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Martin v. Douglas Development Corp.

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

March 15, 2017

DAVID H. MARTIN, Plaintiff,
v.
DOUGLAS DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Paul W. Grimm United States District Judge

         For five years, Plaintiff David Martin worked an eight-hour shift (5:30 A.M. to 2:00 P.M. every weekday) as an engineer for Defendant Douglas Development Corporation (“Douglas”). On February 5, 2014, Martin reported for jury duty at the Circuit Court for Calvert County, Maryland, and was released at 12:00 P.M. that same day. Concluding that he could not make it to work before the end of his shift two hours later, Martin went home and, later that week, reported a full day of jury-duty obligations on his timesheet. Shortly thereafter, Douglas fired Martin when its GPS-tracking system disclosed that he was released from jury duty before the end of his shift. In a suit filed in the Circuit Court for Calvert County, Maryland, Martin alleged that the discharge violated Maryland's public policy against terminating an employee for attending jury duty. ECF No. 2. Douglas removed the case to this Court, ECF No.1, and now moves for summary judgment on the wrongful-discharge claim.[1] ECF No. 69. The Motion is fully briefed, Def.'s Mem., ECF No. 92-1; Pl.'s Opp'n, ECF No. 96; Def.'s Reply, ECF No. 97, and no hearing is necessary, Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md.). Because the record lacks any evidence that supports an inference that Martin was fired for attending jury duty (as distinct from being fired for not returning to work following jury duty or falsely reporting a full day of jury duty on his timesheet), I find that his termination did not violate Maryland's public policy.

         Background

         Douglas is a property-development and -management company owned by Douglas Jemal and his two sons, Norman and Matthew. Joint Statement of Undisputed Facts ¶¶ 15-16, ECF No. 98 [hereinafter Joint Statement]. The company hired Martin as an engineer in October 2008. Id. ¶ 30. Martin was an at-will employee. Joint Statement ¶ 1. During his tenure, Martin worked a 5:30 A.M. to 2:00 P.M. shift. Id. ¶ 4. It took Martin roughly 45 minutes in early-morning traffic to drive from his home in Dunkirk, Maryland, to his workplace in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C. Id. ¶ 5. Until his termination, Douglas never took disciplinary action against Martin for tardiness, absenteeism, unsatisfactory work performance, or insubordination. Def.'s Resp. Pl.'s Requests Admission Nos. 3-6, J.A. 283.

         In December 2013, Martin received a jury summons from the Circuit Court for Calvert County, Maryland, which required him to be on call for jury duty from January 21 until February 14, 2014. Jury Summons, J.A. 298.[2] Upon receipt, Martin faxed a copy of the summons to Douglas, which the employer received and acknowledged. Joint Statement ¶¶ 31-32; Transmission Verification Report, J.A. 297. The summons required Martin to call in to the court once per week to find out if he would be required to appear the following week. Jury Summons, J.A. 298. Whenever Martin called in and found that he was not required to report to jury duty, he emailed Douglas to inform the employer that he would be reporting to work as usual. See Email from David Martin, to Bryul Blaney (Jan. 27, 2014, 5:36:58 P.M.), J.A. 299; Email from David Martin, to Tim Roberts (Feb. 10, 2014, 7:18:17 P.M.). On February 3, 2014, Martin notified Douglas that he was “tentatively scheduled for jury duty” on February 5, 2014. Joint Statement ¶¶ 33-34.

         Douglas provides its employees paid time off for jury duty but requires employees to return to work if jury duty ends before their normally scheduled shift concludes. See Douglas Dev. Corp. Employment Manual § 8.8, J.A. 277.

         On February 5, Martin did not go to work for the beginning of his 5:30 shift. See Joint Statement ¶ 10. Instead, he left his home at 7:30 A.M. and reported to jury duty at 8:00 A.M. Joint Statement ¶ 9. He was dismissed at 12:00 P.M. and drove home, arriving at his house at 12:30 P.M. Id.

