PAUL W. GRIMM, District Judge.
For five years, Plaintiff David Martin worked an eight-hour shift (5:30 A.M. to 2:00 P.M. every weekday) as an engineer for Defendant Douglas Development Corporation ("Douglas"). On February 5, 2014, Martin reported for jury duty at the Circuit Court for Calvert County, Maryland, and was released at 12:00 P.M. that same day. Concluding that he could not make it to work before the end of his shift two hours later, Martin went home and, later that week, reported a full day of jury-duty obligations on his timesheet. Shortly thereafter, Douglas fired Martin when its GPS-tracking system disclosed that he was released from jury duty before the end of his shift. In a suit filed in the Circuit Court for Calvert County, Maryland, Martin alleged that the discharge violated Maryland's public policy against terminating an employee for attending jury duty. ECF No. 2. Douglas removed the case to this Court, ECF No.1, and now moves for summary judgment on the wrongful-discharge claim.
Douglas is a property-development and -management company owned by Douglas Jemal and his two sons, Norman and Matthew. Joint Statement of Undisputed Facts ¶¶ 15-16, ECF No. 98 [hereinafter Joint Statement]. The company hired Martin as an engineer in October 2008. Id. ¶ 30. Martin was an at-will employee. Joint Statement ¶ 1. During his tenure, Martin worked a 5:30 A.M. to 2:00 P.M. shift. Id. ¶ 4. It took Martin roughly 45 minutes in early-morning traffic to drive from his home in Dunkirk, Maryland, to his workplace in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C. Id. ¶ 5. Until his termination, Douglas never took disciplinary action against Martin for tardiness, absenteeism, unsatisfactory work performance, or insubordination. Def.'s Resp. Pl.'s Requests Admission Nos. 3-6, J.A. 283.
In December 2013, Martin received a jury summons from the Circuit Court for Calvert County, Maryland, which required him to be on call for jury duty from January 21 until February 14, 2014. Jury Summons, J.A. 298.
Douglas provides its employees paid time off for jury duty but requires employees to return to work if jury duty ends before their normally scheduled shift concludes. See Douglas Dev. Corp. Employment Manual § 8.8, J.A. 277.
On February 5, Martin did not go to work for the beginning of his 5:30 shift. See Joint Statement ¶ 10. Instead, he left his home at 7:30 A.M. and reported to jury duty at 8:00 A.M. Joint Statement ¶ 9. He was dismissed at 12:00 P.M. and drove home, arriving at his house at 12:30 P.M. Id.
Martin testified at his deposition that he spoke with Douglas's payroll administrator, Lily Jiang, Jiang Dep. 18:14-15, J.A. 213, before filling out his timesheet the following Monday, Martin Dep. 137:5-16, J.A. 112. According to Martin, he told Jiang that he did not report to work after jury duty because he was unable to make it to work before the end of his shift at 2:00 P.M., and Jiang told him to claim a full eight hours on his timesheet. Id. at 145:15-146:1, 15-17, J.A. 114. Jiang does not recall whether she spoke with Martin about this topic but does not think that she did. Jiang Dep. 42:18-43:6, J.A. 219 ("I d[o]n't remember [whether I spoke with Martin.] I don't think I . . . talk[ed] to him before the times for that day. They [employees] know how to fill out the forms, you know."). Martin submitted a timesheet for the payroll period ending on February 7, 2014 that claimed eight hours of jury-duty time. Feb. 7, 2014 Douglas Dev. Corp. Weekly Time Sheet, J.A. 173. Douglas Director of Property Management Timothy Roberts authorized payment for all of the hours Martin claimed for that week, Feb. 1-7, 2014 Douglas Dev. Corp. Payroll Summary Sheet, J.A. 713, and Martin received payment for all of the hours claimed, Feb. 7, 2014 Earning Statement, J.A. 811.
Douglas monitors some hourly employees using a GPS-tracking system called TeleNav. Roberts Dep. 31:7-11, J.A. 43; Gardiner Dep. 47:8-10, J.A. 160. Some combination of Roberts, Douglas Property Managers Amanda Wallace and Hannah Kang, and Director of Engineering James Gardiner, reviewed employee timesheets by comparing them against TeleNav data. Id. at 30:18-32:2. Although Roberts approved Martin's timesheet for the pay period that ended on February 7, 2014, a line item marked "Jury Duty" on Martin's earning statement for the following week deducted $172 (an amount equal to four hours of work at Martin's rate of $43 per hour) from his paycheck. Feb. 14, 2014 Earnings Statement, J.A. 304. The record does not make clear which Douglas employee identified the alleged discrepancy.
