Miller v. Washington Workplace, Inc.

Decision Date08 January 2004
Docket NumberNo. CIV.03-1110-A.,CIV.03-1110-A.
Citation298 F.Supp.2d 364
PartiesMargaret MILLER, Plaintiff, v. WASHINGTON WORKPLACE, INC., et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Virginia

Jill Marie Dennis, Hunton & Williams, McLean, VA, Robert Scott Oswald, The Employment Law Group PLLC, Washington, DC, for plaintiffs/counter-defendants/third-party defendant.

Robert Scott Oswald, The Employment Law Group PLLC, Washington, DC, Jill Marie Dennis, Hunton & Williams, McLean, VA, for defendants/counter-claimants/third-party plaintiff.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

CACHERIS, District Judge.

This case comes before the Court on the Defendants Washington Workplace ("Workplace") and John A. Murphy's ("Murphy") Motion to Dismiss under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6).

I. Background
A. Procedural History

This case began when Workplace filed a Motion for Judgment in the Circuit Court for Arlington County against its former employee Margaret Miller ("Miller") for breach of contract. Miller subsequently filed a demurrer, third-party claims against Murphy, and counterclaims against Workplace. Workplace and Murphy then removed the action to this Court, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1441, 1446, and 1331. This Court has subject matter jurisdiction over this case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 based upon Miller's assertion of claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq.

Once the case was removed, Workplace and Murphy moved to dismiss the matter based on Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). Miller responded to the motion to dismiss and moved to realign the parties. The Court granted Miller's motion. Miller, therefore, will be referred to as the Plaintiff and Counter-Defendant. Workplace will be referred to as a Defendant and Counter-Plaintiff, and Murphy will be referred to as a Defendant.

Miller maintains 13 claims, in total, against the Defendants. Against Washington Workplace, Miller's counterclaim asserts eight claims: Assault (Count I); Battery (Count II); False imprisonment (Count III); Fraud (Count IV); Sexual Discrimination in violation of Title VII (Count V); Discriminatory Retaliation in violation of Title VII (Count VI); common law wrongful termination in violation of Va.Code Ann. § 18.2-152.7:1 (Count VII); and, wrongful termination in violation of Va.Code Ann. § 40.1-29 (Count VIII). Against Murphy, Miller makes the following third party claims: Assault (Count I); Battery (Count II); False imprisonment (Count III); Fraud (Count IV); Defamation (Count V). Prior to oral argument Miller withdrew Counts I, II, and III against Washington Workplace.

B. Facts Alleged by Miller

At all times relevant to the complaint, Workplace employed Miller as a salesperson. Murphy was her supervisor and the president of Workplace. When Miller interviewed for the position, Murphy represented that he distributed the business leads equally among his sales staff. Miller worked as a salesperson from December 1, 2000 until early June 2003.

During her time at Workplace, Miller began to have difficulty with Murphy. Murphy failed to distribute the business leads equally, and often took business away from her. Murphy referred to her as a "screw up" or a "nothing sales person." He openly discussed her sales figures with other employees. Also, he claimed that she had accumulated unfounded draws on her sales commissions.

Additionally, Miller complains of the hostile work environment created by Murphy. Murphy told Miller how he used the internet site "Match.com" to meet women. He showed her his personal ad and encouraged her to use the website so that she could have sex like he did. Murphy also submitted Miller's name to Match. com. He recommended that she post her personal information on a website for divorced Catholics. Murphy often referred to the office's sexual harassment policy as the "porno/internet" document.

On June 3, 2003, Miller made an inquiry to Workplace's office manager requesting a copy of the sexual harassment policy and a copy of her most recent commissions/wage statement. (Compl.¶ 60.) Before she received these materials, Murphy called her at her desk and said, "why did you ask for a copy of the pornography/internet policy you signed?" (Id. ¶ 61.) Miller responded, stating "I did not ask you, John." (Id. ¶ 63.) Murphy then said, "I do not like your answer," and slammed down the phone. (Id. ¶ 64.) Moments later, Murphy charged into Miller's office, grabbed her by the arm, hurled her towards the door, and pushed her into a metal framed guest chair in her office. (Id. ¶ 65.) Murphy then shouted that Miller was fired. (Id.) Murphy grabbed Miller's arm and attempted to remove some papers from her grasp. (Id. ¶ 67-68.) Murphy would not let her leave her office with her personal belongings and appeared out of control and physically threatening. (Id. ¶ 71.) Murphy continued to prevent Miller from retrieving her belongings, by sitting on her desk and kicking his heels against the drawer. (Id. ¶ 82-83.) When the police arrived, Miller was finally able to collect her belongings and leave the premises. (Id. ¶ 91.)