         Martin testified at his deposition that he spoke with Douglas's payroll administrator, Lily Jiang, Jiang Dep. 18:14-15, J.A. 213, before filling out his timesheet the following Monday, Martin Dep. 137:5-16, J.A. 112. According to Martin, he told Jiang that he did not report to work after jury duty because he was unable to make it to work before the end of his shift at 2:00 P.M., and Jiang told him to claim a full eight hours on his timesheet. Id. at 145:15-146:1, 15-17, J.A. 114. Jiang does not recall whether she spoke with Martin about this topic but does not think that she did. Jiang Dep. 42:18-43:6, J.A. 219 (“I d[o]n't remember [whether I spoke with Martin.] I don't think I . . . talk[ed] to him before the times for that day. They [employees] know how to fill out the forms, you know.”). Martin submitted a timesheet for the payroll period ending on February 7, 2014 that claimed eight hours of jury-duty time. Feb. 7, 2014 Douglas Dev. Corp. Weekly Time Sheet, J.A. 173. Douglas Director of Property Management Timothy Roberts authorized payment for all of the hours Martin claimed for that week, Feb. 1-7, 2014 Douglas Dev. Corp. Payroll Summary Sheet, J.A. 713, and Martin received payment for all of the hours claimed, Feb. 7, 2014 Earning Statement, J.A. 811.

         Douglas monitors some hourly employees using a GPS-tracking system called TeleNav. Roberts Dep. 31:7-11, J.A. 43; Gardiner Dep. 47:8-10, J.A. 160. Some combination of Roberts, Douglas Property Managers Amanda Wallace and Hannah Kang, and Director of Engineering James Gardiner, reviewed employee timesheets by comparing them against TeleNav data. Id. at 30:18-32:2. Although Roberts approved Martin's timesheet for the pay period that ended on February 7, 2014, a line item marked “Jury Duty” on Martin's earning statement for the following week deducted $172 (an amount equal to four hours of work at Martin's rate of $43 per hour) from his paycheck. Feb. 14, 2014 Earnings Statement, J.A. 304. The record does not make clear which Douglas employee identified the alleged discrepancy.

         Douglas terminated Martin's employment on February 17, 2014. Joint Statement ¶ 12. The termination took effect immediately. Martin Dep. 148:8-9, J.A. 114. Although the record contains somewhat differing accounts of the reasons for Martin's termination, various Douglas employees identified Martin's failure to report to work after jury duty, the allegedly erroneous timesheet, Martin's job performance, and the company's desire to reorganize the engineering department as the reasons for his termination.[3] Accounts also differ about who made the ultimate termination decision. Roberts Dep. 67:21-68:1, J.A. 52 (identifying Gardiner as the decisionmaker); Jemal Dep. 26:8-9, J.A. 70 (same); Millstein Dep: 61:17-62:10, J.A. 32 (testifying that he approved Gardiner's decision to fire Martin); Gardiner Dep. 58:22-59:4, J.A. 163 (identifying Jemal and Milstein as the relevant decisionmakers).

         Standard of Review

         Summary judgment is proper when the moving party demonstrates, through “particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations . . ., admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials, ” that “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a), (c)(1)(A); see also Baldwin v. City of Greensboro, 714 F.3d 828, 833 (4th Cir. 2013). If the party seeking summary judgment demonstrates that there is no evidence to support the nonmoving party's case, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to identify evidence that shows that a genuine dispute exists as to material facts. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 585-87 & n.10 (1986). The existence of only a “scintilla of evidence” is not enough to defeat a motion for summary judgment. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986). Instead, the evidentiary materials submitted must show facts from which the finder of fact reasonably could find for the party opposing summary judgment. Id.

         Discussion

         Maryland common law permits termination of an at-will employee such as Martin, Joint Statement ¶ 1, for any reason not otherwise prohibited by law. Adler v. Am. Standard Corp., 432 A.2d 464, 467 (Md. 1981); State Comm'n on Human Relations v. Amecom Div. of Litton Sys., Inc., 360 A.2d 1, 5 (Md. 1976); Wash. B. & A. R.R. Co., 96 A. 273, 276 (Md. 1915). Among other exceptions to Maryland's at-will regime, an employer cannot terminate an employee in a manner that violates public policy. Wholey v. Sears Roebuck, 803 A.2d 482, 488 (Md. 2002); Adler, 432 A.2d at 473. To bring a wrongful-discharge claim based on public policy, “[1] the employee must be discharged, [2] the basis for the employee's discharge ...


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