Bleich v. Florence Crittenton Services of Baltimore, Inc.

Citation632 A.2d 463,98 Md.App. 123
Decision Date01 September 1993
Docket NumberNo. 169,169
Parties, 8 IER Cases 1820 Florence H. BLEICH v. FLORENCE CRITTENTON SERVICES OF BALTIMORE, INC., et al. ,
CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland

Robert B. Levin (Shiling, Bloch & Levin, P.A., on the brief), Baltimore, for appellant.

Elizabeth G. Jacobs (Marcy M. Hallock, on the brief), Baltimore, for appellees.

Argued before WILNER, C.J., and FISCHER and MOTZ, JJ.

MOTZ, Judge.

This appeal involves a claim of wrongful discharge and intentional interference with business relationships.

(i)

From 1983 to 1992, appellant, Florence H. Bleich, was employed by appellee, Florence Crittenton Services of Baltimore, Inc. (FCS), a non-profit agency that provides residential and educational programs and services for adolescent females in personal crisis. FCS is licensed as a residential child care facility through the Maryland Department of Human Resources Social Service Administration's Group Licensing Unit. See Md.Fam.Law Art. §§ 5-501 to 5-588 (1984, 1991 Repl.Vol., 1992 Cum.Supp.). Appellee, Anne S. Davis, has been executive director of FCS since 1977.

Ms. Bleich began working for FCS in December, 1983 as a teacher in the area of child development and life skills. In February 1990 she was made a full-time teacher; however, effective January 3, 1992, assertedly because of programmatic and economic changes, her hours were reduced to twenty hours a week. Her last performance review, prior to the events leading to this lawsuit, was completed in June, 1991. In it she was rated eight or better, out of a possible ten, in all--twelve--categories. The evaluation stated that she was "a key member of the teaching staff.... willing to take on responsibility not assigned as part of her job description [and].... willing to help out in areas that are not always covered by her job title." The evaluation was completed by Ms. Bleich's immediate supervisor, David Barnstable, and reviewed by Ms. Davis.

In her affidavit, Ms. Bleich stated that beginning in 1991 "the atmosphere at FCS began to change dramatically." "Gang type groups" began forming among various residents. "[T]here were several incidents in which residents and staff were intimidated, assaulted and battered by other residents." One such incident occurred in November of 1991 when a "riot situation" occurred, "residents and staff were assaulted by other residents," "police were called to FCS to intervene, and a total of 17 of the 23 residents were removed from FCS." Ms. Bleich further stated that "[b]ecause of [her] concerns for the health, safety and well-being of the residents of FCS and its staff, on numerous occasions [she] expressed concern about this unsafe environment to both [appellee] Davis and [Ms. Bleich's] direct supervisor, Barnstable." On January 7, 1992, during a clinical staff meeting attended by Ms. Davis and other FCS staff, Ms. Bleich again "voiced concerns regarding what [she] believed to be the dangerous and unsafe situation for the residents and staff at FCS;" she stated that she "believed that a major cause of these problems was the lack of effectiveness of the administration at FCS." After that meeting and for the next several months, her concerns for the health and safety of residents and staff "continued to intensify" and she continued to voice these concerns to Ms. Davis and Mr. Barnstable.

When it did not appear to Ms. Bleich that Ms. Davis was "taking any actions to address these dangerous situations," on Friday, March 13, she wrote and mailed a letter to the State licensing specialist assigned to FCS. That letter stated, in pertinent part:

There needs to be an immediate investigation of Florence Crittenton Services (FCS). The safety of both the residents and the staff is questionable to say the least.

Within the resident population there's what appears to be a gang-type movement afoot. In some respects it seems that the residents run the agency by intimidation, threats, blatant disrespect, and attacks on their peers as well as members of the staff.

....

How can the specific needs of the residents be properly addressed if the children aren't safe from one another, in what's supposed to be an environment of safety and care? It appears to me, that there's scant internal administrative control. In some regards these children might be safer in the environments from which they've been removed.

Ms. Bleich signed the letter, identifying herself as an employee of FCS, and provided her home address; she also sent copies of the letter to L. Carl Holmes, the President of the FCS Board of Directors, Ms. Davis, other FCS staff, and Sergeant Bull of the Baltimore City Police Department.

