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Hooper v. BWXT Government Group, Inc.

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

November 3, 2016

Lynchburg Division Cecil Larry Hooper, Plaintiff,
v.
BWXT Government Group, Inc., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          NORMAN K. MOON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff brought claims against Defendant for failure to hire under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”). Defendant BWXT Government Group, Inc. (“BWXT”) has filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that a valid severance agreement (“the Agreement”) between the parties containing a reemployment waiver precludes Plaintiff's claims. Alternatively, Defendant argues in a motion to strike that any allegations of discriminatory conduct predating the agreement and any claim for compensatory damages should be stricken from the complaint.

         Considering the text of the Agreement, this Court finds that Plaintiff did not waive his right to assert future failure to hire claims. The best interpretation of the relevant language is that Plaintiff agreed to waive reemployment claims stemming from his termination, but not the right to seek future employment nor any claims emanating from that right. Therefore, Defendant's motion to dismiss will be denied.

         Defendant's motion to strike will be denied in part and granted in part. Defendant's request to strike language relating to discrimination prior to the Agreement will be denied because such language is potentially relevant in several ways and not unduly prejudicial. Defendant's motion to strike language relating to compensatory damages under the ADEA will be granted, as such damages are unavailable.

         I. Facts as Alleged

         Plaintiff was employed by the Babcock & Wilcox Company (“B&W”) as a purchasing agent beginning in November of 2011. (Dkt. 1 at 3). BWXT is an affiliate of the B&W. (Id.). Much of Plaintiff's work involved a company named Generation mPower, LLC, which is structured as an affiliate between BWXT and Bechtel Power Company. (Id.). Beginning in April of 2014, Generation mPower began a series of Reductions in Force (“RIFs”). (Id. at 4). Sensing the “dismantling” of his group, Plaintiff began to apply to other similar positions at B&W soon after the RIFs began. (Id. at 4-5).

         On December 8, 2014, as part of the third RIF, Plaintiff received and executed the Agreement, ending his employment at B&W. (Id. at 6). In exchange for consideration valued at approximately $10, 000, Plaintiff agreed, in essence, to waive all claims against B&W, including any claims under the ADEA. (See dkt. 7-1). The parties do not contest that Plaintiff waived all claims that existed prior to the December 8th agreement. (See dkt. 1 at 6 n.2). The parties dispute, however, the effect of the Agreement on Plaintiff's subsequent failure to hire claims. The following two, potentially contradictory sentences in the Agreement form the basis of this controversy:

I understand that I am also waiving any claim to reinstatement or reemployment by B&W. I also understand that this Release does not apply to any claim arising after the effective date of this Agreement . . . .

(Dkt. 7-1).

         Two days after signing the Agreement, Plaintiff was contacted by B&W to perform work on a contract basis, which he did for three months. (Dkt. 1 at 7). Additionally, Plaintiff continued to apply to positions at B&W, including applying to a position a mere nine days after signing the Agreement. (Dkt. 1-2). Plaintiff filed twenty applications in total after signing the Agreement, but was not hired to any position. (Id.).

         Plaintiff filed suit against Defendant, asserting failure to hire claims under the ADEA. Defendant filed a motion to dismiss arguing that the language of the Agreement (“I am also waiving any claim to reinstatement or reemployment by B&W”) precluded any failure to hire claims by Plaintiff.

         II. Standard of Review a. Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim

         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).

         b. Motion to Strike

         The parties disagree over the correct standard of review for a motion to strike, so it is worth discussing in some depth. Additionally, as one district court in the Fourth Circuit has noted: “[o]ur court of appeals has never had occasion to address the Rule 12(f) standard at length.” City ...


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