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Pratt v. M & T Bank Corp.

United States District Court, D. Delaware

January 19, 2017

Charles Pratt, Jr., Plaintiff,
v.
M&T Bank Corp., Defendant.

          Michelle D. Allen, Esq., Hockessin, Del., attorney for Plaintiff Charles Pratt.

          Scott A. Holt, Esq., Lauren E.M. Russell, Esq., Young Conaway Stargatt & Taylor, LLP, Wilmington, Del., attorneys for Defendant M&T Bank.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ANDREWS, U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This is a case of an auditor that did his job too well, or not well enough. Since there are genuine disputes of material fact, that is for the jury to sort out.

         Plaintiff Charles Pratt worked for Defendant M&T bank for seventeen months until it fired him. During that time, Plaintiff worked in Defendant's audit department on the information technology security team.

         Plaintiff alleges that his reports of data security violations, requests for further testing, and objections to misleading reporting of said violations were why Defendant wrote him up and ultimately fired him. On that basis, he brings Delaware Whistleblower Protection Act and implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing claims against Defendant. He also brings an implied covenant claim because Defendant changed his position from Assistant Vice President to Banking Officer within six weeks of starting the job.

         Defendant has filed a motion for summary judgment on all three claims. (D.I. 57). For the following reasons, Defendant's motion is denied in part and granted in part.

         I. 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). Material facts are those "that could affect the outcome" of the proceeding. Lamont v. New Jersey, 637 F.3d 177, 181 (3d Cir. 2011) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). "[A] dispute about a material fact is 'genuine' if the evidence is sufficient to permit a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id. The burden on the moving party may be discharged by pointing out to the district court that there is an absence of evidence supporting the non-moving party's case. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986).

         The burden then shifts to the non-movant to demonstrate the existence of a genuine issue for trial. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986); Williams v. Borough of West Chester, Pa., 891 F.2d 458, 460-61 (3d Cir. 1989). A non-moving party asserting that a fact is genuinely disputed must support such an assertion by: "(A) citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations . . ., admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials; or (B) showing that the materials cited [by the opposing party] do not establish the absence ... of a genuine dispute . . . ." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). The non-moving party's evidence "must amount to more than a scintilla, but may amount to less (in the evaluation of the court) than a preponderance." Williams, 891 F.2d at 461.

         When determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Wishkin v. Potter, 476 F.3d 180, 184 (3d Cir. 2007). If the non-moving party fails to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of its case with respect to which it has the burden of proof, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322.

         II. Delaware Whistleblower Protection Act Claim

         The Delaware Whistleblower Protection Act protects employees who are fired for reporting a violation of certain state and federal laws. In doing so, the Act "encourage[s] reporting, " "promotes public health and safety, " and "provides a check on persons in positions of authority." Smith v. Univ. of Del., 47 A.3d 472, 476 (Del. 2012).

         In order to qualify as a violation under the Act, the employer misconduct must speak to public health and safety or to fraud. As to fraud, the relevant category here, the statute defines a violation as:

an act or omission ... that is [m]aterially inconsistent with, and a serious deviation from, financial management or accounting standards implemented pursuant to a rule or regulation promulgated by the employer or a law, rule, or regulation promulgated under the laws of this State, a political subdivision of this State, or the United States, to protect any person from fraud, deceit, ...

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