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White v. Ciber

November 14, 2007

ROBERT N. WHITE, PLAINTIFF
v.
CIBER, INC., ANN GRIFFITHS, AND DENNIS MILLER, DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Sylvia H. Rambo

MEMORANDUM

Before the court is a motion to dismiss brought by Defendants Ciber, Inc. ("Ciber"), Ann Griffiths, Vice President of Ciber, and Dennis Miller, an account executive for Ciber. (Doc. 8.) Plaintiff Robert White was a Ciber employee, working under Griffiths and Miller. Plaintiff charged all Defendants with wrongful termination, breach of written contract, violation of the Pennsylvania Wage Payment and Collection Law ("WPCL"), and breach of implied contract. For the reasons that follow, Defendants' motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. Background

For purposes of this motion to dismiss, the following facts are drawn from Plaintiff's complaint and accepted as true. Plaintiff was hired by Defendant Ciber on May 27, 2005. He signed an Employment and Confidentiality Agreement ("Agreement") which was signed by Griffiths on behalf of Ciber. Plaintiff was paid $125 per hour with a forty-hour work week. The Agreement states that Plaintiff's employment is at-will, such that either Plaintiff or Ciber could terminate the contract "and the employment relationship at any time with or without cause or reason and with or without prior notice or warning." (Agreement ¶ 2.) Plaintiff worked on a software implementation project undertaken by Ciber and the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission. The contract between Ciber and the Commission is estimated to end in or around October 2008.

Paragraph 8.3 of the Agreement permits Plaintiff to attend training or educational courses, but does not require him to do so. Ciber does not assume the duty to pay for any or all such training Plaintiff might attend. Rather, the Agreement indicates that Ciber may opt to pay for training; in that event, if Plaintiff's employment terminates within 90 days after attending or completing the training, Plaintiff would be required to reimburse Ciber for the cost of the course, including travel and living expenses.

On or around August 31, 2006, two Ciber project managers "directed [Plaintiff] to attend two . . . training courses, and to pay all costs associated with that training." (Compl. ¶ 20.) The following day, Miller also directed Plaintiff to attend the two courses and pay for them himself, "and threatened consequences if he did not comply with the order, including pay reductions and termination. Miller further stated [Plaintiff's] salary would be reviewed at a later date." (Id. ¶ 21.) Accordingly, in September 2006, Plaintiff scheduled and attended two week-long training courses. He incurred a loss of $16,496.71 to attend the courses, including "cost, airfare, auto expenses and meals, and loss of pay for two weeks." (Id. ¶ 22.) Plaintiff contends that the Ciber's directive "was an abrogation of his employment contract." (Id. ¶ 24.)

This directive was interpreted by Plaintiff as an offer from Ciber to enter a new, implied contract for employment. (See id. ¶ 25.) The terms of the new implied employment agreement were that if Plaintiff attended and paid for the training sessions, his employment would no longer be at-will; instead, he would be terminated or his benefits reduced only for just cause. (See id. ¶¶ 23-27.) Ciber "confirm[ed] the new implied contract by a) [a]ccepting the substantial benefit of [Plaintiff] funding his own training at a cost of $16,496.71, and b) [c]ontinuing to employ [Plaintiff] at the same rate of pay for the remainder of 2006" (Id. ¶ 27), and by "availing themselves [sic] of [Plaintiff's] enhanced value and expertise on a critical and lucrative project with the Turnpike Commission" (Id. ¶ 62).

On January 1, 2007, Plaintiff's rate of pay was reduced from $125 per hour to $75 per hour. Plaintiff contested the wage reduction until May 31, 2007 when, unable to resolve the dispute in his favor, he resigned.

As a result of the wage dispute, Plaintiff filed a complaint in the Court of Common Pleas for Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, on July 20, 2007. (Doc. 1-2.) Defendants removed the action to this court on August 13, 2007. (Doc. 1.) On August 27, 2007, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss the following counts of the complaint: 1) wrongful termination against all Defendants; 2) breach of written contract against Griffiths and Miller; 3) violation of the WPCL against Griffiths and Miller; and 4) breach of implied contract against all Defendants. (Doc. 8.) Plaintiff consents to dismissal of the wrongful termination claim against all Defendants and the breach of written contract claim against Griffiths and Miller. (Doc. 11 at 1.) The court will enter an order dismissing those claims without further discussion. The court will, however, examine the merits of the motion to dismiss as to the remaining charges.

II. Legal Standard -- 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss

Among other requirements, a sound complaint must set forth "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). This statement must "give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, - U.S. -, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). A complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, but a plaintiff must provide "more than labels and conclusions" or "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action" to show entitlement to relief as prescribed by Rule 8(a)(2). Id. at 1965; accord, e.g., Evancho v. Fisher, 423 F.3d 347, 350(3d Cir. 2005). A defendant may attack a complaint by a motion under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

In deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court is required to accept as true all of the factual allegations in the complaint, Erickson v. Pardus, - U.S. -, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 2200 (2007), and all reasonable inferences permitted by the factual allegations, Watson v. Abington Twp., 478 F.3d 144, 150 (3d Cir. 2007), viewing them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, Kanter v. Barella, 489 F.3d 170, 177 (3d Cir. 2007). The court is not, however, "compelled to accept unsupported conclusions and unwarranted inferences or a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation." Baraka v. McGreevey, 481 F.3d 187, 195 (3d Cir. 2007) (quotations and citations omitted). If the facts alleged are sufficient to "raise a right to relief above the speculative level" such that the plaintiff's claim is "plausible on its face," a complaint will survive a motion to dismiss. Bell Atlantic Corp., 127 S.Ct. at 1965, 1974; Victaulic Co. v. Tieman, 499 F.3d 227, 234 (3d Cir. 2007).

III. Discussion

The remaining claims on this motion to dismiss are for violation of the WPCL by Griffiths and Miller and for breach of implied contract against all Defendants. ...


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