United States District Court, District of Columbia
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Mehta, United States District Judge.
after a heated argument with a colleague, Plaintiff Olivier
Kambala wa Kambala was fired from his position with Defendant
Checchi and Company Consulting, Inc., a consulting firm based
in Washington, D.C., that performs international development
work. Defendant retained Plaintiff to play a key role in
administering a contract that the United States Agency for
International Development awarded to Defendant to implement a
project in Mali. Plaintiff is a citizen of Congo and worked
exclusively in Mali.
alleges that Defendant fired him because of his race and
national origin, in violation of federal and District of
Columbia law, and that his termination breached the terms of
his employment. In addition, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant
defamed him by telling foreign government officials and
non-profit workers that Plaintiff was fired because he
assaulted a superior. Defendant seeks judgment on the
pleadings on these claims. For the reasons that follow,
Defendant's partial motion for judgment on the pleadings
is granted in part and denied in part.
Terms of Plaintiffs Employment
case originates out of a contract awarded to Defendant
Checchi and Company Consulting, Inc., to administer a project
for the United States Agency for International Development
("USAID") in Mali, known as the Mali Justice
Project ("Project"). See Second Am.
Compl., ECF No. 20 [hereinafter Second Am. Compl.],
¶¶ III, XI; Def.'s Answer, ECF No. 21
[hereinafter Answer], ¶ III. The terms of
Defendant's contract with USAID are contained in a
"Task Order" signed by Checchi Vice President James
L. Agee and a USAID representative. See Second Am.
Compl. ¶XI; Second Am. Compl., Ex. 1, ECF No. 20-1
[hereinafter Pl.'s Exs.], at 7-8.Under the terms of the Task
Order, the Mali Justice Project was to commence on December
8, 2015, and run for three to five years. Pl.'s Exs. at
7; see Second Am. Compl. ¶ XVIII n.3.
around December 2015, Defendant hired Plaintiff Oliver
Kambala wa Kambala, a citizen of Congo who is black, to help
run the Project. Second Am. Compl. ¶¶ I, III,
XXXI(c); see Pl.'s Exs. at 1-7. The parties
entered into a written "Employment Agreement, "
dated December 11, 2015, that memorializes the terms of
Plaintiff's employment. Pl.'s Exs. at 1. Signed by
Plaintiff and Agee, the Employment Agreement assigned
Plaintiff the position of "Deputy Chief of
Party/Component 2 Leader" for a term of one year,
beginning January 4, 2016, although the contract could be
extended by mutual agreement. Id. at 1, 5.
case turns on two provisions of the Employment Agreement. The
first is Article 8 of the Employment Agreement, titled
"Termination Conditions, " which lists the
conditions under which Defendant or Plaintiff could terminate
their relationship. Id. at 2-3. The Article contains
four subsections. The first three set forth specific
circumstances under which either Defendant or Plaintiff could
end their arrangement, for example, if Defendant did not pay
Plaintiff, if Plaintiff violated a rule of conduct contained
in the Task Order, or if USAID requested a personnel change.
Id. None of those three subsections are pertinent to
the parties' dispute, however. The key subsection is the
final one, 8(D), which grants both parties the power to
terminate the relationship "with or without cause by
written notice of at least thirty (30) days in advance."
Id. at3. Defendant would invoke subsection 8(D) some
10 months later when it terminated Plaintiff. Answer ¶
second critical provision of the Employment Agreement is
Article 14, titled "Controlling Instruments."
Pl.'s Exs. at 4. That Article makes clear that the
"Prime Contract"- that is, the Task Order under
which USAID hired Defendant-also potentially contains terms
that governed Plaintiffs employment. Article 14 states, in
relevant part: "In the event of a conflict between the
Prime Contract and this Agreement, the Prime Contract shall
control." Id. The Task Order, as it turns out,
contains a provision that addresses the termination of
certain key employees, including Plaintiff. Id. at
8. Clause F.7, titled "Key Positions/Personnel
Requirements, " states that certain positions and
persons named to those positions are "considered
essential to the successful implementation of the
contract." Id. The Clause goes on to state:
Prior to replacing any of the specified individuals, the
Contractor must notify both the CO and the COR reasonably in
advance and as soon as possible, and must submit written
justification (including proposed substitutions) in
sufficient detail to permit evaluation of the impact on the
contact. No replacement will be made by the Contractor
without the written consent of the Contracting Officer.
