In the world of government contracts, companies frequently team together to put forward the most persuasive bid in response to a Request for Proposal (“RFP”). Such teaming arrangements often result in a teaming agreement between government contractors. A teaming agreement typically sets forth the relationship of the companies, the purposes for which they are teaming together, the rights of the companies and general terms, as well as a provision which sets forth that for a specific project a second document (i.e., a subcontract or work order) will be executed by the parties. Well, what happens if the prime contractor is awarded the contract, but ultimately refuses to sign a subcontract with its teaming partner, the sub? Can the sub successfully sue the prime contractor by relying on the teaming agreement?
In the case of Cyberlock Consulting, Inc. v. Information Experts, Inc. (2013), the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia said “No” to Plaintiff subcontractor’s breach of contract claim and held that the Teaming Agreement in that case was an agreement to agree and thus unenforceable under Virginia law. Cyberlock Consulting, Inc. (“Cyberlock” or “Plaintiff”) entered into two Teaming Agreements with Information Experts, Inc. (“IE” or “Defendant”) for the purpose of assisting IE with work it hoped to get in response to RFPs from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (“OPM”). The first Teaming Agreement had attached to it a Statement of Work setting forth in detail the work that Cyberlock would perform for IE, the period of performance, place of performance, and project management requirements for the work. The first Teaming Agreement also had attached to it as an exhibit the actual subcontract that the parties agreed they would enter into upon award of the prime contract to IE. IE was in fact awarded the prime contract by OPM and obligations under the first Teaming Agreement were satisfied.
Subsequently, OPM revealed that it would seek bids for a new project and the parties negotiated and entered into a second Teaming Agreement. While the second Teaming Agreement set forth general provisions of the parties’ responsibilities if IE was awarded the prime contract, and even included a Scope of Work document as an exhibit which stated that Cyberlock would perform 49% of the work awarded to IE under a prime contract, [according to the Court] the second Agreement did not specifically set out in detail what work Cyberlock would perform. In addition, unlike the first Teaming Agreement, there was no subcontract attached to the second Teaming Agreement that the parties agreed to sign in the event that IE was awarded the prime contract. As it turns out, IE was awarded the second prime contract. However, after a month of negotiations and several drafts of a proposed subcontract exchanged between the parties, IE terminated the negotiations. Cyberlock sued to enforce the second Teaming Agreement and claimed that it was entitled to 49% of the work awarded to IE in the prime contract.
The Court disagreed, and stated that although there was language in the second Teaming Agreement which indicated the parties’ intent to enter into a subcontract if IE was awarded the work by OPM, there was no specific subcontract that had been negotiated and to whose terms the parties’ had agreed. The Court held that the post-award obligations in the second Teaming Agreement were, at most, an agreement to agree to enter into a yet agreed upon (future) subcontract agreement, and therefore the second Teaming Agreement was unenforceable as a matter of law since agreement to agree contracts are unenforceable under Virginia law.
© Copyright, PCT Law Group 2013, all rights reserved.
An employee who alleged she was subjected to a sexually harassing work environment, gender discrimination, and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) filed a Charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). However, almost all of the facts supporting the employee’s Charge were put in the EEOC intake questionnaire and letters to the EEOC, rather than in the EEOC Charge Form. As such, only the claims and facts set forth in the Charge were considered by the Court and they were insufficient to state the discrimination and retaliation claims raised by the employee.
In the case of Balas v. Huntington Ingalls Industries, Inc. (2013), the United States Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a ruling from the Eastern District of Virginia that the Plaintiff, Karen Balas, could not maintain claims which were solely asserted in her EEOC questionnaire and in letters to the EEOC. The Court ruled that an administrative charge serves a vital function in the process of [potentially] remedying unlawful employment practices because it serves to alert the employer of the alleged wrongs committed; allows for an investigation into the alleged wrongful activity by the employer and the EEOC; and allows for the EEOC to seek conciliation between the parties if it finds merit to the charges. The Court reasoned that since a plaintiff’s employer is not put on notice as to the claims and facts alleged in the EEOC questionnaire or in letters privately written by a plaintiff to the EEOC, only those claims formally made part of the EEOC Charge were allowed to move forward in a lawsuit against an employer.
