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Brooks v. Babcock & Wilcox Power Generation Group, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Lynchburg Division

August 8, 2016

Faye Brooks, Plaintiff,
v.
Babcock & Wilcox Power Generation Group, Inc., ET AL. Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          NORMAN K. MOON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This case is before the Court upon BWXT Nuclear Operations Group, Inc.’s (“BWXT”) motion to dismiss (docket no. 51).

         Plaintiff in this suit is Faye Brooks, a resident of Richmond, Virginia. BWXT is a nuclear operations facility in Lynchburg, Virginia.[1] Brooks filed this suit after BWXT terminated her. She claims that her termination violated ERISA Section 510 and also constituted unlawful termination under Bowman v. State Bank of Keysville, 331 S.E.2d 797 (Va. 1985) (hereinafter, “a Bowman claim”).

         Brooks has sufficiently alleged that BWXT terminated her with the intent to interfere with her pension plan, and therefore has adequately pled a violation of ERISA Section 510. Brooks has failed to sufficiently allege a Bowman claim because she has not alleged that she was terminated for exercising a right protected by Va. Code § 40.1-51.2:1 or by Va. Code § 18.2-172. Accordingly, BWXT’s motion to dismiss will be granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Facts as Alleged

         Brooks worked at BWXT for more than twenty-three years before she was fired. On the date of her termination, Brooks was employed as an SRM Transportation Admin, and one of her primary job duties was shipping nuclear waste to disposal facilities. Prior to her termination, she received satisfactory job performance reviews.

         On October 29, 2013, she was fired ostensibly for violating a workplace safety rule. In particular, Brooks was accused of forging another employee’s name on a nuclear waste shipment.

         The rule-called the “signature” rule-she alleges “was a ‘rule’ in name only.” Am. Compl. ¶ 13. The rule was “routinely ignored by [BWXT] employees, ” and “Brooks was specifically trained to avoid [the rule] where necessary.” Id.

         Brooks alleges that the stated reason for her termination was pretextual. She claims she was actually fired because BWXT “wanted to replace her with a younger and cheaper employee-namely, one who received lesser welfare and pension benefits.” Id. at ¶ 16. BWXT accomplished its goal: Brooks was replaced by “someone with significantly less experience and significantly less entitlement to welfare and pension benefits provided by [BWXT].” Id. at ¶ 12.

         According to Plaintiff, BWXT’s intent to interfere with her benefits is shown from two facts. First, in the spring or summer of 2013, Brooks interviewed for a different position at the company. During the interview, BWXT personnel “pointedly asked Brooks when she planned to retire.” Compl. ¶ 18. Second, after Brooks was terminated, BWXT sent her a package recognizing her “retirement” from the company. The package asked her to logon to the company website and select a “Retirement Award.” Id. at ¶ 19. Plaintiff claims these facts show BWXT “was truly focused on getting her to retire and, in turn, lessen her retirement benefits.” Id.

         II. Standard of Review

         When evaluating a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the court must accept as true all well-pleaded allegations. See Vitol, S.A. v. Primerose Shipping Co., 708 F.3d 527, 539 (4th Cir. 2013); see also Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). “While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff’s obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). Stated differently, in order to survive a motion to dismiss, “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570).

         III. ERISA Section 510

         A. Applicable Law

         Section 510 of ERISA makes it “unlawful for any person to discharge . . . a participant or beneficiary for exercising any right to which he is entitled under the provisions of an employee benefit plan . . . for the purpose of interfering with the attainment of any right to which such ...


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