DC District Court in Myers Allows Supervisors as Defendants
December 29, 2011 - Comments Off
On September 12, 2011, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia issued a favorable holding in the case of Myers v. Alutiiq International Solutions, LLC, et al.
Plaintiff Jonathon Myers was hired in 2003 under a State Department contract held by Anteon and General Dynamics. In 2005, he was promoted to the position of on-site program manager. In early 2007, defendant Alutiiq won a contract with the State Department and effectively took over the role previous performed by Anteon and General Dynamics. Alutiiq retained all the employees in the contracts office, including plaintiff and his supervisors, defendants Gregory Dodge and Eric Boyle. In September 2009, Myers internally reported concerns about an inappropriate office relationship. That report prompted an investigation, which was then elevated to the Department of State’s Office of Inspector General, which substantiated Myers’ claims and terminated the employees involved on May 14, 2010. The next business day, Alutiiq terminated Myers as well. Myers filed suit for wrongful termination, breach of implied contract, and promissory estoppel against his employer and his individual supervisors.
Despite being an at-will employee, Myers argued that because he had been fired for blowing the whistle, his firing was a violation of public policy and was therefore unlawful. The Court agreed. Citing Carl v. Children’s Hospital, the Court held that the public policy exception to at-will employment may exist “where the employee acted in furtherance of a public policy ‘solidly based on a statute or regulation that reflects the particular public policy to be applied.’” As such, the Court found that viewing the multiple statutes protecting whistleblowers along with the Federal Acquisition Regulations (“FAR”), statutes which express a policy that contractors avoid organizational conflicts of interest, created an “adequately ‘close fit’ between [the] public policy and the plaintiff’s termination.” The Court concluded that Myers had therefore alleged sufficient facts to state a claim under the Carl public policy exemption.
The individual defendants – Myers’ supervisors, Dodge and Boyle – argued that they could not be held liable as a matter of law for a wrongful termination claim. The Court, however, disagreed. In reaching this result, the Court stated that: “Although the D.C. Court of Appeals has not addressed this question directly, a review of its opinions in the employment area suggests that it would not bar claims for wrongful discharge against individual employees if the facts established that the individuals acted improperly or illegally.”
Myers also argued that the defendants had breached an implied contract when they allegedly made an oral promise to him that he would be terminated according to a policy of progressive discipline. However, given that Myers explicitly acknowledged the at-will nature of his employment by signing an acknowledgement form of the employee handbook, the Court dismissed this claim.
Finally, Myers argued a promissory estoppel claim. Specifically, he alleged that defendants stated to him that he would not be terminated for reporting violations of conflict of interest rules, and he relied on that promise to his detriment. The Court agreed, and rejected defendants’ motion to dismiss Myers’ promissory estoppel claim.
Debra Katz, a partner at the DC-based employment law firm of Katz, Marshall & Banks, noted that the opinion in Myers is an important one because it expanded legal protections for employees by making explicit that individual defendant-supervisors can be held liable in DC for wrongful termination or promissory estoppel.