At-Will Employment in Washington, D.C.: An Employer’s Advantage

In the District of Columbia, an at-will employee generally cannot sue a third party (other than an employer) for causing his or her firing.  This holds true even for a third party strongly adverse to the employee like a former employer seeking to enforce its non-compete agreement against the employee. Metz v. BAE Systems Technology Solutions & Services, Inc., No. 12-1694, (D.D.C. Sep. 20, 2013).

Stephen Metz filed suit against his former employer BAE Systems for threatening to enforce his non-compete against him and his new employer, ALION. Metz had been a vice president at BAE until BAE laid him off with a Waiver and Settlement Agreement that included a one year non-compete provision. Within three months, Metz accepted an offer for a vice president position with ALION and worked there for only a month when ALION fired him in response to BAE’s demand letter.

Metz claimed that BAE tortiously interfered with his at-will employment with ALION as well as with his alleged prospective economic advantage, and lastly that BAE breached an implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. In response to these claims, BAE filed a motion to dismiss each count, which the court granted based on the District of Columbia Court of Appeals’ jurisprudence regarding at-will employment.

In Washington, D.C., at-will employment cannot be the basis of a tortious interference suit. The logic behind this, the court explained, is that “if there is no fixed or assured employment there is nothing tangible with which to interfere.” Nor can at-will employment support a claim for interference with a prospective economic advantage. The court forcefully rejected Metz’ argument that D.C. should follow other jurisdictions and permit his claim. Lastly, Metz’ argument for an implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing similarly failed to impress the court. Metz’ Waiver and Settlement Agreement for severance pay and benefits from BAE did not create an “‘implicit’ right to the inverse” – prohibiting his employment with competitors did not inversely guarantee him the right to employment with any non-competitor. (Metz alleged that ALION was not a competitor to BAE.)

In sum, an at-will employee in the District should tread carefully and proactively seek to preserve his or her employment when a third party contacts his or her employer.

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