HOWARD et al v. FEDERAL EXPRESS CORP.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER denying as moot 7 Motion to Dismiss by FedEx Corp. and 19 Motion to Dismiss by John O'Reilly, and granting in part and denying in part Plaintiffs' 22 Motion for Leave to File Amend Complaint. See the attached Memorandum Opinion and Order for additional details. Signed by Judge Amit P. Mehta on 11/22/2017. (lcapm3)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
ALFRED WENDELL HOWARD, JR.
and HIKIEM SHARODD CAIN,
Case No. 16-cv-02514 (APM)
FEDERAL EXPRESS CORPORATION
and JOHN O’REILLY,
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiffs Alfred Howard and Hikiem Cain bring the present action against Defendants
Federal Express Corporation (“FedEx”) and John O’Reilly, a FedEx Operations Manager,
asserting discrimination claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and common law claims arising from the
termination of their employment with FedEx.
Before the court are the following motions:
(1) Defendant FedEx’s Partial Motion to Dismiss; (2) Defendant O’Reilly’s Partial Motion to
Dismiss; and (3) Plaintiffs’ Motion for Leave to Amend.
For the reasons herein, the court grants in part and denies in part Plaintiffs’ Motion for
Leave to Amend. Because portions of the Amended Complaint are now the operative pleading in
this matter, the court denies as moot Defendants FedEx’s and O’Reilly’s Partial Motions to
Dismiss. The court assumes the parties’ familiarity with this matter and therefore references the
factual allegations only as necessary to resolve their disputes.
Plaintiffs are African-American males and former FedEx couriers who were suspended and
subsequently terminated for losing custodial control of packages while performing deliveries in
Washington, D.C. See Compl., ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 5–6; Compl., Howard Termination Letter, Ex. C,
ECF No. 1-7; Compl., Cain Termination Letter, Ex. F, ECF No. 1-10. Plaintiffs filed the present
action on December 23, 2016. The original Complaint alleges the following claims: (1) racial and
intentional discrimination in the making and enforcement of contracts in violation of 42 U.S.C. §
1981 (Count I); (2) disparate treatment in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (Count II); (3) promissory
estoppel as to Howard only (Count III); (4) breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing (Count
IV); (5) breach of express contract as to Howard only (Count V); (6) breach of implied contract
(Count VI); (7) negligence (Count VII); and (8) defamation (Count VIII).
Defendant FedEx moved to dismiss Counts I, III, IV, V, VI, and VII of the Complaint on
April 11, 2017. Def. FedEx Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 7 [hereinafter FedEx. Mot]. After
FedEx’s Motion ripened, Defendant O’Reilly moved to dismiss Counts I, III, IV, V, VI, VII, and
VIII of the Complaint on May 30, 2017.
Def. O’Reilly’s Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 19
[hereinafter O’Reilly’s Mot.]. Plaintiffs opposed O’Reilly’s Motion, but before that Motion
ripened, they sought leave of court to amend their Complaint. Pls.’ Mot. for Leave to Am.
Compl., ECF No. 22 [hereinafter Pls.’ Mot. to Am.]. Plaintiffs’ proposed Amended Complaint
re-alleges the same claims as their original Complaint, but now expressly names O’Reilly as a
Defendant as to all eight Counts and alleges additional facts concerning O’Reilly’s conduct. See
generally Pls.’ Mot. to Am., Proposed Am. Compl., ECF No. 22-2 [hereinafter Am. Compl.].
Defendants oppose Plaintiffs’ Motion for Leave to Amend on the ground that amendment would
be futile because Plaintiffs’ proposed changes to the operative complaint would not survive a
motion to dismiss. Defs.’ Opp’n to Pls.’ Mot. to Am., ECF No. 25, at 2–3; see In re Interbank
Funding Corp. Secs. Litig., 629 F.3d 213, 215–16 (D.C. Cir. 2010) (stating that a district court
may deny leave to amend “on grounds of futility where the proposed pleading would not survive
a motion to dismiss”).