On Monday, March 16, 1992, Ms. Bleich received a letter, dated March 13, hand-delivered by a messenger service, from Ms. Davis. That letter advised Ms. Bleich that her employment with FCS was "terminated effective March 13, 1992 at the close of the business day." The letter explained that "[t]his action is due to a consistent lack of respect for agency policies, procedures, and management decisions as expressed in your memo dated 3/7/92." Ms. Bleich sent copies of her March 7, 1992 memo to Ms. Davis, Mr. Holmes, Mr. Barnstable, and other FCS staff advising them that Ms. Bleich would not be taking a FCS resident out job hunting and stating:

It's obvious, that administratively, nothing has been planned for residents who need to seek employment. It's a disgrace that appropriate financial provisions have not been made for such situations! How on earth can the administration, of Florence Crittenton Services, claim to be steering youth towards independence if something as basic and necessary as this has not been planned for?

This memorandum apparently responded to Ms. Davis's memorandum of March 6, 1992 informing Ms. Bleich that:

As per your conference with Mr. Barnstable today, we will pay you an hourly wage at your normal rate when you are involved in taking [a resident] on interviews. I have been in touch with the Department of Juvenile Services to ascertain if they will contract for this service. I feel we will be able to get some funds to carry this out.

However, we must at this time limit it to two weeks, as we evaluate it to see how many hours are involved. We must write a proposal to get it funded, therefore we must first document the time.

We will be taking this on a case by case basis until the Independent Living Program is funded.

Mr. Holmes, Ms. Davis, and Mr. Barnstable stated in their similarly worded affidavits that they consulted on March 13, 1992 and "decided to terminate Ms. Bleich's employment with FCS effective that day, March 13, 1992," because of her "consistent lack of respect for agency policies, procedures and management decisions, particularly as reflected" in the "insubordinate [March 7] memo." They further asserted that Ms. Bleich "had previously written a letter" to a State education official "without any authorization or knowledge of FCS, inquiring about the status of a special education program at FCS" and that letter was "also a factor in the decision to discharge Bleich." They all swore that the decision to discharge Ms. Bleich was made "prior to ... receipt" of Ms. Bleich's letter complaining to the State licensing authorities about FCS and that Ms. Bleich's letter to the licensing authorities "was not a factor in the decision to discharge" her.

Mr. Holmes, Ms. Davis, and Mr. Barnstable explained in their affidavits that the termination letter was prepared by Ms. Davis on Friday, March 13, 1992, and was not mailed that day only because "all such letters are reviewed by counsel for FCS and counsel was out of town and unavailable." When Ms. Davis still could not reach counsel on Monday morning, March 16, she contacted another attorney, who reviewed it; Ms. Davis then "gave the letter ... to a messenger for delivery to Ms. Bleich." It was not until after Ms. Davis sent that letter that, she asserts, she learned from Mr. Holmes that he had received in the mail a copy of Ms. Bleich's letter to State licensing authorities. One of FCS's lawyers filed an affidavit stating that he was unavailable on March 13, 1992, and "Ms. Davis left a message on my voice mail advising that FCS had decided to terminate an employee, and requesting that I call her as soon as possible to discuss the termination." The lawyer did not "return from vacation until March 23, 1992, at which time [he] heard Ms. Davis' message on [his] voice mail."

On July 21, 1992, Ms. Bleich filed a two-count complaint against FCS and Ms. Davis. Count One asserted that FCS and Ms. Davis wrongfully discharged Ms. Bleich; Count Two asserted that Ms. Davis intentionally interfered with Ms. Bleich's business relationships with FCS. On August 24, 1992, FCS and Ms. Davis filed an extensive "motion to dismiss, or in the alternative, motion for summary judgment;" the motion was supported by a nineteen page memorandum, four affidavits, and two additional exhibits. On October 5, 1992, Ms. Bleich filed a twenty-eight page memorandum in response to that motion, which was supported by Ms. Bleich's affidavit, and eight exhibits. FCS and Ms. Davis promptly countered with another long (18 pages) memorandum.

On October 13, 1992, the Circuit Court for Baltimore City issued an order granting the motion. There is no transcript of the oral argument before the circuit court; the order provided in its entirety:

Upon consideration of Defendant's Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment, and Plaintiff's Opposition thereto, it is this 13th day of October, 1992, by the undersigned, one of the Judges of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, hereby ORDERED, the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Counts I and II of the Complaint is hereby GRANTED; and

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED, that Plaintiff shall have 30 days leave to amend the Complaint.

When Ms. Bleich failed to amend her complaint, the defendants moved to...

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