Consistent with both the “place of contracting” and “interest-weighing” approaches to choice-of-law questions, a federal magistrate judge in Rhode Island has recommended to the District Court that Massachusetts law should apply to a Rhode Island plaintiff’s common law claims against his former employer.
Jerome Drummond worked for Siemens Industry, Inc. out of its Rhode Island office from May 2002 until he was terminated from his sales position in January 2014. Drummond brought suit in Rhode Island, but maintained the substantive law of Massachusetts should govern the diversity action.
The plaintiff asserted that Siemens ran afoul of Massachusetts common law’s public policy exception to the employment-at-will doctrine. He also alleged that the defendant’s behaviors in preventing him from earning commissions amounted to an “opportunistic” breach of contract and violated the covenant of good faith and fair dealing.
Siemens countered that Drummond was terminated for poor work performance, more specifically a “years-long decline in performance, sales and commissions after 2008,” and further said that Rhode Island law should apply.
On the disputed choice-of-law issue, Magistrate Judge Lincoln D. Almond agreed with the plaintiff.
First, since the evidence showed that Drummond accepted and signed his offer of employment in the defendant’s Canton, Massachusetts, headquarters, the “place of contracting” test dictated that Massachusetts law should apply.
Almond reached the same conclusion under the “interest-weighing” factors, considering that Drummond was supervised out of the defendant’s Canton office; that Siemens’ New England sales team was headquartered and managed there; that Drummond performed a significant portion of his sales activities in Massachusetts; and that the allegations of the complaint centered primarily on sales efforts for contracts with Massachusetts municipalities.
“On balance, and when measured against the backdrop of the relevant interest-weighing considerations, Massachusetts has a more significant relationship to the parties and the issues at play in this litigation,” Almond wrote. “Rhode Island’s more generalized interest here in providing recourse for a resident plaintiff/employee is outweighed by the more particularized interests of Massachusetts.”
The full text of the eight-page decision in Drummond v. Siemens Industry, Inc. can be found here.