Douglas terminated Martin's employment on February 17, 2014. Joint Statement ¶ 12. The termination took effect immediately. Martin Dep. 148:8-9, J.A. 114. Although the record contains somewhat differing accounts of the reasons for Martin's termination, various Douglas employees identified Martin's failure to report to work after jury duty, the allegedly erroneous timesheet, Martin's job performance, and the company's desire to reorganize the engineering department as the reasons for his termination.
Standard of Review
Summary judgment is proper when the moving party demonstrates, through "particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations . . ., admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials," 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), (c)(1)(A); see also Baldwin v. City of Greensboro, 714 F.3d 828, 833 (4th Cir. 2013). If the party seeking summary judgment demonstrates that there is no evidence to support the nonmoving party's case, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to identify evidence that shows that a genuine dispute exists as to material facts. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 585-87 & n.10 (1986). The existence of only a "scintilla of evidence" is not enough to defeat a motion for summary judgment. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986). Instead, the evidentiary materials submitted must show facts from which the finder of fact reasonably could find for the party opposing summary judgment. Id.
Maryland common law permits termination of an at-will employee such as Martin, Joint Statement ¶ 1, for any reason not otherwise prohibited by law. Adler v. Am. Standard Corp., 432 A.2d 464, 467 (Md. 1981); State Comm'n on Human Relations v. Amecom Div. of Litton Sys., Inc., 360 A.2d 1, 5 (Md. 1976); Wash. B. & A. R.R. Co., 96 A. 273, 276 (Md. 1915). Among other exceptions to Maryland's at-will regime, an employer cannot terminate an employee in a manner that violates public policy. Wholey v. Sears Roebuck, 803 A.2d 482, 488 (Md. 2002); Adler, 432 A.2d at 473. To bring a wrongful-discharge claim based on public policy, " the employee must be discharged,  the basis for the employee's discharge must violate some clear mandate of public policy, and  there must be a nexus between the employee's conduct and the employer's decision to fire the employee. Wholey, 803 A.2d at 489.
Martin alleges that his termination violated § 8-501 of Maryland's Courts and Judicial Proceedings Code. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 23-24. Section 8-501 provides:
Md. Code Ann., Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 8-501. The statute provides no explicit cause of action, and the parties cite no authority (nor have I found any) that recognizes the statute as establishing a public policy on which a wrongful-discharge claim can be premised. But in Wholey, in which the Maryland Court of Appeals recognized a public policy favoring whistleblower protection, 803 A.2d at 494, the Court provided a guidepost for determining what types of public policy can serve as a foundation for a wrongful-charge claim by noting Adler's approving reference to
id. at 489-90 (quoting Adler, 432 A.2d at 472) (emphasis removed). As § 8-501 unmistakably protects employees from termination when they are obligated to respond to a jury summons, I have no difficulty recognizing the statute as a viable basis for a wrongful-discharge claim.
Douglas argues that it is entitled to summary judgment because it did not fire Martin for attending jury duty but because he violated Douglas's employment policies by failing to return to work after his jury service concluded but before his shift ended. Def.'s Mem. 4. Douglas's Employment Manual sets forth the following jury-duty policy:
Douglas Dev. Corp. Employment Manual § 8.8, J.A. 277 (emphasis added).
Martin raises two principal arguments against Douglas's Motion. First, Martin argues that Douglas's policy violates Maryland's prohibition on terminating employees for attending jury duty. Pl.'s Opp'n 15-17. Second, he contends that genuine disputes of material fact exist as to (1) whether he had enough time to get to work before his shift ended on the day of his jury service; (2) the reason for his termination; and (3) the identity of the individual responsible for his termination. Id. at 9, 17-19. None of these arguments are availing.
Validity of Douglas's Jury-Duty Policy
Martin argues that Douglas's jury-duty policy violates § 8-501(b)(2) by forcing employees to work before 3:00 A.M. on the day following an appearance for jury duty. Pl's Opp'n 15-17. Martin's argument requires a construction of § 8-501. I am aware of no Maryland case law interpreting the statute in its current form or its predecessor.