II. Standard of Review

A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss tests the legal sufficiency of the complaint, see Randall v. United States, 30 F.3d 518, 522 (4th Cir.1994), and should be denied unless "it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." De Sole v. United States, 947 F.2d 1169, 1177 (4th Cir.1991) (citations omitted); see also Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S.Ct. 99, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957).

In ruling on a motion to dismiss, "the material allegations of the complaint are taken as admitted." Jenkins v. McKeithen, 395 U.S. 411, 421, 89 S.Ct. 1843, 23 L.Ed.2d 404 (1969) (citations omitted). Moreover, "the complaint is to be liberally construed in favor of plaintiff." Id. In addition, a motion to dismiss must be assessed in light of Rule 8's liberal pleading standards, which require only "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R.Civ.P. 8.

III. Analysis
A. Intentional Tort Claims Against Murphy

Miller asserts three intentional tort claims against Murphy. Defendants contend that Virginia Workers' Compensation Act ("the Act"), Va.Code Ann. § 65.2-100 et seq. provides the exclusive remedy for the injuries Miller claims were caused by Murphy's allegedly tortious conduct. The Court agrees with the Defendants and holds that it does not have jurisdiction over these claims.

The Act provides an employee certain rights and remedies if the employee has suffered "an injury by accident arising out of and in the course of the employment." Va.Code. Ann. § 65.2-101. The rights and remedies granted to an employee under the Act, "shall excluded all other rights and remedies of such employee ... at common law or otherwise." Va.Code Ann. § 65.2-307. The Act precludes an employee from bringing common law personal injury claims against a co-employee or employer for injuries sustained during the course of employment.

An injury is subject to the exclusivity provision of the Act if it is the result of an accident and arises out of and in the course of the employment. Richmond Newspapers, Inc. v. Hazelwood, 249 Va. 369, 457 S.E.2d 56, 58 (1995). Thus, the critical inquiry is whether Miller's injury was (1) an injury by accident, (2) arising out of, (3) and in the course of, her employment. Combs v. Virginia Elec. & Power Co., 259 Va. 503, 525 S.E.2d 278, 281 (2000). If any one of these elements is missing, then Miller's claim is not covered by the Act. Id.

The first condition that the Defendant must show is that Miller sustained "an injury by accident." For an injury to be considered "by accident," it must have occurred at a particular time and place, as opposed to cumulative injury from repetitive trauma. Sutter v. First Union Nat. Bank of Va., Inc., 932 F.Supp. 753, 758 (E.D.Va.,1996) (citing Morris v. Morris, 238 Va. 578, 385 S.E.2d 858, 865 (1989)).

The act covers injuries caused by an intentional or willful assault upon an employee by a co-worker or a third party. Continental Life Ins. Co. v. Gough, 161 Va. 755, 172 S.E. 264, 266 (1934) (holding that assault upon an employee is an "injury by accident" within the meaning of the statute); Haigh v. Matsushita Elec. Corp. of Am., 676 F.Supp. 1332, 1352-54 (E.D.Va.1987) (Spencer, J.) (holding that Virginia does not recognize an intentional tort exception to worker's compensation coverage). But see McGreevy v. Racal-Dana Instruments, Inc., 690 F.Supp. 468, 470 (E.D.Va.1988) (Ellis, J.) (holding that injuries from intentional torts are not considered to be "by accident").

The Court holds that Workplace has shown that Miller sustained an injury by accident. Were this Court deciding this case against a blank slate, it might arrive at the same conclusion of the court in McGreevy. Given the Virginia state law precedents, the Court finds that the case of Sutter v. First Union Nat. Bank of Virginia, Inc., 932 F.Supp. 753, 758 (E.D.Va.1996) controlling. In that case, the plaintiff alleged that after she was terminated from her employment, her boss "grabbed" her against her will and "forcibly removed" her from the premises. Sutter, 932 F.Supp. at 758. The court held that the plaintiff had sustained an "injury by accident." Id. Miller's injuries were caused under almost identical circumstances. Accordingly, Miller's injuries occurred "by accident" under the Act.

The second element of coverage by the Act is also met. This element must be construed liberally in favor of coverage under the Act. Brown v. Reed, 209 Va. 562, 165 S.E.2d 394, 396 (1969). In cases involving intentional torts, "the necessary causal connection may be established if the evidence shows that the attack...

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