The plaintiff-appellant, Susan Rizzitiello (the "plaintiff"); appeals a decision of the Superior Court granting summary judgment in favor of the defendants-appellees, McDonald's Corp. and McDonald's Restaurant of Delaware, Inc. (collectively the "defendants" or "McDonald's"). The plaintiff was an employee of McDonald's but resigned from employment when she was told she was being suspended pending an investigation of inventory issues. The plaintiff's appeal centers on her claims that McDonald's breached the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing by treating her in a racially disparate manner and falsifying records in order to create a fictitious ground for terminating her employment.
The Superior Court thoroughly reviewed the record and found no evidence that the animosity between plaintiff and her supervisor at McDonald's was racially based. The Superior Court further concluded that plaintiff resigned her employment before any action was taken against her, other than a suspension pending an investigation, and that she did not establish a basis for constructive discharge. We agree with the conclusions of the Superior Court that
The plaintiff is a white female who was employed by the defendants from 1979 until the time she resigned in 1998. She started her career in the restaurant business in 1978 as a crew person at a McDonald's franchise located in Billings, Montana. The plaintiff then relocated to Pennsylvania in 1979 and obtained a position in one of the defendants' stores as a crew person.
While employed at McDonald's, animosity developed between the plaintiff and Leslie Mosley, an African-American woman also employed at McDonald's. Initially, the plaintiff was Mosley's store manager while Mosley was employed as a crew person. At the time the plaintiff resigned, the plaintiff was a store manager, and Mosley had risen to a level in which she was the plaintiff's supervisor.
Before she was promoted to supervisor, Mosley was the store manager at McDonald's Prices Corner store. While employed in this position, Mosley was suspended for one week because of missing inventory. At that time, the plaintiff was employed as a trainer with McDonald's. The plaintiff temporarily left her position as a trainer to manage the Prices Corner store in Mosley's absence. After McDonald's investigated the inventory issues, Mosley returned from her suspension to manage the Prices Corner store, and the plaintiff returned to her former position as a trainer.
Mosley was later promoted to a supervisor position, and was responsible for overseeing the operations of three to four McDonald's stores.
While under Mosley's supervision, the plaintiff alleges that she made numerous complaints to McDonald's human resource's department that Mosley was "out to get her" and "wanted to see her fired." The present record, however, shows that the plaintiff never complained that she was being treated unfairly because of her race. The plaintiff admits that Mosley did not ever say anything racial or comment about the plaintiff's race. The plaintiff also alleges that when she was on vacation in late December 1997, Mosley, along with two other McDonald's employees, inputted inventory records on a computer at the Prices Corner store. It is the plaintiff's contention that Mosley falsified those records to create a fictitious ground for terminating her employment.
In January 1998, the plaintiff was suspended by McDonald's pending an investigation
The plaintf filed suit in the Superior Court alleging various causes of action pertaining to her employment with McDonald's. The defendants removed the action to federal court and, thereafter, moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. The United States District Court for the District of Delaware treated the defendants' motion to dismiss as a motion for summary judgment and dismissed all of the plaintiff's federal law claims.
The defendants subsequently moved to dismiss the plaintiff's state law claims. The Superior Court dismissed the plaintiff's claims for negligence, emotional distress and slander, on the ground that the statute of limitations governing those claims had expired, but held that the plaintiff could go forward with an action for breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing on the theories of racial discrimination and falsification of records.
Following discovery, the defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, and the plaintiff filed an answer opposing the defendants' motion. The Superior Court granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment.
In assessing the claims of the parties, we begin by noting that the Superior Court decided this matter at the summary judgment stage. The Superior Court may grant summary judgment only if "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to
The plaintiff's claim of racial discrimination was brought as a breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. In essence, the plaintiff raises a claim of disparate treatment, arguing that McDonald's treated her differently (as a white female) after the investigation into inventory issues, as compared to McDonald's investigation into Mosley's inventory issues. The plaintiff argues that her employment with McDonald's has been terminated, while Mosley was reinstated and later promoted following the resolution of her inventory issues. It is undisputed, however, that plaintiff resigned before McDonald's had completed its investigation.
This Court has not yet addressed what constitutes a prima facie case for a disparate treatment claim based on a breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. Because this is an issue of first impression, we look to authorities outside of this jurisdiction for guidance.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits the discharge of "any individual" because of "such individual's race."
We agree with the Superior Court's determination that the analysis in this case should proceed under a framework similar to that used to analyze a claim under Title VII.
A thorough review of the record reveals no evidence that the plaintiff was suspended from McDonald's because of her race. After making the same finding, the Superior Court correctly concluded that there is no evidence that the animosity between the plaintiff and Mosley was racially based.
We also agree with the Superior Court's conclusion that the plaintiff's disparate treatment claim must fail because McDonald's took no adverse employment action against her. The record clearly shows that the plaintiff voluntarily resigned from her store manager position at McDonald's immediately after learning that she was to be suspended pending an investigation of inventory issues. Thus, the plaintiff resigned before McDonald's took any action against her, other than notifying her that she was suspended pending an investigation into the missing inventory. A suspension pending an investigation was the identical process used in the case of missing inventory involving Mosley. Plaintiff understood that if the investigation cleared her, she would be restored to her position with no loss in pay. The fact that the plaintiff voluntarily resigned upon being notified of this suspension is insufficient evidence of an adverse employment action necessary to sustain a disparate treatment claim.
The plaintiff's falsification of records claims was also brought as a breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. The plaintiff argues that she was terminated in violation of the implied covenant because certain McDonald's employees manufactured false grounds to cause her dismissal.
In Delaware, there is a "heavy presumption that a contract for employment, unless otherwise expressly stated, is at-will in nature, with duration indefinite."
In Pressman, an employer intentionally manipulated an employee's personnel record to create a fictitious ground for his termination.
To support a claim falling into this category, the plaintiff has the burden to prove both falsification of her records and termination of her employment.
We recognized in Pressman, that an employee who voluntarily resigns rather than being terminated may have a claim for constructive discharge.
To establish a constructive discharge, the plaintiff was required to show "working conditions so intolerable that a reasonable person would have felt compelled to resign."
For the foregoing reasons, we affirm the decision of the Superior Court granting summary judgment in favor of the defendants.