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Cline v. Thomas N. O'Connor Plumbing & Heating, LLC

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

May 16, 2018

JASON CLINE, Plaintiff,



         Plaintiff Jason Cline brings this case against his former employer. Defendant Thomas N. O'Connor Plumbing and Heating. LLC ("O'Connor"), for violations of federal and state law arising from O'Connor's termination of Cline's employment. See ECF No. 6. Currently pending before the Court is O'Connor's Motion to Dismiss. ECF No. 12. which has been fully briefed. See ECF No. 14. ECF No. 15. No. hearing is necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the following reasons. Defendants" Motion to Dismiss is denied.

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         O'Connor, a Maryland corporation, "engages in the business of plumbing and heating throughout the Maryland and DC Metro area" and "employs more than fifty (50) employees." ECF No. 6 ¶¶ 3-4. Cline began working for O'Connor in June of 2011 as a "Commercial Plumber/Mechanic." Id. ¶ 9. He was "successful" at O'Connor, "receiving consistently strong performance reviews, raises, and promotions during his tenure with the company." Id. In 2012. he was promoted to Lead Mechanic, and in January of 2014. he was promoted to Plumbing Supervisor. Id. ¶¶ 10-13. These promotions came with raises and additional responsibilities. Id. As the Plumbing Supervisor. Cline "attended regular weekly production meetings, in which costs, labor, materials were reviewed with other members of O'Connor Plumbing Management." Id. ¶ 14. While employed at O'Connor. Cline "was regularly told he was doing an excellent job by Management." "received above average performance evaluations from his supervisors, " "worked a full time schedule." and received bonuses. Id. ¶¶ 15-18.

         On October 19. 2016. Cline suffered a work-related knee injury and damaged the meniscus in his right knee: he reported the injury to his supervisor that day. and immediately began to seek treatment from his doctors. Id. ¶¶ 19-20. After two months of modified work, on December 7. 2016. Cline provided a doctor's note to O'Connor notifying them that he had a torn meniscus in his right knee and would require surgery. Id. ¶ 24. O'Connor's insurance company approved Cline"s surgery on February 9. 2017. and the surgery was scheduled for February 20. 2017. Id. ¶ 28. Cline underwent the surgery on February 20. 2017. and was on leave until April 24. 2017. Id. ¶¶ 29-30.

         Cline was cleared to return to work on April 24, 2017, and he went to O'Connor's office and submitted his return paperwork. Id. ¶ 38. The next morning. April 25. 2017. one of O'Connor's managers, Bobby Farrar, called Cline into his office for a meeting with Farrar and another manager. Brian Ashby. Id. ¶¶ 39-40. There. Farrar told Cline that he was being demoted to the position of Mechanic. Id. ¶ 40. This position was a "significantly lower position" in the company, and "did not involve the same or substantially similar duties." Id. ¶ 42. Cline asked if he was being demoted because he filed a workers compensation claim.[2] and asked if he could "have a few days to think about the demotion." Id. ¶ 40. Farrar said that he "could have the time to think about it." Id. That same day, however. Cline received a call from Farrar who informed him that management had decided to terminate Cline's employment. Id. ¶ 43. Cline subsequently learned that Farrar had stated that Cline was "milking his workers compensation" and that Cline had "faked an injury." Id. ¶ 44.

         On July 26, 2017. Cline initiated this suit and tiled a Complaint against O'Connor. ECF No. 1. On August 4. 2017, Cline filed an Amended Complaint. ECF No. 6. In it. Cline asserted claims of: wrongful discharge in violation of public policy under Maryland's Labor and Employment Article. § 9-1105[3] (Count I), id. ¶¶ 48-55: unlawful interference with his FMLA rights under 29 U.S.C. § 2615(a)(1)[4] (Count II), id ¶¶ 56-65; and retaliation for having taken FMLA leave under 29 U.S.C. § 2615(a)(2)[5] (Count III), id ¶¶ 66-73. On September 19. 2017. O'Connor filed a Motion to Dismiss, arguing that Cline had not sufficiently pleaded any claims to which relief could be granted. ECF No. 12-2 at 2.[6] Cline opposed this Motion, ECF No. 14. and O'Connor replied. ECF No. 15.


         To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) 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) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544. 570 (2007)). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal. 556 U.S. at 678. "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 ("a plaintiffs obligation to provide the "grounds" of his 'entitle[ment] to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of a cause of action's elements will not do.")).

         The purpose of Rule 12(b)(6) "is to test the sufficiency of a complaint and not to resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses." Presley v. City of Charlottesville, 464 F.3d 480, 483 (4th Cir. 2006) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). When deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). a court "must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint, " and must "draw all reasonable inferences [from those facts] in favor of the plaintiff." E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. v. Kolon Indus.. Inc., 637 F.3d 435. 440 (4th Cir. 2011) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). The Court need not. however, accept unsupported legal allegations, see Revene v. Charles County Comm'rs. 882 F.2d 870, 873 (4th Cir. 1989). legal conclusions couched as factual allegations, Papasan v. Allain. 478 U.S. 265. 286 (1986). or conclusory factual allegations devoid of any reference to actual events. United Black Firefighters of Norfolk v. Hirst, 604 F.2d 844. 847 (4th Cir. 1979).


         O'Connor argues that Cline"s case should be dismissed because he has not sufficiently pleaded each of his claims. The Court addresses each claim in turn.

         A. Wrongful Discharge (Count I)

         The parties do not dispute that it is in violation of public policy for an employee to be terminated solely for having filed a worker's compensation claim. See ECF No. 12-2 at 5. O'Connor argues, however, that Cline has not sufficiently pleaded a claim for wrongful discharge as he has not pleaded that his filing of a worker's compensation claim was the sole reason for his termination. Id. at 6. O'Connor points out that Maryland Code, Labor and Employment. § 9-1105. which Cline relies on. provides that "[a]n employer may not discharge a covered employee from employment solely because the covered employee files a claim for compensation under this title." ECF No. 12-2 at 5-6. O'Connor points out that "Cline does not allege that the filing of the Workers' Compensation claim . . . was the sole reason for his termination." ...

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