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Girardot v. The Chemours Co.

Superior Court of Delaware

March 26, 2018

MARK GIRARDOT, GERHARD R. WITTREICH, and PETER BUTLER, individually and on behalf of others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
THE CHEMOURS COMPANY, Defendant.

          Submitted: February 27, 2018

          Robert K. Beste, Esq., Jonathan Landesman, Esq. (Argued), Cohen Seglias Pallas Greenhall & Furman, P.C., Attorneys for Plaintiffs

          Stephanie E. O'Byrne, Esq. (Argued), Kathleen Furey McDonough, Esq., Potter Anderson & Corroon LLP, Attorneys for Defendant The Chemours Company

          OPINION

          Mary M. Johnston, Judge

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL CONTEXT

         Mark Girardot, Gerhard Wittreich, Peter Butler, and the putative class (collectively, "Plaintiffs") bring this class action suit against their former employer, the Chemours Company. Plaintiffs claim that Chemours induced Plaintiffs to accept a severance package, which prevented Plaintiffs from accepting a superior severance package Chemours offered later. Plaintiffs allege five counts: fraud, breach of covenant of good faith and fair dealing, promissory estoppel, unjust enrichment, and a violation of the Delaware Wage Payment and Collection Act ("DWPCA").

         Chemours seeks dismissal only of the alleged DWPCA violation. Chemours argues this count should be dismissed on two alternative grounds. First, Chemours claims Plaintiffs seek reimbursement for a payment of severance, not wages, rendering the DWPCA inapplicable. Second, Chemours contends that even if the payments qualify as wages under the DWPCA, the claim is barred by the one-year statute of limitations for wage claims.

         In response, Plaintiffs argue that the payments they seek are properly characterized as "wage supplements, " which Plaintiffs may recover under the DWPCA. Additionally, Plaintiffs assert that their claim for "wage supplements" is not barred by the statute of limitations, because such a claim accrues 30 days after each payment is required to be made.

         MOTION TO DISMISS STANDARD

         In a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the Court must determine whether the claimant "may recover under any reasonably conceivable set of circumstances susceptible of proof."[1] The Court must accept as true all well-pleaded allegations.[2] Every reasonable factual inference will be drawn in the non-moving party's favor.[3]If the claimant may recover under that standard of review, the Court must deny the motion to dismiss.[4]

         ANALYSIS

         Separation Benefits Are Recoverable Under the DWPCA

         The civil enforcement section of the DWPCA, Section 1113, allows employees "to recover unpaid wages and liquidated damages."[5] Section 1101 defines "wages" as "compensation for labor or services rendered by an employee, whether the amount is fixed or determined on a time, task, piece, commission or other basis of calculation."[6] Chemours argues that the severance Plaintiffs seek does not fit this definition because the severance was not compensation for services rendered, but only a benefit offered as a result of termination.

         Although Section 1113 only mentions "wages, " a close reading of the statute and related caselaw reveal that wages are not the only form of payment recoverable under the DWPCA. Section 1109 is an amendment to the original DWPCA.[7]Section 1109 requires employers who agree to provide "wage supplements to any employee" to "furnish such supplements within 30 days after such payments are required to be made . . . ."[8] The Section goes on to define "wage supplements" as "compensation for employment other than wages, including, but not limited to . . . vacation, separation, or holiday pay . . . ."[9] Though Section 1109 created a requirement regarding the payment of wage supplements, it did not include a remedy provision for the violation of this requirement. Despite the addition of Section 1109, the DWPCA's remedy section, Section 1113, was not amended and continued to refer only to "wages."

         In Department of Labor ex rel. Commons v. Green Giant Company, [10] the Delaware Superior Court addressed this incongruity. The Court in Green Giant considered whether the DWPCA allows for recovery of severance pay.[11] The Court first determined that the definition of "wages" in Section 1101 does not include severance pay. It concluded that the addition of Section 1109 to the statute did not alter Section 1101 's definition.[12]

         Crucially, however, this was not the end of the Court's analysis. It went on to determine whether the amended Section 1109 affected the definition of wages in the DWPCA's remedy section, Section 1113. Noting that Section 1109 would not otherwise have a remedy provision, the Court held that Section 1113 "is expanded by necessary implication to encompass the subject matter of the amendment."[13]Relying on this conclusion, the Court allowed the action-to recover severance pay-to proceed under the DWPCA.[14]

         In this case, Chemours mistakenly relies only on Green Gianfs preliminary conclusion that Section 1101 's definition of wages does not include severance pay, but ignores "the primary holding in the case"-that ...


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