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Mott v. Accenture, LLP

United States District Court, D. Maryland

October 17, 2017

JOSEPH M. MOTT, Plaintiff,
v.
ACCENTURE, LLP, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          PAULA XINIS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Joseph Mott (“Mott”) brings this employment action against his former employer, Defendant Accenture, LLP (“Accenture”). Mott alleges in his Amended Complaint that Accenture discriminated against him on the basis of age, gender, national origin, and mixed motives during his employment; that Accenture illegally retaliated against him for engaging in protected activities; that his discharge from Accenture was unlawful in light of clear mandates of Maryland public policy; and that Accenture illegally withheld a bonus to which Mott is entitled. ECF No. 35 (“Amend. Comp.”).

         The Court previously denied Accenture's motion to dismiss and directed Mott to amend his complaint to cure identified deficiencies. See ECF No. 30. The Court also preliminarily entertained Accenture's grounds for dismissal of Count VI of Mott's Complaint, a claim for wrongful discharge against a clear mandate of public policy, but ultimately gave Mott time to consider whether it would pursue the Count. If Mott elected to persist in Count VI, the Court granted Mott leave to respond to Accenture's Motion to Dismiss as to that count.

         On August 6, 2017, Mott filed an Amended Complaint that included Count VI. Amend. Comp. ¶¶ 68-76. Mott also responded to Accenture's arguments for dismissal of Count VI on August 16, 2017. ECF No. 38. Accenture replied on August 30, 2017. ECF No. 39. The Court now must decide whether to permit this claim to go forward. For the reasons discussed below, Count VI is DISMISSED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case has been before this Court previously, and the facts alleged are largely unchanged. See ECF No. 30. Mott, who is now 64, is a resident of Maryland who is of American national origin. Mott worked remotely from Maryland for Accenture, an Illinois limited liability partnership qualified to do business in the State of Maryland. Amend. Comp. ¶¶ 1, 2, 6. In his Amended Complaint, Mott alleges that several of his supervisors and coworkers, including Charlotte Guillorit, a French national located in France, id. ¶ 9, Abe Zachariah, id. ¶ 10, Hollis Chen, id. ¶ 11, Arnaud Mottet, of French national origin, id. ¶ 11, Fauzia Zaman-Malik, id. ¶ 15, Catherine Walter, a French national who lives in Paris, id. ¶¶ 24, 36, Michael Camarotta id. ¶ 29, and Toni Corban id. ¶ 52, treated Mott in a hostile and discriminatory fashion, retaliated against him for protesting discrimination and hostility, and/or knowingly permitted others' hostile and discriminatory behavior toward Mott to continue. Mott also alleges that he was passed over for promotion within the company, with the position instead going to a younger, female, and non-American candidate. Id. ¶ 24. Mott further alleges that he was subject to an escalating pattern of alleged hostile and discriminatory conduct which culminated in his termination over the protests that Mott had lodged with Accenture leadership, including to Chad Jerdee, General Counsel and Chief Compliance Officer, and Patrick Rowe, Deputy General Counsel for the division in which Mott worked and Guillorit's supervisor. Id. ¶¶ 46, 49, 50-53.

         Count VI specifically avers that Accenture's discriminatory practices, undertaken by its attorneys as supervisors, gives rise to a claim for the tort of wrongful discharge as against Maryland public policy. Id. ¶¶ 68-76. Mott points to the American Bar Association's Model Rules of Professional Conduct (“Model Rules”) 8.4 and the Maryland Attorney's Rules of Professional Conduct (“MLRPC”) Rule 19-308.4 as the sources of the public policy contravened by his discharge. Id. ¶¶ 69, 70. In relevant part, Model Rule 8.4 provides that it is professional misconduct for a lawyer to “engage in conduct that the lawyer knows or reasonably should know is harassment or discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, national origin, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status or socioeconomic status in conduct related to the practice of law.” ABA Model Rules of Prof'l Conduct R. 8.4(g). The MLRPC, in turn, provides that it is professional misconduct for an attorney to “knowingly manifest by words or conduct when acting in a professional capacity bias or prejudice based upon race, sex, religion, national origin, disability, age, sexual orientation or socioeconomic status when such action is prejudicial to the administration of justice.” Md. R. Attorneys R. 19-308.4(e). Mott further alleges that the Model Rules and the MLRPC constitute a clear mandate of public policy under Maryland law that gives rise to a heightened duties of care, which Accenture's attorneys violated by discriminating against him. Amend. Comp. ¶¶ 71, 72, 74.

         Accenture counters that the Model Rules are not applicable in Maryland, that the Model Rules and the MLRPC do not constitute clear mandates of Maryland public policy, and that Mott may not recover under the tort of wrongful discharge because the same conduct can be addressed adequately by statutory remedies. ECF No. 39 at 3-4, 6-8. Accenture further argues that because the MLRPC expressly states that the rules do not give rise to a cause of action against attorneys, neither can it provide the basis for a wrongful discharge claim. Id. at 3-4. Accenture also points out that Mott has not alleged that the MLRPC apply to any of the Accenture employees about whom he complains. Id. at 2-3.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Standard of Review

         When reviewing a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a court must determine whether the complaint contains facts sufficient to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Factual allegations in the complaint are taken as true, but a court need not accept a plaintiff's legal conclusions, even when they are couched as factual allegations. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). A plaintiff must plead facts to support each element of the claim to satisfy the standard. See McCleary-Evans v. Maryland Dept. of Transp., State Highway Admin., 780 F.3d 582, 585 (4th Cir. 2015).

         B. The Tort of Wrongful Discharge in Violation of Public Policy

         Although an at-will employment relationship in general may be terminated for any reason by either the employee or the employer, Maryland recognizes a limited exception to this rule when an employee's discharge “contravenes some clear mandate of public policy.” Adler v. Am. Standard Corp., 291 Md. 31, 35-36, 47 (Md.Ct.App. 1981); see also Porterfield v. Mascari II, Inc., 374 Md. 402, 422-23 (Md.Ct.App. 2003). To state a claim for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy, a plaintiff must allege plausibly (1) that he was discharged, (2) that the basis for the discharge violated some clear mandate of public policy, and (3) that a nexus exists between the plaintiff's allegedly protected conduct and the decision to discharge him. See Yuan v. Johns Hopkins Univ., 452 Md. 436, 451 (Md.Ct.App. 2017) (internal marks and citation omitted). Importantly, the public policy which the plaintiff alleges provides the basis for the wrongful discharge claim cannot provide its own cause of action. Makovi v. Sherwin-Williams Co., 316 Md. 603, 605 (1989). This is so because the purpose of the tort of wrongful discharge is “to provide a remedy for otherwise unremedied violations of public policy.” Porterfield, 374 Md. at 423.

         As an initial matter, Count VI cannot survive unless “a clear mandate of public policy” was “contravened by the discharge.” Porterfield, 374 Md. at 423. Consequently, the Court must first determine whether ...


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