PHILADELPHIA – A former sales representative for a science company who alleges her former employer breached the terms of a settlement with her will have two of her three claims proceed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
On Feb. 1, Judge Jeffrey L. Schmehl granted a motion from defendants Scientifix and one of its corporate officers George Lynch, to dismiss a claim of intentional interference with prospective contractual relations from plaintiff Deidre Garcia – but Garcia’s claims of breach of contract (non-disparagement) and defamation will move forward.
From October 2005 to March 2012, Garcia worked for Scientifix as a sales representative. Lynch is a corporate officer with Scientifix. On July 12, 2013, Garcia filed suit in District Court alleging violations of the Pennsylvania Wage Payment Collection Law and breach of contract. The parties later reached a settlement, the terms of which were set forth in a settlement agreement and release executed by all parties.
One of the terms of the agreement was both sides would not “communicate, publish or release, indirectly or directly, in any medium or format, any negative or disparaging comment or information” about each other.
Garcia is now employed for Philadelphia-area business Flatiron Construction Company as its Director of Business Development, and claims Lynch e-mailed Garcia’s professional colleagues at Flatiron and Mott Manufacturing to say Scientifix would not supply them with pricing for a planned RFP if Garcia was involved in the project.
Lynch allegedly wrote, “I do not trust her ethics, she has shared our pricing with competitors in the past," in an April 2015 email.
Garcia filed suit against the defendants for alleged breach of the non-disparagement clause of their settlement, intentional interference with prospective contractual relations and defamation. In response to Garcia’s claims, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss all of them, for failure to state a claim.
The District Court found the wording of the non-disparagement clause “clear and unambiguous.”
“An e-mail…stating that he does not trust plaintiff’s ethics and accusing plaintiff of sharing Scientifix pricing with competitors in the past clearly qualifies as a negative or disparaging comment about plaintiff under the unambiguous terms of the non-disparagement clause, thereby constituting a breach of the non-disparagement clause of the agreement,” Schmehl said.
As to Garcia’s second count of interference with prospective contractual relations, Schmehl found Garcia did not prove the existence of a valid contract between herself/her employer and a third-party.
“Indeed, according to the complaint, plaintiff herself did not enter into any actual contracts, but rather her role was limited to preparing RFPs for her current employer, Flatiron,” Schmehl said. “While defendants’ actions may have interfered with plaintiff’s prospective business relationships, there are no allegations that they interfered with any of plaintiff’s contractual relationships.”
With respect to Garcia’s defamation claim, Schmehl decided Garcia’s allegations are in fact valid. Schmehl said under Pennsylvania law, a statement is defamatory “if it tends to blacken a person’s reputation or expose them to public hatred, contempt or ridicule, or injure them in their business or profession” or otherwise “lowers a person in the estimation of the community” or “deters third persons from associating with them.”
Schmehl stated in this case, the District Court had “little trouble” concluding Garcia made a valid case with her defamation count.
“The statements contained in the e-mail from Lynch to Flatiron and Mott, questioning plaintiff’s ethics and accusing her of sharing Scientifix’s pricing with competitors are capable of defamatory meaning,” Schmehl said.
Schmehl explained Garcia’s defamation issue “needs to be fleshed out in discovery”, and thus denied the defense motion to dismiss the defamation claim.
The plaintiff is represented by Andrew S. Abramson of Abramson Employment Law, in Blue Bell.
The defendants are represented by of John M. Hanamirian of Hanamirian Law Firm in Moorestown, N.J. and Antranig N. Garibian of Garibian Law Offices, in Philadelphia.
U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case 2:15-cv-02392
From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at firstname.lastname@example.org