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Whitaker v. Ciena Corp.

United States District Court, D. Maryland

March 25, 2019

DARYL WHITAKER, Plaintiff,
v.
CIENA CORPORATION, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Richard D. Bennett, United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Daryl Whitaker (“Plaintiff” or “Whitaker”) brings this action against his former employer Defendant Ciena Corporation (“Defendant” or “Ciena”) alleging race discrimination in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981. (Am. Compl., ECF No. 23.) In its prior ruling, this Court held that the proposed Amended Complaint would be futile as to claims of failure to promote, transfer, and elimination of position because they were clearly untimely. (Mem. Op. 10, ECF No. 21.) Specifically, those claims related to events in 2012 and Whitaker did not file his initial Complaint until January 4, 2018. However, with regard to Whitaker's allegations relating to his termination and severance agreement, this Court stated that “the limited briefing on the Amended Complaint does not show that Plaintiff's claims are clearly untimely or that judgment should be entered as a matter of law in favor of Ciena.” (Id. at 14.) Accordingly, this Court granted Plaintiff's motion to file the Amended Complaint as to these two claims and denied without prejudice Ciena's motion related to the original complaint.[1](Id.)

         This Court has now had the opportunity to review more extensive briefing on the discrete legal issue of whether Plaintiff's allegations related to his termination and severance agreement are timely. Currently pending is Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint, or Alternatively, Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 24). The matter is ripe for disposition, and a hearing is deemed unnecessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2018). For the following reasons, Defendant's motion, construed as a motion to dismiss, shall be GRANTED, and the Amended Complaint shall be DISMISSED as time-barred.

         BACKGROUND

         In ruling on a motion to dismiss, this Court “accept[s] as true all well-pleaded facts in a complaint and construe[s] them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Wikimedia Found. v. Nat'l Sec. Agency, 857 F.3d 193, 208 (4th Cir. 2017) (citing SD3, LLC v. Black & Decker (U.S.) Inc., 801 F.3d 412, 422 (4th Cir. 2015)). In brief, [2] Whitaker began working for Ciena in August 2010 as the Senior Director of Human Resources for the company's Global Field Operations division. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 4, 56, ECF No. 23.) In August 2012, Ciena's then-current Executive Vice President, David Rothenstein (“Rothenstein”), approached Whitaker and asked if he would become Senior Director of Ciena Learning Services in the sales department. (Id. at ¶¶ 108-09.) Rothenstein promised that if the job did not work out, the company would provide a severance package based on Whitaker's job title and pay as the Senior Director of Human Resources. (Id. at ¶¶ 113-14.) Whitaker accepted the sales position on those terms. (Id. at ¶ 118.)

         Three months after starting his new position, in November 2012, Whitaker was informed by Rothenstein that the new position was being eliminated for lack of funding. (Id. at 119-22.) Whitaker was not terminated but found himself a position as an entry-level salesman or “Learning Specialist.” (Id. at ¶¶ 126, 128-31, 135.) Whitaker alleges that he was told by Jim Caprara (“Caprara”), the Vice President and General Manager of Learning Services, that if the position was eliminated, Whitaker would receive a severance package based on his Senior Director level. (Id. at ¶¶ 128-33.) Whitaker started as a Learning Specialist in February 2013. (Id. at ¶ 135.)

         In November 2013, Caprara told Whitaker that his position was being eliminated. (Id. at ¶ 141.) On December 20, 2013, Whitaker received a termination/severance letter, which was dated December 16, 2013. (Id. at ¶ 143.)[3] The termination/severance letter was revised on December 27, 2013, and Whitaker received it in late December. (Id. at ¶ 144.) Whitaker contends that he could not ascertain from the letter whether he was to receive the severance package that he had been promised by Rothenstein/Caprara, i.e., pay and title of Senior Director. (Id. at ¶ 145-48.) Whitaker asked Human Resources for clarification, but he did not receive clarification until after his last day of employment, which was January 10, 2014. (Id. at ¶ 149-51.) Whitaker was then advised that the severance pay would be based on the Learning Specialist position, and that it was not possible to verify a previous job title. (Id. at ¶ 153-54.)

         Whitaker alleges that he had difficulty finding a suitable position because his Senior Director job title could not be verified. (Id. at ¶¶ 168-70.) He asserts that “Defendant's ongoing and continuous misrepresentation and subsequent termination in violation of the Rothenstein and Caprara severance agreement constitute[s] intentional discrimination against Plaintiff based upon his race . . . .” (Id. at ¶ 205.)

         Whitaker filed this action against Ciena on January 4, 2018, alleging race discrimination in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981. (Compl., ECF No. 1.) Ciena responded with a Motion to Dismiss the Original Complaint or in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 7), arguing that all of Whitaker's claims are time-barred by the applicable § 1981 statute of limitations. Whitaker then filed his Motion to Amend (ECF No. 17), in which he expanded upon the termination and severance allegations. As described above, this Court ruled on those motions leaving one discrete legal issue pending: are the termination and severance actions as alleged in the Amended Complaint timely? For the reasons that follow, this Court holds that Whitaker's claim is time-barred, and Defendant's pending motion (ECF No. 24) shall be GRANTED.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Under Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a complaint must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Rule 12(b)(6) procedure authorizes the dismissal of a complaint if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). 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). To satisfy Rule 8(a)(2), a complaint need not include “detailed factual allegations.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007); Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). In reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, 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 omitted); Hall v. DirectTV, LLC, 846 F.3d 757, 765 (4th Cir. 2017).

         Generally, a motion to dismiss filed under Rule 12(b)(6) cannot reach the merits of an affirmative defense, such as whether a plaintiff's claim is time-barred. Goodman v. Praxair, Inc., 494 F.3d 458, 464 (4th Cir. 2007). It is possible to evaluate such a motion, however, if all the facts necessary to the affirmative defense are clearly alleged on the face of the complaint. Id.; accord Semenova v. Maryland Transit Admin., 845 F.3d 564, 567 (4th Cir. 2017).

         ANALYSIS

         I. A Four-Year Statute of ...


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