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White v. Hewlett-Packard Company

United States District Court, D. Maine

June 11, 2019

MATTHEW J. WHITE, Plaintiff
v.
HEWLETT PACKARD ENTERPRISE COMPANY, Defendant

          DECISION AND ORDER ON MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          D. BROCK HORNBY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         In this case I interpret the language of an employer's bonus program, and apply Maine law on accrued vacation pay, access to a personnel file, quantum meruit, and unjust enrichment. I conclude that the defendant employer is entitled to summary judgment on all issues.

         The record is far larger than necessary to rule on the motion.[1] I confine myself to the facts that are material. I provide a basic overview at the outset, then introduce other facts as pertinent to the issue being decided. In all instances, I take disputed material facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, the plaintiff.

         Jurisdiction is based upon diversity of citizenship, and Maine law applies.

         Overview

         In early 2013 the plaintiff, Matthew J. White, a highly skilled IT professional living in Maine, was recruited by and entered into an employment contract with a previous iteration of the defendant Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company. White Aff. ¶¶ 2, 4, 8 (ECF No. 55-2).[2] I will refer to the defendant as HP. Among other things, HP's offer letter to White stated that he would receive a signing bonus, an annual base salary, ongoing incentive payments based on attaining certain sales goals, and eligibility to participate in the Company's benefit programs. White Dep. Ex. 13 at 1 (ECF No. 43-5). The offer letter included a link to an online portal (SharePoint) for more benefits information. Id.; White Dep. Tr. at 89:2- 90:22 (ECF No. 45-1).[3] White accepted the offer and performed his work for HP in Maine. See White Aff. ¶ 37.

         White voluntarily resigned from HP in July of 2015. Id. ¶ 35. He did not receive accrued unused vacation benefits and did not receive a market share bonus for the last calendar quarter of 2014; he claims that when he requested access to his personnel file, he obtained only partial access. Pl.'s Opposing Statement of Mat. Facts (POSMF)¶ 6 (ECF No. 56).

         White has sued HP for his vacation benefits and his claimed bonus as well as statutory remedies under Maine employment law. He also seeks recovery under Maine's law of quantum meruit and unjust enrichment. After discovery was complete, HP moved for summary judgment. See Def.'s Am. Mot. for Summ. J. (ECF No. 54).

         Analysis

         Vacation Pay

         A Maine statute requiring full payment of wages at the end of employment states: “Whenever the terms of employment or the employer's established practice includes provisions for paid vacations, vacation pay on cessation of employment has the same status as wages earned.” 26 M.R.S.A. § 626. The parties agree that this statute applies to White's employment relationship with HP. In 2009, Maine's Law Court made clear what the statute means in connection with vacation benefits. I take no guidance, therefore, from other states' interpretations of their employment statutes.

         In its vacation benefits case, Maine's Law Court held that “[a]lthough section 626 creates a statutory right for former employees to seek payment, entitlement to payment is governed solely by the terms of the employment agreement. Rowell v. Jones & Vining, Inc., 524 A.2d 1208, 1210-11 (Me. 1987). Therefore, pursuant to section 626, a former employee may only claim what is owed according to the terms of the employment agreement; section 626 does not modify or supercede its terms.” Richardson v. Winthrop Sch. Dep't, 983 A.2d 400, 402 (Me. 2009) (emphasis in original).[4]

         The HP vacation benefits policy at issue here states: “Employees are strongly encouraged to use all of their vacation each year-to take time away to refresh, recharge, and enjoy life outside of work. The vacation program does not include a year-end carryover feature or a payout provision if you leave the Company . . .” White Dep. Ex. 15 at 14-4 (ECF No. 45-8) (emphasis added). “If you leave [HP] for any reason, either voluntary or involuntary, you will not receive pay in lieu of unused vacation. [Except for listed circumstances inapplicable to White], all unused vacation will be forfeited at the time of your separation.” Id. at 14-8 (emphasis added).[5] White accepted these terms by accepting HP's employment offer and continuing to work for HP until he voluntarily left the company.

         I conclude that according to the italicized language, the terms of the employment agreement between White and HP did not entitle White to accrued vacation benefits when he left the company. Therefore section 626 affords him no relief. A contrary result would read those forfeiture provisions out of the employment contract, counter to the teaching of Richardson, ...


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