The Fourth Circuit concluded that the district court was correct in its refusal to consider any of Ms. Balas’ Title VII claims that were not included in her EEOC Charge; and that the Court had no jurisdiction to hear such claims because the Plaintiff had failed to administratively exhaust her remedies before filing such claims in federal court.
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Although not contractually required to do so, many employers offer their management-level employees a severance package in the event of a reduction-in-force or some other non-disciplinary event which requires an employer to terminate a relationship with a managerial employee. The terms and compensation contained in severance packages usually depend upon salary, years of service, and work performance and/or value of the employee to the employer. However, if an employee can show that the terms of a severance package offered to them are less favorable than those offered to other, similarly situated employees, the employee may be able to state a claim for discrimination.
In the case of Gerner v. City of Chesterfield, Virginia (2012), the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed a lower court ruling from the Eastern District of Virginia and found that although a severance agreement is offered upon employment termination and is not a contractual right, it is nevertheless an employment benefit upon which a discrimination claim may lie. Finding that the district court judge (Hudson, J.) erred in his analysis of the legal standard, the appellate court held Title VII protects current and former employees from discrimination, as well as those who have not been hired and have been discriminated against in the hiring process. Further, the Court found that Ms. Gerner's allegations that she was offered a less favorable severance package than her male counter-parts under the City’s reduction-in-force plan, were sufficient to allege an adverse employment action for a gender discrimination claim. In making its ruling, the Court relied upon U.S. Supreme Court precedent and decisions from other Circuit Courts.
This decision by the Fourth Circuit, which is the highest federal appellate court for Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, and the Carolinas, is a reminder to employers that they must be vigilant in making sure that employment benefits (even severance packages which are often viewed as “voluntary” or “discretionary”) are provided on an equitable basis. Alternatively, employers must make sure that they have a strong, non-discriminatory, reason for any difference in the provision of such benefits among similarly situated employees.
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An Eastern District of Virginia Court has permanently enjoined Verizon from infringing upon patents of a California-based Company, ActiveVideo Networks, Inc. (“ActiveVideo”), including two patents which will have a direct impact upon Verizon’s ability to offer its popular Video on Demand (“VOD”) services. In the case, ActiveVideo Networks, Inc. v. Verizon Communications, Inc., et al., ActiveVideo sued Verizon for allegedly infringing upon several of its patents. After a three-week jury trial, the jury found in favor of ActiveVideo and awarded it $115,000,000 in damages for Verizon’s infringement. ActiveVideo then sought a permanent injunction from the Court enjoining Verizon from continuing to infringe upon the patents.
In analyzing the injunction standard under the Patent Act, Judge Raymond A. Jackson of the Eastern District of Virginia relied heavily upon the four-part test set forth by the United States Supreme Court in the case of ebay, Inc. v. MercExchange, L.L.C. The District Court found in favor of ActiveVideo regarding all four prongs finding that: 1) ActiveVideo had been, and would continue to be, irreparably harmed by Verizon’s unauthorized use of its technology; 2) ActiveVideo did not have an adequate monetary remedy at law because the continuing harm associated with loss of market share and brand recognition of the VOD service were difficult to quantify; 3) the balance of hardships favored ActiveVideo because, as a small company, it relied heavily upon the patents infringed upon by Verizon, while Verizon offered numerous services and would be less affected by having to cease use and/or find alternatives to offering the VOD service; and 4) public interests and public policy were served by protecting patent rights. Regarding this last prong, the Court specifically noted that, “[t]hough Verizon does add other components to be able to offer the completed product, Verizon’s FiOS system, and more specifically the VOD aspect of the FiOS system, could not function without the use of ActiveVideo’s technology.” Mem. Op. at 17.
Nevertheless, have no fear Verizon VOD users. The Court granted Verizon a six-month “sunset” window of time to come up with a non-infringing alternative to its current VOD system, and Verizon claims it has already been diligently working to come up with an alternative system. Therefore, before the time is up, it is likely Verizon will have embarked upon an alternative method to provide the popular VOD service to its customers – thus, enabling it to keep sending out those monthly Verizon bills to its subscribers at a brisk and healthy pace.
© Copyright, PCT Law Group 2011. All rights reserved.
