Tortious Interference with Business Expectancy Requires More Than Usual Workplace Conflict

Jennifer Taylor worked for Allied Waste Industries. When Allied merged with Republic Services, Inc., Taylor found the new management’s style different and problematic. Her new supervisors were described as “micromanagers,” and Taylor clashed with them over many issues, including her job performance with which her supervisors’ were dissatisfied. Taylor attempted to resolve the issues through the Human Resources office, but ultimately separated from Republic. According to Taylor, she would have continued employment with Republic but for the allegedly tortious actions of her supervisors. Taylor sued Republic and her supervisors for various torts including tortious interference with business expectancy. Defendants moved for summary judgment on the tortious interference claim.

To state a claim for tortious interference in Virginia, a plaintiff must prove: (1) a valid contractual relationship or business expectancy; (2) knowledge of the relationship or expectancy on the part of the interferer; (3) intentional interference inducing or causing a breach or termination of the relationship or expectancy; and (4) resultant damage to the party whose relationship or expectancy has been disrupted. In an at-will employment situation such as this, the plaintiff must also prove that the method of interference was improper. Improper methods of interference include means that are contrary to law or regulation and methods that employ violence, threat, intimidation, or fraud. Actions motivated by spite do not necessarily constitute improper means.

A tortious interference claim usually requires three actors – two parties to the contract and a third party who interferes with the contract, so typically, the alleged interferer is not a party to the contract. However, a tortious interference claim may lie where an agent of one of the contractual parties acts outside the scope of his employment in tortiously interfering with the contract. An act is within the scope of employment if (1) it was expressly or impliedly directed by the employer or is naturally incident to the business, and (2) it was performed with the intent to further the employer’s interest.

According to Taylor, defendant Rains tortiously interfered with her employment by copying a superior on emails and allegedly fabricating performance issues. The court found that since all of the emails were work related, they occurred within the scope of employment and could not form the basis of a tortious interference claim. Additionally, Rains did not use any improper interference.jpgmeans. The court also noted that Taylor did not provide evidence that Rains fabricated her performance issues – the fact that she disagreed with his appraisal of her work did not create a factual issue sufficient to overcome the motion for summary judgment.

Taylor alleged that defendant Calloway intentionally and falsely portrayed her as having performance issues and sought to drive her out of the company because she rejected his advances and reported him to Human Resources. Taylor relied on various emails which did not support her allegations and instead merely demonstrated that Calloway was monitoring her work performance. Additionally, as Vice President of Human Resources for the Eastern Region, Calloway’s allegedly tortious actions fell squarely within the scope of his employment.

Taylor asserted that defendant Krall denied her a bonus and fabricated performance issues in order to drive her out of the company, and she submitted several email messages from Krall asking about her whereabouts and other issues. The court found that Taylor had submitted no evidence that Krall acted outside the scope of his employment or used improper methods as his email messages to her were all work-related and consistent with his treatment of all employees.

The court granted Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment because Taylor could not show that the defendants acted outside the scope of their employment or used improper means that led to her separation from Republic. On top of that, the claims were also time-barred.

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