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a) instructs courts to “freely give leave” to a party
seeking to amend its pleadings. The Supreme Court has emphasized that Rule 15(a)’s “mandate
is to be heeded.” Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962). “If the underlying facts or
circumstances relied upon by a plaintiff may be a proper subject of relief, he ought to be afforded
an opportunity to test his claim on the merits.” Id. Denying leave to amend is “inconsistent with
the spirit of the Federal Rules” and an abuse of discretion, id., unless the court provides a sufficient
reason for so doing, such as “futility of amendment, undue delay, bad faith, dilatory motive, undue
prejudice, or repeated failure to cure deficiencies by previous amendments,” Boyd v. Dist. of
Columbia, 465 F. Supp. 2d 1, 3 (D.D.C. 2006).
Given the posture of the case—pending motions to dismiss and a pending motion to
amend—in the interest of judicial efficiency, the court will evaluate Defendants’ arguments for
dismissal against the claims and allegations presented in the proposed Amended Complaint, not
against the Original Complaint. If the proposed Amended Complaint states cognizable claims,
the court must allow the amendment as to those claims. The court evaluates Plaintiffs’ arguments
for dismissal under the familiar standards articulated in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S.
544 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009).
For the reasons discussed below, the court grants Plaintiffs’ Motion for Leave to Amend
in part and denies it in part. Therefore, the proposed Amended Complaint shall become the
operative pleading for the surviving claims. Accordingly, Defendants’ Partial Motions to Dismiss
are denied as moot. See Johnson v. Panetta, 935 F. Supp. 2d 244, 248, 250–51 (D.D.C. 2013).
Breach of Contract and Breach of Duty of Good Faith and Fair Dealing
The court concludes that Plaintiffs’ claims premised on the existence of an express or
implied employment contract would not survive a motion to dismiss. Leave to amend Counts IV,
V, and VI therefore is denied as futile.
Plaintiffs contend that these claims should survive because their employment with FedEx
was governed by FedEx’s “People Manual,” which outlines a host of policies pertaining to
employment with FedEx. As relevant here, the People Manual contains a progressive discipline
policy—the “Acceptable Conduct Policy”—and a progressive appeals process for disciplinary
actions—the “Guaranteed Fair Treatment Procedure.” Am. Compl. ¶¶ 59–62, 88–91.1 Plaintiff
Howard asserts in Count V that, by terminating him after only two instances of alleged misconduct,
Defendants breached an express contract with him purportedly providing that termination may
occur only after three instances of alleged misconduct within a twelve-month period. Am. Compl.
¶¶ 147–51. Plaintiffs additionally assert in Count VI that provisions in the People Manual created
an implied obligation on Defendants’ part not to terminate them without cause. Am. Compl. ¶¶
152–63; see Pls.’ Opp’n to FedEx’s Mot., ECF No. 10-1 [hereinafter Opp’n to FedEx’s Mot.], at
2. The court rejects Plaintiffs’ assertions.
For starters, Plaintiffs fail to allege that Defendant O’Reilly was a party to any implied or
express employment contract. They assert only that O’Reilly “knew and understood” FedEx’s
policies as outlined in the People Manual. E.g., Am. Compl. ¶¶ 148, 160. That allegation is
The court may consider FedEx’s People Manual because Plaintiffs have attached and/or incorporated relevant
portions of the Manual by reference to their Complaint. See Rand v. Sec’y of the Treasury, 816 F. Supp. 2d 70, 72–
73 (D.D.C. 2011).
plainly insufficient to create a contract between O’Reilly and Plaintiffs. Accordingly, Plaintiffs
fail to state a claim against O’Reilly as to Counts IV, V, and VI.
As to Defendant FedEx, the court reaches the same conclusion, but for different reasons.