Id. Plaintiff is expressly identified as a
"key" person whose potential removal is subject to
the terms of Clause F.7.
moved from South Africa to Mali to begin work for Defendant,
and took steps to relocate his wife and children to Mali as
well. Second Am. Compl. ¶¶ XV, XVI. During his
tenure, Plaintiff was involved in an altercation with a
white, French co-worker, Francis Saudubray. Second Am. Compl.
¶¶XLX, XX; Answer ¶¶ XIX, XX. As
Plaintiff tells it, Saudubray "stormed into
[Plaintiff's] office" on October 13, 2016, and began
"insulting [Plaintiff], claiming that [Plaintiff] was
incompetent" because he had not invited Saudubray to a
recent work meeting. Second Am. Compl. ¶ XX. Saudubray
"pointed his hands at [Plaintiff's] face, shouting
at [him] and calling [him] all sorts of names."
Id. When Plaintiff asked Saudubray to leave,
"[a]n altercation occurred between" the two.
evidently reported a different story to Defendant, claiming
that Plaintiff assaulted him. Id. ¶ XX; Answer
¶ XX. This prompted Defendant to dispatch Senior Project
Manager Kelly Gavagan from its District of Columbia office to
Mali on October 17, 2016. Second Am. Compl. ¶ XXV;
Answer ¶¶ XIX, XXV. Gavagan interviewed Plaintiff
and others who were aware of the incident, though Gavagan did
not speak to everyone that Plaintiff suggested might have
relevant information. Second Am. Compl. ¶ XXV; Answer
fired Plaintiff soon after. On October 19, 2016, Gavagan told
Plaintiff that Defendant's "Main Office in D.C.
[had] decided to terminate [Plaintiff's] employment
agreement, " effective the very next day. Second Am.
Compl. ¶ XXVIII; Answer ¶ XXVIII. A termination
letter, on company letterhead, dated October 20, 2016, signed
by Agee and bearing Defendant's Washington D.C. address,
followed Gavagan's notification of termination.
Id. ¶XXTX; Answer ¶ XXIX; Def.'s
Errata, ECF No. 23, Attach. 1, ECF No. 23-1 [hereinafter
Termination Letter]. The letter stated that Defendant was
firing Plaintiff, effective immediately, pursuant to Article
8(D)-the at-will provision-of the parties' Employment
Agreement. Id. ¶ XXIX; Answer ¶ XXIX;
Termination Letter. The letter did not explicitly state that
Plaintiff had been fired because of the altercation with
Saudubray, nor did it reference the incident. Termination
Letter; see also Answer ¶ XXXI(b)
("Checchi Consulting admits that it terminated Plaintiff
s employment in accordance with Article 8(D) of the
Employment Agreement and that it disciplined no one for what
transpired between Plaintiff and [Francis] Saudubray.").
allegedly then told others about Plaintiff s termination.
According to Plaintiff, at a November 25, 2016, Rule of Law
meeting at the Dutch Embassy in Bamako, Mali, an unnamed
"Checchi representative" "communicated about
[Plaintiffs] departure from Mali as a result (1) of
[Plaintiff] beating up [his] superior and (2) being
terminated by the employer for that reason." Second Am.
Compl. ¶ XXXIII(a). A "dozen" representatives
from embassies, countries, aid organizations, and the United
Nations attended the meeting, although Plaintiff does not
identify by name the people who heard the alleged defamatory
statement. Id. But, according to Plaintiff, the
meeting's organizer, Roelof Havemann, the First Secretary
of the Dutch Embassy, either heard the statement directly or
got wind of it, because Havemann confirmed to Plaintiff what
the "Checchi representative" had said. Id.
Plaintiff suspects that the story eventually reached two
potential employers because they did not hire him for open
positions that he sought after his termination. Id.