Haas v. Lockheed Martin

Decision Date09 January 2007
Docket NumberNo. 5, September Term, 2006.,5, September Term, 2006.
Citation914 A.2d 735,396 Md. 469
CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland

Laurence S. Kaye (The Kaye Law Firm of Gaithersburg, MD, Julie Glass Martin-Korb of Rockville, MD), all on brief, for Petitioner.

Brief of amici curiae the Public Justice Center and the Maryland Employment Lawyers Association.

Roscoe Jones, Jr., Esquire, Francis D. Murnaghan, Jr., Appellate Advocacy Fellow, Suzanne Sangree, Esquire, Stephen Ruckman, Esquire, Public Justice Center, Baltimore, MD, for amicus curiae Public Justice Center.

Deborah Thompson Eisenberg, Esquire, Brown, Goldstein & Levy, Baltimore, MD, for amicus curiae Maryland Employment Lawyers Association.

Michael J. Murphy (John B. Flood of Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C. of Washington, D.C.), on brief for Respondent.

Robin S. Conrad, Esquire, Shane Brennan, Esquire, National Chamber Litigation Center, Inc., Washington, D.C., for Respondent.

Maurice Baskin, Esquire, Venable L.L.P., Washinton, D.C., for Respondent.



We issued a writ of certiorari in this case, 393 Md. 160, 900 A.2d 206 (2006), to consider a matter of first impression in the reported opinions of the appellate courts of this State: what circumstances should be looked to in determining the point of accrual for a cause of action claiming discriminatory discharge under Maryland Code (1957, 1998 Repl.Vol.), § 42 of Article 49B. In addressing this query, we are required to determine, in the context of discriminatory discharge cases filed pursuant to Montgomery County, Md., Code § 27-19, whether the "occurrence of the alleged discriminatory act" means (1) the notification of an employee's impending discharge, or (2) the actual cessation of an employee's employment. Md.Code, Art. 49B, § 42(b) (emphasis added).


In October 1998, Petitioner Suzanne Haas was hired as a Program Administrator in the Lockheed Martin Corporation's Mission Systems division. At the time of her hiring, she possessed a Master's degree and was near completion of her Doctorate, lacking only a finished dissertation. From the date of hiring until October 1999, Haas worked under the supervision of Katie Sterrett, who gave Haas largely positive formal, as well as informal, performance reviews. By all accounts, Haas initially achieved the level of performance expected of new employees. In June 1999, however, Sterrett noted, and Haas acknowledged, a problem with Haas's attention to details. This difficulty persisted for several months and, in January 2000, Haas sought a psychiatric evaluation of the situation. Tests yielded a diagnosis of Attention Deficit Disorder ("ADD") and learning disabilities, both of which were to be treated with medication. Several months later, Haas informed her new supervisor, Amy Lowenstein, of the diagnosis and assured her that the medication was alleviating the adverse symptoms of her condition. In June 2000, Lowenstein completed an annual personnel review, called a "Contribution Assessment", of Haas's performance at Lockheed. The conclusion classified Haas as a "contributor" to the company.2

In May or April 2000, as part of a structural reorganization at Lockheed, Haas began dividing her work time between her Missions Systems position and a new post in the consolidated human resources unit called Corporate Shared Services. In this role, Haas reported to a supervisor in the Learning Services unit of Corporate Shared Services, Candice Phelan, who also was aware of Haas's medical condition. Haas and Phelan exchanged correspondence where Haas clarified that her medical condition would have no adverse effect on her work and Phelan expressed her confidence in their future working relationship. Nonetheless, a conflict arose shortly after Haas began assuming more responsibilities under the supervision of Phelan.

Petitioner, in her later filed complaint, alleged a number of instances where Phelan exhibited a general disapproval of Haas's work and assertedly made undue and frequent criticisms of her performance. Among these instances were claims that Phelan consistently suggested that Haas should not be assigned tasks involving writing, mathematical calculations, exercise of judgment, computers, or attention to detail. Petitioner also alleged that Phelan told Petitioner that she should consider a teaching career, as opposed to remaining at Lockheed Martin. Phelan purportedly went so far as to forward to Haas, unsolicited, a job posting from outside the company. Petitioner assigned a malevolent motive to the remarks and actions of Phelan, in contrast to the praise she apparently received from customers and others who encountered her work. Reprimands from Phelan continued for what Haas described as various minor deficiencies in Haas's performance, such as spelling errors in written work that allegedly passed without criticism when committed similarly by other employees.