In the District of Columbia, all employment is presumed to be terminable at-will “unless a contrary
contractual intent is clearly expressed.” Turner v. Fed. Express Corp., 539 F. Supp. 2d 404, 410
(D.D.C. 2008). “The presumption of at-will employment is rebutted only where the parties
clearly state an intention to place limits on the employer’s right to terminate.” Id. Such clear
intent may be reflected in an employer’s personnel manual or employment handbook, thereby
giving rise to an implied contract. See Clampitt v. Am. Univ., 957 A.2d 23, 35 (D.C. 2008). A
personnel manual creates an implied employment contract when, as pertinent here, it sets out
preconditions that must be met before termination of employment, Strass v. Kaiser Found. Health
Plan, 744 A.2d 1000, 1013–14 (D.C. 2000), and when the employer publishes or distributes the
personnel manual containing those preconditions to all employees, see Clampitt, 957 A.2d at 36.
Employers may, however, “effectively disclaim any implied contractual obligations arising from
such provisions.” Boulton v. Inst. of Int’l Educ., 808 A.2d 499, 505 (D.C. 2002). “The legal
effect of such a disclaimer is, in the first instance, a question for the court to decide.” Id.
Here, Plaintiffs’ implied contract claims fail because (1) they have not identified any
preconditions that FedEx must have fulfilled before termination, and (2) FedEx has expressly
disclaimed that the People Manual imposes upon FedEx any contractual obligations. Plaintiffs
maintain that the “essence” of the Guaranteed Fair Treatment Procedure (“GFTP”) and the
language of the Acceptable Conduct Policy contradict the existence of an at-will employment
relationship, see Opp’n. to FedEx’s Mot., at 9–12, but upon review of those provisions, it is clear
that FedEx did not intend to limit its right to terminate its employees at-will. To begin with, the
GFTP does not, as Plaintiffs suggest, mandate termination only for cause; instead, the Procedure
provides employees a guaranteed process by which to appeal a disciplinary action, explicitly
noting that “the outcome [of the process] is not ensured to be in the employee’s favor,” and that
the Procedure “do[es] not create contractual rights regarding termination or otherwise.” FedEx’s
Mot., GFTP, Ex. B, ECF No. 7-3, at 334, 336. And, despite Howard’s preferred interpretation,
the Acceptable Conduct Policy is clear that “progressive discipline is not required and issuance of
a Warning letter is not a prerequisite for termination.” FedEx’s Mot., Acceptable Conduct Policy,
Ex. C, ECF No. 7-4 [hereinafter Acceptable Conduct Policy], at 89. Thus, the text of the specific
policies upon which Plaintiffs rely do not evince an intent to deviate from at-will employment.
Moreover, as a general matter, the People Manual expressly disclaims any notion that it
constitutes a contract. The Manual proclaims, in bold print:
The FedEx Express People Manual is not a contract of employment,
nor should its provisions be read or implied to provide for one. The
People Manual provides guidelines for management and employees.
It does not create legal rights or obligations regarding any aspect of
your employment relationship. This manual is intended solely as a
guide for management and employees during employment. It is not
a contract of employment, and no such contract may be implied from
See FedEx’s Mot., 2015 People Manual Disclaimer, Ex. A, ECF No. 7-2; FedEx’s Mot., 2016
People Manual Disclaimer, Ex. B, ECF No. 7-3. If that disclaimer language were not clear
enough, the People Manual states in the very next sentence: “Nothing in this manual shall be
construed to abrogate the employment agreement signed upon application for employment
preserving the Company’s and the employee’s right to terminate this relationship at the will of
either party.” Id.; see Acceptable Conduct Policy, at 94; FedEx’s Reply in Supp. of Mot. to
Dismiss, ECF No. 12, Ex. 1, ECF No. 12-1, at 324. No employee who reads the forgoing
disclaimers could reasonably believe that the People Manual creates any enforceable contractual
obligations. Therefore, consistent with District of Columbia law, the court finds that the People
Manual does not create judicially enforceable contractual rights. E.g., Grove v. Loomis Sayles &
Co., 810 F. Supp. 2d 146, 149 (D.D.C. 2011) (“Even if the employer has provided its employees
with an employee handbook, the handbook is not enforceable as an employment contract if it
disclaims the establishment of contractual obligations and explicitly provides that employment
may be terminated at-will.”).
