ies], ” such as lunches, dinners, laser tag, or movies, for student volunteers who helped in cleaning the recreation center. Compl. ¶¶ 9-10; Proposed Am. Compl. ¶¶ 15-16. According to the plaintiff, this was “a practice for the last four years.” Compl. ¶ 9; Proposed Am. Compl. ¶ 15. To arrange payment for these incentive activities, the plaintiff submitted purchase orders to Deepa Gorge, Administrative Assistant to Rowe, whose approval was required for each purchase order she submitted. Compl. ¶ 8; Proposed Am. Compl. ¶ 14.

         “[W]eeks prior” to September's incentive activity, which was dinner at the Cheesecake Factory, the plaintiff submitted a purchase order to Gorge. Compl. ¶ 11; Proposed Am. Compl. ¶ 17. In addition “an email was forwarded” to Rowe, and he approved the activity. Compl. ¶ 12; Proposed Am. Compl. ¶ 18. On September 12, 2014, the students were informed of the dinner, and the plaintiff requested the funds for the dinner from Gorge. Compl. ¶ 13; Proposed Am. Compl. ¶ 19. At that time, Gorge “shared that she had forgotten to complete the purchase order for the funds.” Compl. ¶ 13; Proposed Am. Compl. ¶ 19 (stating “the purchase order for the funds were never completed”). The plaintiff explains she “was disturbed, ” noting that the cafeteria was closed and thus the students would have no food unless the plaintiff purchased it for them, and “because of policy, she would not be reimbursed.” Compl. ¶ 14; Proposed Am. Compl. ¶ 20.

         The plaintiff subsequently discussed the situation with Rowe in his office. Compl. ¶¶ 15-16; Proposed Am. Compl. ¶ 22 (plaintiff “protested against the lack of funds”). During this conversation, which took place before two other people, Rowe “used the word ‘Hell' and hit the desk with his fist.” Compl. ¶¶ 15-16. He accused the plaintiff of “ordering food without permission.” Id. ¶ 16. While walking out of Rowe's office, and not in the presence of Rowe, the plaintiff, “to herself, said this is some ‘BS.'” Id. ¶ 17. Sometime later, in response to a question by Grace Jibril, Human Resources Manager, the plaintiff denied that she had “curse[d] at her supervisor, ” and Rowe agreed that “no profanity had been used.” Id. ¶¶ 19-20. Nevertheless, the plaintiff was put on administrative leave for three weeks starting on September 15, 2014, and was subsequently terminated on October 3, 2014, on the ground that she had violated Chugach Alaska Corporation Policies and Procedures, Policy B-2, Section: 6. Id. ¶¶ 21-22.[3]

         Thirteen months after her termination, the plaintiff filed a complaint, on November 20, 2015, against the defendant in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, alleging wrongful termination and emotional distress on the basis of the reimbursement incident. Id. at 1, ¶ 23-24. After removing the case to this Court, Notice of Removal, ECF No. 1, the defendant moved to dismiss the complaint, Def.'s Mot. As part of her opposition to dismissal, the plaintiff moved to amend her original complaint, Pl.'s Mot. Amend., which motion the defendant opposes as futile. Def.'s Mem. Opp'n Pl.'s Mot. Am. Compl. (“Def.'s Opp'n”) at 2-3, 5, ECF No. 11. The defendant's motion to dismiss and the plaintiff's motion to amend are now ripe for consideration.



         To survive a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the “complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Wood v. Moss, 134 S.Ct. 2056, 2067 (2014) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). A claim is facially plausible when the plaintiff pleads factual content that is more than “‘merely consistent with' a defendant's liability, ” but “allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556-57 (2007)); see also Rudder v. Williams, 666 F.3d 790, 794 (D.C. Cir. 2012). Although “detailed factual allegations” are not required to withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a complaint must offer “more than labels and conclusions” or a “formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action” to provide “grounds” of “entitle[ment] to relief, ” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, and ...

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