Douglas's policy does not contain language that explicitly exempts the hours of 5:00 P.M. to 11:59 P.M. from its requirement that employees return to work after jury duty concludes. See Douglas Dev. Corp. Employment Manual § 8.8, J.A. 277. But Martin's shift ended at 2:00 P.M., Joint Statement ¶ 4, and nothing in § 8-501(b) prohibits an employer from requiring an employee to return to work before 5:00 P.M. on the same day as a jury-duty appearance. See id. Accordingly, I do not find Douglas's policy inconsistent with § 8-501's charge.
Martin contends that he was unable to get to work before the end of his shift "[b]ecause the drive to [his workplace] would take nearly an hour in mid-day traffic—and could even take significantly more time in heavy traffic." Pl.'s Opp'n 9. If the record contained evidence that demonstrated that it was impossible for Martin to get to work before 2:00 P.M., then Martin might have a viable claim. Section 8-501 protects employees from adverse employment consequences due to "responding to a [jury] summons . . . or attending, or being in proximity to a circuit court for jury service." Md. Code Ann., Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 8-501(a)(1). Although the statute does not explicitly cover travel to and from the courthouse, the policy would have no effect if employees could be penalized for not being at work at the moment before or after jury duty. Accordingly, I find that the statute's protections for "attending" jury duty encompass travel to and from the courthouse. Id.
But that said, Martin has offered no evidence that it was impossible for him to get to his workplace before 2:00 P.M. on the day of his jury service. The record shows that Martin arrived at his home at 12:30 P.M. after jury duty concluded and that it ordinarily took him 45 minutes to drive to work from his home at 4:30 A.M. Joint Statement ¶¶ 5, 10. Assuming a similar commute time at 4:30 A.M. and 12:30 P.M., Martin could have arrived at work by 1:15 P.M. Although I accept Martin's assertion that a midday commute from his home to his workplace takes more than 45 minutes, Martin has provided no evidence concerning traffic conditions on February 5, 2014, and he neither attempted to drive to work nor called anyone at Douglas to ask whether he should attempt to come in. Pl.'s Opp'n 9; Joint Statement ¶ 11. As Douglas correctly notes, "[w]hile it may seem trivial to have required Plaintiff to travel 45 minutes, or one hour, from his residence to work after his jury duty service ended, only to work for a fraction of an hour, it is not for this Court, or a jury, to conclude that such travel was not worth the work time." Def.'s Reply 6. "Trivial" is a self-servingly neutral way to describe an employment policy that would countenance the termination of an almost 65-year-old employee after five years of satisfactory service over, at most, 45 minutes of missed work. Draconian is more fitting. But the wisdom or fairness of Douglas's policy is not material to Martin's claim.
Martin does point to genuine disputes in the record as to the reason for Martin's termination and the identity of the individual(s) who made the termination decision. See supra. But these facts, too, are not material to his claim. First, the identity of the individual who made the termination decision is immaterial because the elements of a wrongful-discharge claim contain no requirement that any particular individual be responsible for the adverse action. See Wholey, 803 A.2d at 489. Second, that various Douglas employees articulated different reasons for Martin's termination is immaterial so long as none of the reasons put forth violate § 8-501. It is neither impermissible nor surprising that multiple reasons contributed to Douglas's decision to terminate Martin's employment, and none of the various explanations for Martin's termination identified by Douglas employees violate the statute. See Martin Dep. 148:2-7, J.A. 114 (reorganizing engineering department); Joint Statement ¶ 40 (claiming excess hours on timesheet); Martin Dep. 165:5-20, J.A. 119 (same); Jemal Dep. 27:21-28:4, J.A. 70 (failure to report to work after jury duty concluded and job-performance concerns); Milstein Dep. 61:4-5, 65:21-66:11, J.A. 33 (desire to obtain "more technical expertise directing the engineers" and claiming excess hours on timesheet). Since none of the reasons identified in the record violate § 8-501, the wrongful-discharge claim fails.
Because the record lacks any evidence from which the inference can be drawn that Douglas terminated Martin's employment for attending jury duty, Douglas's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment is granted, and judgment will be entered in its favor as to Count I of Martin's Amended Complaint. Counts II and III of the Amended Complaint will proceed. In light of this decision, the parties would be wise to consider resuming their settlement discussions as to the remaining claims.
A separate Order follows.