Absent the existence of a contract with Defendants, Count IV—Howard’s breach of duty
of good faith and fair dealing claim—necessarily fails. E.g., Draim v. Virtual Geosatellite
Holdings, Inc., 631 F. Supp. 2d 32, 39 (D.D.C. 2009) (quoting Paul v. Howard Univ., 754 A.2d
297, 310 n.28 (D.C. 2000) (“[S]uch a claim [for breach of covenant of good faith and fair dealing]
cannot be made by an at-will employee because there is no contract to provide a basis for the
covenant.”)). Accordingly, leave to amend Plaintiffs’ Counts IV, V, and VI is denied.
In Count III, Plaintiff Howard asserts a claim of promissory estoppel against FedEx and
As grounds for that claim, Howard contends that, when read together, FedEx’s
September 16, 2015, warning letter to him and its Acceptable Conduct Policy, constituted a
promise not to terminate him until after he had been issued three disciplinary letters. Am. Compl.
¶¶ 133–34; see Compl., Sept. 16, 2015 Warning Letter, Ex. B, ECF No. 1-6 [hereinafter Sept. 16
Warning Letter], at 1 (“Any three (3) notifications of deficiency . . . received within a 12-month
period may result in termination.”); Acceptable Conduct Policy, at 89 (“The receipt of three
notifications of deficiency within a 12-month period normally results in termination.”). FedEx’s
termination of him without three warnings, Howard asserts, suffices to make out a claim of
To sustain a promissory estoppel claim under District of Columbia law, Howard “must
show (1) a promise; (2) that the promise reasonably induced reliance on it; and (3) that [he] relied
on the promise to his . . . detriment.” Greggs v. Autism Speaks, Inc., 987 F. Supp. 2d 51, 55
(D.D.C. 2014). “[A] promise is ‘an expression of intention that the promisor will conduct himself
in a specified way or bring about a specified result in the future, communicated in such a manner
to a promisee that he may justly expect performance and may reasonably rely thereon.’”
Headfirst Baseball LLC v. Elwood, 168 F. Supp. 3d 236, 247–48 (D.D.C. 2016) (quoting Choate
v. TRW, Inc., 14 F.3d 74, 77–78 (D.C. Cir. 1994) (alteration in original)).
Howard’s promissory estoppel claim against O’Reilly is plainly deficient. He fails to
allege any facts establishing that O’Reilly made any promise to him, merely stating that O’Reilly
“knew or should have known about” FedEx’s supposed promise not to terminate before the
issuance of three warnings. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 135–39. Howard therefore fails to state a claim of
promissory estoppel as to O’Reilly. See Alemayehu v. Abere, 199 F. Supp. 3d 74, 83 (D.D.C.
2016) (dismissing promissory estoppel claim where plaintiff failed to allege that specific defendant
made any promise to plaintiff).
Howard’s pleading as to FedEx falls short as well. First, the September 16, 2015, warning
letter expressly advised him that “recurrent patterns of behavior will not be tolerated” and that “[a]
repeat of this or any other behavioral problem may result in more severe disciplinary action up to
and including termination.” Sept. 16 Warning Letter, at 1. In other words, Howard was aware
that “repeat[ing]” the warned behavior—violating the Acceptable Conduct Policy a second time—
could result in termination. Second, the Acceptable Conduct Policy explicitly provides that “an
employee may be terminated with less than three notifications of deficiency within a 12-month
period.” Acceptable Conduct Policy, at 89–90. These provisions make clear that FedEx did not
make any promise to afford Howard three warning letters before terminating him. The court
therefore denies Howard leave to amend Count III as futile.
