United States District Court, District of Columbia
JACQUELINE C. PERKINS, Plaintiff,
WCS CONSTRUCTION, LLC, et al., Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION DENYING DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO
RUDOLPH CONTRERAS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
wrongful termination case, Plaintiff Jacqueline C. Perkins
(“Perkins”) brought suit alleging that Defendants
WCS Construction LLC (“WCS Construction”), WCS
Construction Development LLC (“WCS Development”),
William C. Smith & Co., Inc. (WCS Inc.), and W.
Christopher Smith (“Smith”) wrongfully discharged
her from her employment after she reported threats made by
another WCS Construction employee. Defendants have moved to
dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim under
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). For the reasons stated below, the
motion to dismiss is denied.
was hired as an assistant project manager at WCS Construction
on February 19, 2016. See Compl. ¶ 13, ECF No.
1. At some point in the next year, she was promoted to
assistant to the president of WCS Construction, Jim Anglemyer
(“Anglemyer”). See Id. Perkins worked
“in a professional office setting” at WCS
Construction's main offices at 3303 Stanton Road SE,
Washington, D.C. 20020. Id. ¶ 13.
15, 2017, Perkins attended a meeting with Anglemyer, Michael
Christopher (“Christopher”), the CFO of WCS
Construction, and Christopher Shaw (“Shaw”), the
Vice President of WCS Construction. See Id. ¶
17. The meeting concerned the finances of a WCS Construction
project with the Federal Realty Investment Trust, a client
based in Rockville, Maryland. See Id. After
Anglemyer left early due to a scheduling conflict, Perkins
alleges that Shaw “began making specific, violent
threats against John Davies of the Federal Realty Investment
Trust.” Id. According to Perkins, Shaw first
said he would “drive down to Mr. Davies' office,
take out his gun, and shoot himself in the head.”
Id. After Perkins asked Shaw if he was serious, Shaw
replied that he would kill himself “only after I shoot
John [Davies] first.” Id. Shaw repeated that
he would kill himself after shooting John Davies, after which
the meeting ended. Id.
the meeting, Perkins consulted WCS Construction's
employee handbook, which suggested that employees could
anonymously report actual or threatened violence, and that
employees would not be disciplined or retaliated against for
raising good faith concerns. See Id. ¶ 18.
Relying on the handbook, Perkins delivered a letter to
Christopher the next Monday, on June 19, 2017. See
Id. In the letter, she stated that at an
“unofficial meeting in [Anglemyer's] office
regarding FRIT” on June 15, 2018, Shaw had said he
“felt like driving down to the FRIT office and taking
his gun and shooting himself in the head.” June 19,
2017 Perkins Letter, Ex. A, ECF No. 1-1. Perkins said when
she questioned Shaw, he stated that ‘“after I
shoot him first,' referring to John Davis, . . .
‘I'll kill myself in front of the
building.'” Id. She concluded that she
felt she needed to document the incident because she could
not live with herself if the threats materialized. See
Perkins delivered the letter, Christopher told her to throw
it away. See Compl. ¶ 18. When she insisted, he
told her that he did not want to deal with it and to discuss
it with Anglemyer. See Id. Perkins gave Anglemyer
the letter and stated that she was going to call the police,
following which, at Anglemyer's direction, she also
submitted it to the office manager for WCS Construction.
See Id. ¶ 19-20. The letter was ultimately
forwarded to WCS Inc.'s human resources department, which
also handled HR issues for WCS Construction. See Id.
¶ 19, 22. As part of the following investigation, Shaw
was contacted by WCS Inc. HR. See Id. ¶ 23.
29, 2017, Federal Realty Investment Trust asked that Shaw no
longer work on any of its projects. See Id. ¶
25. The same day, Smith had an angry conversation with
Anglemyer regarding the incident, with Anglemyer pointing out
that Smith was “sweeping this under the rug” and
that Perkins was involving the police. Id. Anglemyer
was asked to take a two-week leave of absence the same day,
while Perkins was directed to temporarily relocate from her
office to a trailer on a work site at 800 New Jersey Avenue
SW “until things ‘cool down.'”
Id. ¶ 26. On July 2, 2017, after Christopher
told her in a meeting that she “should have shredded
her letter . . . instead of pushing the issue forward[,
]” id. ¶ 28, Perkins was permanently
reassigned from WCS Construction's main offices to the
trailer at 800 New Jersey Avenue SW, see Id. ¶
10, 2017, Perkins had a “very uncomfortable
encounter” with Shaw at WCS Construction's main
office. Id. ¶ 30. She expressed concerns to WCS
Construction's office manager, who communicated those
concerns to Smith and WCS Construction's new president,
D. Scott Vossler (“Vossler”). See Id.
¶ 31. On July 14, 2017, Perkins attended a meeting with
Vossler, who informed her that she would now be a
“field employee[, ]” on call 24/7 for
construction emergencies. Id. ¶ 32. On July 21,
2017, Shaw reported to the trailer where Perkins was working
and asked all employees to leave the trailer. See
Id. ¶ 35. Perkins again contacted, and later
attended a meeting with, WCS Construction's office
manager, where she complained that she was being retaliated
against following her complaint about Shaw. See Id.
