Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Haas v. Lockheed Martin (Ct. of Appeals)

Decided January 9, 2007--Opinion by Judge Glenn T. Harrell, Jr.

Respondent had employed Petitioner in Montgomery County as a human resources specialist since 1998. Following a corporate restructuring, Petitioner applied for a newly created human resources position with Respondent in April 2001, said new position to subsume many or most of Petitioner's prior professional duties of employment. Respondent did not extend an offer to Petitioner for that new position, and notified Petitioner in writing on October 9, 2001 that Petitioner would be laid off effective October 23, 2001, which date indeed became Petitioner's last day of work with Respondent.

Petitioner filed suit against Respondent in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County on October 23, 2003 for alleged discrimination on the grounds of disability under Md. Ann. Code, Art. 49B, Sec. 42(b), a Maryland statute specific to Montgomery County, said discrimination alleged to have occurred on the basis of Petitioner's Attention Deficit Disorder. Respondent moved for summary judgment, citing the two-year limitations provision in that statute. The Circuit Court granted summary judgment and the Court of Special Appeals affirmed.

The Court of Appeals ("the Court") reversed and remanded the case to the Court of Special Appeals with instructions to reverse the Circuit Court's grant of summary judgment and to remand the case to the Circuit Court for further proceedings.

In its opinion, the Court held that the two-year limitations period from the date of "discharge" - an undefined term - ran not from the date of discovery of an impending discharge or of a notice of such discharge, but from the actual discharge upon cessation of employment. The Court noted that this view was a minority view among the states with largely similar statutes, but cited a number of grounds for the ruling including the rule's bright-line simplicity for the benefit of employers, employees and courts and the furtherance of the remedial purpose of the statute in sustaining meritorious claims. The Court rejected the so-called "Ricks/Chardon" majority rule dating a discharge to the date of notice thereof, due to that rule's potential to interfere with possible conciliation and to propagate unripe suits.

In dissent, Judge Battaglia opined that the discriminatory act of discharge prohibited under section 42(b) is, in fact, the decision to discharge the employee, rather than the termination of employment itself. Judge Battaglia noted that an employee suffers harm upon the very notice of discharge, not merely later on her last date of employment, and that the federal employment statutes which section 42(b) and similar Maryland statutes mimic calculate the date of discharge for limitations from the date of notice. Judge Battaglia cited as a policy ground for her view the benefit to employees of a longer grace period in which to find new employment and to continue to receive benefits before the last date of employment; calculating the limitations period from the last date of employment would discourage employers from extending such benefits and grace periods. Judge Raker joined in part A of the dissenting opinion expressing the foregoing grounds.

In part B of the dissenting opinion, Judge Battaglia cited the "discovery rule" applied to many Maryland statutes of limitations and urged that the calculating "discharge" from the date of notice of discharge would be consistent with that principle.

The full text of the opinion and dissent can be found here in PDF.

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