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Jafari v. Old Dominion Transit Management Co.

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia

December 20, 2012

Emmett J. JAFARI, Plaintiff,
v.
OLD DOMINION TRANSIT MANAGEMENT COMPANY d/b/a The Greater Richmond Transit Company, Defendant.

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Emmett J. Jafari, Richmond, VA, pro se.

Ryan Ayers Glasgow, Charles Randolph Sullivan, Gregory Branch Robertson, Patricia Sjoblom Gill, Sarah Elizabeth Bruscia, Hunton & Williams LLP, Richmond, VA, for Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

JOHN A. GIBNEY, JR., District Judge.

THIS MATTER is before the Court on the parties' cross motions for summary judgment (ECF Nos. 89, 91).[1] Plaintiff Emmett Jafari (" Jafari" ) seeks damages for common law defamation and retaliation in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (" FLSA" ) from Defendant Old Dominion Transit Management Company (d/b/a The Greater Richmond Transit Company) (" GRTC" ). The Court will dispense with oral argument because the facts and legal contentions are adequately presented in the materials presently before the Court, and argument would not aid in the decisional process. E.D. Va. Loc. Civ. R. 7(J). The Court finds that any allegedly defamatory statements in this case were protected by qualified privilege. The Court further finds that GRTC had a legitimate reason for Jafari's termination, thus his FLSA claim cannot succeed. For these reasons, the Court DENIES Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 91) and GRANTS Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 89).

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Except as indicated, the following facts are not in dispute. On February 26, 2006, Jafari began work as a Specialized Transportation Field Supervisor in the " C-Van" Department for Defendant, a government-owned bus company commonly known as GRTC. C-Van drivers provide transportation services for clients enrolled in the Virginia Initiative for Employment Not Welfare (" VIEW" ) program.

In November 2006, GRTC changed the company's compensation plan, including an increase to the salary range for Jafari's pay grade. On November 27, 2006, Jafari wrote GRTC Human Resources Director, Kim Ackerman, noting that his pay fell below the new minimum provided for his grade. In reply, Ackerman explained that the company would address the pay discrepancy at Jafari's February 2007 employee

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evaluation. Jafari's evaluation occurred in March 2007, and Jafari complained thereafter that negative driver opinions unfairly worsened his evaluation score. Nonetheless, Jafari's annual salary jumped from $31,000.00 to $36,418.00 following his evaluation.

In October 2007, Jafari visited the home of VIEW client Rylanda Dark prior to her scheduled pick-up by driver John Rush. Jafari alleges that he was dispatched to Dark's home in order to address a conflict between Dark and Rush and also to provide Dark with a copy of a passenger ride guide. GRTC alleges that Rush told Eldridge Coles, GRTC's Chief Operating Officer (" COO" ) at the time, that he observed Jafari and Dark engaging in a seemingly heated conversation while Rush waited for Dark to board the van. Rush allegedly told Coles that when Dark boarded the van, she complained that Jafari had said to her: " If you have something to say, say it to my face." (Def.'s Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. (" Def.'s Supp. Mem." ) 4, ECF No. 96.) The parties dispute whether or not Dark actually made this complaint.

The parties do agree, however, that Coles then told Jafari's direct supervisor, Von Tisdale, that " a customer had complained that Mr. Jafari told her ‘ if you have something to say, say it to my face’ " (Def.'s Supp. Mem. 4, ECF No. 96.) Tisdale then related the statement to both Jafari and the assistant manager, Sandra Stanley. Jafari denied making the statement, and nothing adverse to Jafari came of the contretemps. Apparently to prevent further similar squabbles, on November 1, 2007, Tisdale directed that GRTC's Field Supervisors should not meet with clients in their residences. Rather, future communications with clients were to be by telephone or writing.

Jafari wrote Tisdale on November 6, 2007 and wrote Ackerman on December 5, 2007, raising in both messages essentially the same grievances: (1) that Coles unfairly handled the Rylanda Dark affair, (2) that Jafari's job was supervisory, thus he should get a pay hike, (3) that Jafari's job was non-supervisory, thus he should receive overtime pay under the FLSA, and (4) that Jafari deserved additional salary for On-Call work. Jafari's November 6, 2007 email to Tisdale also indicated his intention to seek work elsewhere.

On January 11, 2008, driver John Rush (who had reported the Rylanda Dark complaint) picked up four clients late. Jafari told Stanley about the incident and began an investigation. (Am. Compl. ΒΆ 60, ECF No. 33-1). In a classic case of overkill, Jafari submitted a four-page report about the bus driver being late. He accused Rush of at least eight (8) rule violations and included thirteen (13) GPS maps detailing Rush's exact movements over a roughly two-hour period on the relevant date.

Jafari's desire to nail Rush turned out to be his undoing. To support his investigation, Jafari obtained a handwritten complaint about Rush from one of the passengers, Brittany Randolph. At a January 25, 2008 staff meeting, Jafari was asked if, contrary to instructions, he had visited Randolph's home or workplace in order to obtain this handwritten statement. Jafari acknowledged that he did obtain the written statement at Randolph's home and that he also visited her workplace to discuss the complaint. ( See Jafari Dep., 322:20-324:25, Sept. 12, 2012, ECF No. 94-1; Pl.'s Comp. Index of Ex., Ex. 68, ECF 100.) At the January 25 meeting, Ackerman also questioned Jafari about a different incident, his denial of another driver's request for bereavement leave. In late December 2007, Ackerman had learned of a threatened union grievance against Jafari

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citing this denial, leading to his questions to Jafari.

At a February 1, 2008 meeting with Stanley and Ackerman, Coles informed Jafari that he was being terminated and presented Jafari with a letter summarizing the reasons for his discharge. The discharge letter refers to Randolph's written statement and states that " the client ... indicated to GRTC management that [Jafari] went to her place of work and her home in order to get a written statement from her. This is in conflict with how you were previously asked to address client complaints." (Pl's Comp. Index of Ex., Ex. 71, ECF 100.) The letter further states: " Your effectiveness as a supervisor has declined with your staff as well as the management team to the point where we have no option but to terminate your employment." Id.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

When faced with cross-motions for summary judgment, the Court applies the same standard as that applied to individual motions for summary judgment. See Rossignol v. Voorhaar,316 F.3d 516, 523 (4th Cir.2003). The Court must consider " each motion separately on its own merits to determine whether either of the parties deserves judgment as a matter of law." Id. at 523 (internal citations and quotations omitted). A motion for summary judgment should be granted where " the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). If there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact, it is the " affirmative ...


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