In April 2001, Phelan informed Haas that the functions Haas performed at Learning Services were to be transferred to the company's Institute for Leadership Excellence ("ILE") at some time in the near future. On 10 April 2001, the Director of the ILE, Dorothea Mahan, posted on the company's Career Network website link a notice for an opening for a staff position dedicated, inter alia, to the logistical and planning functions previously performed by Haas for Learning Services. Haas applied for this position, but neither was selected for an interview nor offered the position. Mahan explained, in a deposition taken following the filing of Haas's complaint, that, in her view, Haas lacked the requisite experience in event planning to serve the needs of the position. It is uncertain exactly when Haas was informed that her application was unsuccessful,3 but it suffices to say that she was not aware that she had not been selected for the ILE position until shortly before she received a notification of layoff.

On 11 June 2001, Phelan placed Haas on a Performance Improvement Plan ("PIP"), a type of formal discipline apparently meant to direct the improvement of the disciplined employee's performance. Phelan dispatched a memorandum to Haas confirming the topics discussed at a meeting between the two to review the PIP, including Phelan's perceptions of Haas's shortcomings in judgment, planning, and attention to detail. Also part of the PIP discussion was a reference to the theft of a laptop under Haas's control while at a business meeting. The PIP memorandum indicated that a failure to correct the issues highlighted therein might subject Haas to further disciplinary action, including dismissal. Petitioner disputed the accuracy of various issues raised in the PIP when it was issued, as echoed in her complaint, along with the contention that, with regard to the laptop theft, she was disciplined more severely than other employees in similar situations. Petitioner further stated in her complaint that Phelan's issuance of the PIP and its contents were merely subtexts to harm Petitioner's standing at the company and simultaneously disqualify her from any possible promotions, transfers, or other opportunities at Lockheed.4 Nonetheless, Phelan dispatched a memorandum to Haas on 24 September 2001 indicating that the relevant aspects of her performance had improved sufficiently and, as a result, she was being taken off the PIP.

On 28 June 2001, Phelan completed an annual Contribution Assessment of Haas, in which she rated Haas as a "marginal contributor." Although Phelan indicated that she was impressed with several of Petitioner's "very positive attributes", she stated that Petitioner exhibited below-standard performances in judgment, compliance with company policy, attention to detail, and planning. Petitioner, at the time, disputed the reliability of her lower rating because she believed that Phelan had not taken into account positive feedback from two customers she serviced.

Phelan composed a memorandum to Haas, dated 9 October 2001, with the subject line "Notification of Layoff," indicating that Haas's position was to be eliminated effective 23 October 2001. The text of the memorandum made reference to the layoff as a "Reduction in Force". It also contained a description of the company's severance benefit plan, a contact with "outplacement services", and a request to complete an exit interview prior to Haas's last day of work.

Haas, pointing to her supervisors' alleged reactions to her diagnosed ADD, filed a Complaint in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County on 22 October 2003 alleging, under Montgomery County Code § 27-19, disability discrimination in Lockheed's termination of her employment. Lockheed responded with a Motion to Dismiss, filed on 25 November 2003, contending that the Complaint failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted and raising certain constitutional issues, the latter of which are not relevant to this Court in the posture the case reaches us. As a result of Lockheed's arguments challenging the constitutionality of § 27-19, Montgomery County, Maryland, moved to intervene, which was allowed, and opposed Lockheed's motion.5 The Circuit Court, after a hearing, denied the Motion to Dismiss. Following discovery, on 1 November 2004, Lockheed filed a Motion for Summary Judgment which Haas opposed.

Lockheed's posited in its summary judgment motion that Haas's claim was time-barred in the first instance because it accrued upon notice of her layoff, rather than upon her final day of work. Maryland Code, Article 49B, § 42(b)(1) provides: "An action under [the relevant local anti-discrimination ordinance] shall be commenced in the circuit court for the county in which the alleged discrimination took place not later than 2 years after the occurrence of the alleged discriminatory act." Lockheed also contended that Haas had not proven...

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