On August 8, 2017, Perkins called the Metropolitan Police
Department about the June 15, 2017 incident with Shaw.
See Id. ¶ 36. On August 22, 2017, she was
terminated. See Id. ¶ 37.
filed a complaint in this case on April 3, 2018, alleging
that she was wrongfully discharged and seeking compensatory
damages, back pay, and punitive damages. See Id. at
11- 12. Defendants jointly filed a motion to dismiss on May
25, 2018. See Defs.' Mot. Dismiss, ECF No. 7.
Plaintiff filed her opposition on June 8, 2018, see
Pl.'s Mem. Opp'n Mot. Dismiss, ECF No. 8, and
Defendants filed their reply on June 22, 2018, see
Defs.' Reply to Opp'n, ECF No. 10.
prevail on a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), a
plaintiff need only provide a “short and plain
statement of [her] claim showing that [she is] entitled to
relief, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), that “give[s] the
defendant fair notice of what the ... claim is and the
grounds upon which it rests[, ]” Erickson v.
Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (per curiam) (internal
quotation marks omitted) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). A motion to dismiss
under Rule 12(b)(6) does not test a plaintiff's ultimate
likelihood of success on the merits; rather, it tests whether
a plaintiff has properly stated a claim. See Scheuer v.
Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974). In considering such a
motion, the “complaint is construed liberally in the
plaintiff['s] favor, and [the Court] grant[s] plaintiff[
] the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the
facts alleged.” Kowal v. MCI Commc'ns
Corp., 16 F.3d 1271, 1276 (D.C. Cir. 1994). It is not
necessary for the plaintiff to plead all elements of her
prima facie case in the complaint to prevail on the motion.
See Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506,
511-14 (2002); Bryant v. Pepco, 730 F.Supp.2d 25,
28-29 (D.D.C. 2010).
“[t]o survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must
contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to
‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its
face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662,
678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550
U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). This means that a plaintiff's
factual allegations “must be enough to raise a right to
relief above the speculative level, on the assumption that
all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if
doubtful in fact).” Bell Atl. Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007) (citations
omitted). “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a
cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements,
” are therefore insufficient to withstand a motion to
dismiss. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. A court
need not accept a plaintiff's legal conclusions as true,
see id., nor must a court presume the veracity of
the legal conclusions that are couched as factual
allegations. See Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.
their motion to dismiss, Defendants argue that Perkins's
complaint does not state a claim upon which relief can be
granted because her claim for wrongful discharge does not
fall within a public policy exception to the at-will
employment doctrine, which generally allows an employer to
terminate an employee for any reason or no reason at all.
See Defs.' Mem. Supp. Mot. Dismiss at 1-2, ECF
No. 7-1. Perkins argues that she has identified specific
public policies that Defendants violated by terminating her.
See Pl.'s Mem. Opp'n at 2-3. Ultimately, the
Complaint alleges that Perkins reported Shaw's conduct
internally and to the police, and clearly identifies criminal
statutes that either Shaw's or Defendants' conduct
allegedly violated. The allegations in the Complaint also
reasonably suggest a causal connection between Perkins's
internal report and her firing. Because the Complaint
sufficiently alleges that, although Perkins is an at-will
employee, the at-will doctrine does not apply to her
termination because she falls under a public policy
exception, the Court denies the motion to dismiss.
the at-will employment doctrine, the general rule in the
District of Columbia is that at-will employees like Perkins
“may be discharged ‘at any time and for any
reason, or for no reason at all.'” Clay v.
Howard Univ., 128 F.Supp.3d 22, 27 (D.D.C. 2015)
(quoting Adams v. George W. Cochran & Co., 597
A.2d 28, 30 (D.C. 1991)). While the parties devote a
significant portion of their briefs to discussing the
principles of wrongful discharge claims and the public
exception to the at-will employment doctrine recognized in
the District of Columbia, they appear to be in agreement as
to the elements of a claim brought under such an exception.
the initial, narrow public policy exception recognized in
Adams, an at-will employee can bring a claim for
wrongful termination against her employer when the employee
was discharged for refusing to violate the law. See
597 A.2d at 34. And under the expanded public policy
exception later developed in Carl v. Children's
Hosp., 702 A.2d 159 (D.C. 1997), an at-will employee can
also bring a wrongful termination claim when she “acted
in furtherance of a public policy ‘solidly based on a
statute or regulation . . ., or (if appropriate) on a
constitutional provision concretely applicable to the
defendant's conduct[, ]'” Myers v. Alutiiq
Int'l Solutions, LLC, 811 F.Supp.2d 261, 266-67
(D.D.C. 2011) (quoting Carl, 702 A.2d at 163 (Terry,
J., concurring)),  and was terminated as a result. The
employee must both 1) identify in the Complaint
‘“some identifiable policy that has been
officially declared in a statute or municipal regulation, or
in the Constitution, ”' and 2) show that there is
“a ‘close fit between' the policy ‘and
the conduct at issue in the allegedly wrongful
termination.”' Clay, 128 F.Supp.3d at 27
(quoting Davis v. Cmty. Alternatives of Washington,
D.C., 74 A.3d 707, 709-10 (D.C. 2013)). Implied in the
“close fit” analysis is the notion that
“[the] protected activity was the predominant cause of