Individual May Be Deemed an "Employer" Under the FMLA
Plaintiff Patricia Weth, formerly a deputy treasurer for litigation in the Arlington County Treasurer’s Office, took leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) for several weeks during December of 2009 until mid-February of 2010 to have medically necessary surgery performed. On the same day that she returned to work from her medical leave, Weth was told by her boss, Arlington County Treasurer Francis O’Leary, that he wanted her to find a new job and that her main focus should be finding a new job. O’Leary promptly stripped Weth of almost all of her job duties, and told her she was no longer to perform other job duties with the exception of one project and the duty of finding a new job. Predictably, under such facts, Weth filed claims of FMLA interference for the County’s failure to place her in the same or similar position after her FMLA leave as she had prior to the leave; and a claim of FMLA retaliation for her demotion and discharge after returning from FMLA leave. However, Weth’s lawsuit ran into a stumbling block concerning the appropriate defendant(s) to sue.
In the case of Weth v. Francis X. O’Leary, Plaintiff initially filed suit against Arlington County, the County Treasurer’s Office, and Defendant O’Leary. However, since County Treasurers such as O’Leary are deemed independent constitutional officers under the Virginia Constitution, the Court dismissed the case against the County and the Treasurer’s office as they were improper Defendants. Weth then filed an Amended Complaint against O’Leary in his official and individual capacity. On summary judgment, after dismissing the case against O’Leary in his official capacity based upon sovereign immunity, one of the main issues revolved around whether O’Leary, as a County official, could be sued under the FMLA in his individual capacity as an “employer”. Acknowledging that the issue remains an open question in the Fourth Circuit, and that there is a split on the issue within the federal courts, the Court looked to the text of the FMLA and the holding of a majority of the district courts that have ruled on the issue. In particular, the Court looked to the Fifth and Eight Circuits, which (relying upon the text of the FMLA) have held that public agency officials, including state officials, can be sued in their individual capacities if they act directly or indirectly on behalf of the employer. A prominent example of such authority being the hiring and firing of employees.
In this case, since O’Leary clearly had the authority to hire and fire employees such as Plaintiff Weth, the Court held that he could be sued in his individual capacity under the FMLA. The Court concluded that to rule otherwise would run contrary to the very text of the FMLA, which, in addition to including those with such authority as O’Leary in the definition of an employer, also states that “public agencies” are included within the definition of employer. Therefore, the Court ruled that Plaintiff Weth will be allowed to pursue her claims against Defendant O’Leary in his individual capacity at trial.
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We have all been there. Walking through the aisle of a store and some store personnel who was stocking a shelf has left a ladder or some supplies right in the middle of the aisle, obstructing the path. Well, the Plaintiff in this case did what most of us would do. She attempted to walk around the ladder, but when she did -- bam! – she hit her head on a metal shelf that was on the other side of ladder, and she (sadly) suffered significant, and likely permanent, brain injury.
In this diversity jurisdiction personal injury case, Zankow v. Sears Holding Corp., et al., Plaintiff claimed that Sears was negligent because the placement of the ladder combined with the shelves in the narrow aisle created an unreasonably dangerous condition that caused her serious and permanent injuries. The shelves were 1 to 1.5 inches thick and were connected to the back of a shelving unit with no side walls. While trying to get around the ladder, Plaintiff apparently did not notice the shelves as she was focused on the ladder – the original obstruction.
For its part, Defendant claimed that it should not be held liable as the ladder and the shelves were in plain sight; and, in any event, because Plaintiff failed to use ordinary and reasonable care in walking around the ladder, she was contributorily negligent and barred from recovery.
On summary judgment, the Court dismissed Plaintiff’s claims. The Court ruled that from the pictures submitted by the Plaintiff of the scene (which were attached to the Opinion) and the description provided, the shelf and the ladder were “open and obvious” conditions from which Plaintiff had a duty to use reasonable care to avoid. The court rejected Plaintiff’s argument that the shelf she hit her head on was protruding, because the evidence showed that no one shelf stuck out further than the others. Further, the Court did not find that the combination of the ladder and the shelves rendered either of the hazards “latent” such that Plaintiff would not have been expected to notice and avoid the open and obvious hazards. Citing Virginia Supreme Court precedent, the Court ruled that once a hazard is deemed to be open and obvious, an injured plaintiff’s claim must fail as a matter of law since she will be deemed to have failed to exercise reasonable care, and will thus be found contributorily negligent.