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Peck v. Selex Systems Integration, Inc.

United States District Court, District of Columbia

September 8, 2017

RONALD E. PECK, Plaintiff,
v.
SELEX SYSTEMS INTEGRATION, INC. et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION [Dkts. ## 65, 66, 67]

          RICHARD J. LEON, United States District Judge

         Ronald Peck ("plaintiff or "Peck") has sued SELEX Systems Integration, Inc. ("Selex") and SELEX Sistemi Integrati, Inc. Key Employee Deferred Compensation Plan (the "Plan") for benefits and compensation that he alleges he accrued during his employment as an executive for Selex. Counts I and III allege state law breach of contract claims seeking severance pay and relocation expenses, whereas Count II seeks deferred compensation benefits from the Plan under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA"). Am. Compl. [Dkt. # 33]. In March 2016, I granted summary judgment to the defendants on Count II of the Amended Complaint. See 03/24/16 Mem. Op. and Order [Dkts. ## 52, 53].

         In June 2017, I held a bench trial and heard oral arguments on Counts I and III of the Amended Complaint. After the trial, the parties presented proposed findings of facts and conclusions of law on Counts I and III. [Dkts. # 66, 67] In July, plaintiff moved the Court to reconsider its March 2016 decision granting summary judgment to the defendants on Count II. [Dkt. # 65] Upon careful consideration of the record, the proposed findings of fact, and the plaintiffs motion to reconsider, I find that Mr. Peck is not entitled to severance pay under the terms of his at-will employment agreement, but is entitled to the closing costs from the sale of his home under the relocation agreement he entered with Selex. As a result, I will enter judgment for Selex on Count I and judgment for plaintiff on Count III. In addition, I find that plaintiff has not met the burden of showing that justice requires me to reconsider my earlier judgment for defendants on Count II and will therefore DENY his Motion for Reconsideration of Count II.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Defendant Selex is a company based in Overland Park, Kansas, that manufactures aviation navigation, landing, and surveillance systems. 03/24/16 Mem. Op. at 2; 06/02/17 Trial Tr. at 43:15-25 [Dkt. # 62]. Plaintiff Ronald Peck is an engineer who worked for Selex in both its Kansas and Washington, D.C. offices from 1997 until 2012. 03/24/16 Mem. Op. at 2; 06/01/17 Trial Tr. at 64:13-17, 94:21-95:5 [Dkt. # 61]. In September 2012, Selex terminated Peck, Selex's then-Vice President of Business Development, after he declined to return to the Overland Park, Kansas office to serve as the Vice President of Quality Control and Business Improvement. Pl's Trial Ex. 18, 10/01/12 Letter from Selex to Peck ("Termination Letter").

         After his termination, Peck sued Selex for benefits he alleges he accrued during his employment. In the operative Amended Complaint he filed in this Court, Peck seeks:

         (1) nine months of severance pay totaling $151, 549 he claims he was entitled to under the company's severance policy; (2) $57, 020 in deferred compensation he claims he accrued under the company's "top hat" deferred compensation plan, and to which he claims he is entitled under ERISA; and (3) a sales commission of $25, 195 paid on the sale of his Overland Park, Kansas home. As mentioned above, I already granted summary judgment to defendants on Peck's claim for deferred compensation under ERISA, on the grounds that the committee tasked with administering the deferred compensation plan reasonably construed the plan's terms when it determined that he had been terminated for cause. See 03/24/16 Mem. Op. at 9-12.

         On June 1 and 2, 1 held a bench trial where I heard evidence and testimony from the parties on Counts I and III of the Amended Complaint. In addition to Mr. Peck himself, I heard witness testimony from Gary Stevens, Selex Chief Financial Officer, and Mike Warner, Selex Chief Executive Officer at the time of Peck's termination. I heard closing arguments on June 5 and received proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law on July 11. On July 11, the plaintiff also submitted his motion to reconsider Count II of the Amended Complaint.

         II. FINDINGS OF FACT

         After carefully considering the record and the parties' proposed findings of fact, I find that the following facts have been established by a preponderance of the evidence.

         SELEX Systems Integration, Inc. is a company with headquarters in Overland Park, Kansas, that manufactures aviation navigation, landing, and surveillance systems. 06/02/17 Trial Tr. at 43:15-25, 44:18-20. Plaintiff Peck worked at Selex from April 1997 until September 2012. 06/01/17 Trial Tr. at 65:7-8, 85:14-20.

         In March 2008, Peck became Selex's Vice President of Business Development, where he was responsible for Selex's efforts to expand its market in the United States. Id. at 65:20-23, 66:22-67:3. As part of those efforts, Selex opened a Washington, D.C. office in August 2010 to ensure that Selex employees would be closer to the Federal Aviation Administration and other potential clients in the U.S. market. Id. at 67:6-17, 68:1-2. At that time, Peck formally transferred his work to the Washington, D.C. office from the Kansas office. Pl.'s Trial Ex. 11, Peck Change of Status Form. From August 2010 until October 2011, Peck commuted from Kansas to the Washington office on a weekly basis. 06/01/17 Trial Tr. at 96:22-97:8.

         A. February 2012 Relocation Agreement

         In October 2011, Peck and his wife moved to the Washington, D.C. area, and they signed a lease for an Alexandria townhome in December 2011. Id. at ...


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