In Count VIII, Plaintiffs assert a defamation claim against both Defendants arising
primarily from: (1) a statement of FedEx Security Officer Marcus Lyers, and (2) the very fact of
Plaintiffs’ termination, which Plaintiffs allege defamed them by innuendo. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 173–
85. As to the first basis, Plaintiffs allege that, during a discussion about Plaintiff Howard that
occurred after his termination, Lyers said to another FedEx employee about Howard’s termination,
“Forget about Al, you do not know the whole truth about Al.” Id. ¶ 174. As to the second
ground, Plaintiffs aver that their former co-workers and supervisors—indeed, “[e]veryone who
worked at Plaintiffs’ station in DC”—wrongly inferred that Plaintiffs were terminated because
they had “[some]thing to do with” the loss or theft of customers’ packages. Am. Compl. ¶ 179.
Only Defendant O’Reilly challenges the sufficiency of the defamation claim made against him.
Plaintiffs’ allegations are plainly insufficient to state a claim of defamation against
O’Reilly for an obvious reason: O’Reilly is not alleged to have uttered any specific defamatory
statement about Plaintiffs. See Jankovic v. Int'l Crisis Grp., 494 F.3d 1080, 1088 (D.C. Cir. 2007)
(“A plaintiff claiming defamation must show . . . that the defendant made a false and defamatory
statement concerning the plaintiff[.]”). Plaintiffs allege that O’Reilly wrongfully recommended
their termination, but attribute no statement to him. Am. Comp. ¶ 183. Plaintiffs’ defamation
claim against O’Reilly thus fails.
Violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981
Plaintiffs allege in Count I that Defendants terminated them on the basis of their race.
They further assert that FedEx’s stated reason for terminating them—their supposed failure to
safeguard property on their delivery trucks—was pretextual as evidenced by FedEx’s refusal to
similarly discipline another employee, Glen Booker, who was responsible for, yet lost, the master
key to the delivery trucks. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 114–22. According to Plaintiffs, O’Reilly’s failure
to investigate or terminate Booker while recommending Plaintiffs’ termination amounts to “a
classic ‘double standard’ treatment” and “race discrimination.” Id. ¶ 119–21.
The court concludes that Count I, as pled by Plaintiffs in their proposed Amended
Complaint, is duplicative of Count II, which the Defendants do not seek to dismiss. See DTCC
Data Repository LLC v. U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Comm’n, 25 F. Supp. 3d 9, 18–19
(D.D.C. 2014) (“Claims are duplicative when they stem from identical allegations, that are decided
under identical legal standards, and for which identical relief is available.” (internal quotation
marks omitted)). Though styled differently, Counts I and II are the same claim: intentional racial
discrimination and disparate treatment in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 arising from Plaintiffs’
termination by Defendants. Compare Am. Compl. ¶¶ 114–22, with Am. Compl. ¶¶ 123–31.
Accordingly, leave to amend Count I is denied and the court will dismiss Count I on the grounds
that it duplicates Count II. DTCC Data Repository LLC, 25 F. Supp. 3d at 18 (“A court may
dismiss duplicative claims in its discretion.”).
In Count VII, Plaintiffs assert a claim of negligence against Defendants under the theory
that Defendants breached their duty of care to Plaintiffs by failing to provide them with a secure
delivery truck and that, as a direct and proximate result of this breach, Plaintiffs were terminated.
Am. Compl. ¶¶ 164–72.2 Defendants contend that Plaintiffs’ negligence claim is barred by the
Plaintiffs also assert that Defendants are liable pursuant to D.C. Code § 35-301, “Liability of common carriers for
injuries to employees.” Id. ¶ 172. At this juncture, pending Plaintiffs’ presentation of their negligence claim to
DOES for a determination of jurisdiction, the court will assume without deciding that FedEx is a “common carrier”
under D.C. Code § 35-501.
