This is a wrongful discharge from employment case. Delta Dental Insurance Company is the former employer, and Douglas Weber is the former employee. Delta Dental moves for summary judgment and moves to exclude evidence alleging that it violated a "90-Day Performance Management Plan" on which it placed Weber. Both motions are denied for the reasons set forth below.
Delta Dental is an insurance company that offers dental benefits in Montana. It works through a business partner, Insurance Coordinators of Montana, Inc., to sell and service its benefits plans. Insurance Coordinators of Montana is the principal contact for customers that purchase Delta Dental products, both during and after the purchase.
Delta Dental hired Weber on January 22, 2008, to work as a Sales Account Executive. Weber had worked for Insurance Coordinators of Montana immediately before Delta Dental hired him. Delta Dental's job-offer letter states that Delta Dental "from time to time in its sole discretion, may adjust the salaries and benefits paid to you and its other employees as well as reporting relationships, job titles and responsibilities."*fn1 Delta Dental claims that, because of the relationship between Delta Dental and Insurance Coordinators of Montana, Weber's job duties were different than those performed by other Sales Account Executives. In addition to the duties of a Sales Account Executive, Delta Dental also expected Weber to perform some of the duties of an Account Manager.
On May 24, 2010, Delta Dental put Weber on a 90-Day Performance Management Plan to improve his purported subpar job performance. Weber was put on the 90-Day Plan because staff with Insurance Coordinators of Montana were frustrated with Weber's incomplete communications and lack of follow up. Generally speaking, the 90-Day Plan required Weber to improve his performance and communications with Insurance Coordinators of Montana or face termination.
The 90-Day Plan also indicated that Jim Dole (Weber's supervisor) or Robert Budd (with Human Resources) would meet every 30 days with Weber to discuss his progress.
According to Delta Dental, Weber's performance did not improve. In its opening brief, Delta Dental provides ten detailed examples of how Weber failed to improve his performance. Generally speaking, those examples tend to show that Weber would not return calls from staff at Insurance Coordinators of Montana or follow up with information that they requested. Weber does not contest Delta Dental's factual account of those examples. Instead, he claims that he performed poorly because Delta Dental did not provide him with the tools, training, and resources that he needed in order to succeed at his job. Weber claims, for example, that Delta Dental did not provide him with the computer software that he needed or provide him with adequate training for his Account Manager responsibilities. He also claims that neither Dole nor Budd met with him while he was on the 90-Day Plan in order to discuss how he could improve.
Delta Dental fired Weber on October 1, 2010. In its termination letter, Delta Dental stated that it was firing Weber because of his "lack of comprehensive and timely communication." Weber filed this lawsuit against Delta Dental in state court on January 21, 2011.*fn2 Delta Dental then removed it on April 20, 2011.
SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD
"The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). "[A] party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of 'the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any,' which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Material facts are those which may affect the outcome of the case. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute as to a material fact is genuine if there is sufficient evidence for a reasonable fact-finder to return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Id.; see also Russell v. Daiichi-Sankyo, Inc., 2012 WL 1793226 (D. Mont. May 15, 2012).
Under Montana's Wrongful Discharge from Employment Act, a discharge is wrongful only if:
(a) it was in retaliation for the employee's refusal to violate public policy or for reporting a violation of public policy;
(b) the discharge was not for good cause and the employee had completed the employer's probationary period of employment; or
(c) the employer violated the express provisions of its own written personnel policy.
Mont. Code Ann. § 39--2--904.
Here, Weber claims that Delta Dental did not have good cause to discharge him and that it violated its own written personnel policy. Delta Dental, on the other hand, argues that it had good cause, that it did not violate its own written personnel policy, and that any evidence alleging that it violated its written personnel policy should be excluded.
An employer has "good cause" to discharge an employee when it has "reasonable job-related grounds for dismissal based on a failure to satisfactorily perform job duties, a disruption of the employer's operation, or other ...