District of Columbia Workers’ Compensation Act (“WCA”), D.C. Code § 32-1501 to -1545,
because the WCA “is the exclusive remedy for workplace-related injuries.” FedEx’s Mot., at 12–
13; O’Reilly’s Mot., at 15–16. The court concludes that a substantial question exists as to the
applicability of the WCA to Plaintiffs’ negligence claim and accordingly will stay the proceedings
as to Count VII for 45 days to allow Plaintiffs to present their claim to the D.C. Department of
Employment Services (“DOES”).
The WCA covers, in pertinent part, an injury to an employee “that occurs in the District
of Columbia if the employee performed work for the employer, at the time of the injury . . . , while
in the District of Columbia.” D.C. Code § 32-1501(a)(1). The WCA broadly defines “injury” to
encompass “accidental injury or death arising out of and in the course of employment. . . .” Id.
§ 32-1501(12). For injuries that fall within this definition, the WCA is “the employee’s exclusive
remedy against the employer[.]” Id. § 32-1504(b). “[B]ecause the WCA contains a number of
presumptions that favor coverage, the employee bears the burden of proving that the WCA does
not apply.” Hamilton v. Sanofi-Aventis U.S., Inc., 628 F. Supp. 2d 59, 63 (D.D.C. 2009).
Plaintiffs insist that the WCA pertains solely to physical injury arising out of the course of
employment, not the economic and emotional injuries they allege resulted from their terminations.
Opp’n to FedEx’s Mot, at 25. It is well-established, however, that “in appropriate circumstances,
an emotional injury alone may be compensable under the [WCA].” See Wright v. D.C. Dep’t of
Emp’t Servs., 924 A.2d 284, 286 (D.C. 2007). Moreover, District of Columbia courts recognize
the “economic focus of the [WCA],” noting “the longstanding principle that compensation under
the [WCA] is tied to loss of wage-earning capacity, not the existence of a medical injury.” M.C.
Dean, Inc. v. D.C. Dep’t of Emp’t Servs., 146 A.3d 67, 76 n.8 (D.C. 2016).
In light of this authority, the court finds that a “substantial question” exists as to whether
Plaintiffs’ negligence claim and the economic and emotional injuries upon which it is based are
exclusively compensable though the WCA. In such circumstances, DOES, “the administrative
agency charged with implementing the statute, given its special expertise, has primary jurisdiction
to make the initial determination concerning coverage before the courts can exercise jurisdiction.”
Estate of Underwood v. Nat’l Credit Union Admin., 665 A.2d 621, 631 (D.C. 1995). As such, the
D.C. Court of Appeals instructs that the appropriate course of action is to stay the proceeding until
a plaintiff has had reasonable time to present his or her claims to DOES. E.g., Joyner v. Sibley
Mem’l Hosp., 826 A.2d 362, 374–75 n.14 (D.C. 2003). This court will follow that procedure here
and stay proceedings as to Count VII for 45 days to allow Plaintiffs to present their negligence
claim to DOES, so that DOES can determine whether the WCA provides coverage for their claim.
See Lockhart v. Coastal Intern. Sec., Inc., 905 F. Supp. 2d 105, 115 n.8 (D.D.C. 2012).
For the foregoing reasons, (1) Defendant FedEx’s Partial Motion to Dismiss is denied as
moot; (2) Defendant O’Reilly’s Partial Motion to Dismiss is denied as moot; and (3) Plaintiffs’
Motion for Leave to Amend is granted in part and denied in part.
Accordingly, the Amended Complaint constitutes the operative pleading in this matter with
respect to Count II as to both Defendants and Count VIII as to Defendant FedEx only. All other
Counts contained in the Amended Complaint, except Count VII, fail to state a claim. Proceedings
as to Count VII are hereby stayed for 45 days, pending Plaintiffs’ presentation of their negligence
claim to DOES.
Dated: November 22, 2017
Amit P. Mehta
United States District Judge
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