United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Charleston
JULIA E. BLACKWOOD, Plaintiff,
BERRY DUNN, LLC, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
T. Copenhaver, Jr. Senior United States District Judge
is defendant Berry Dunn, LLC's (“Berry Dunn”)
motion for summary judgment, filed June 11, 2019.
only surviving cause of action in this matter is plaintiff
Julia Blackwood's claim against Berry Dunn for breach of
promise and detrimental reliance.
March 16, 2017, Ms. Blackwood was fired from her job as a
consultant with Berry Dunn during a meeting with certain
Berry Dunn supervisors. Compl., ECF No. 1-1, ¶ 31. Ms.
Blackwood asserts that during that same meeting, Berry
Dunn's director of human resources, Debra Genender,
“informed Blackwood she would be paid three weeks'
severance pay.” Blackwood Aff., ECF No. 40-1, ¶
32. Ms. Blackwood further states that when she was informed
that she was being terminated, Ms. Genender told her that
Berry Dunn would not leave her “empty handed.”
Id. ¶ 48.
Friday, March 17, 2017, a day after Ms. Blackwood was
informed that her employment was being terminated, Ms.
Genender informed Ms. Blackwood by electronic mail that she
was “being given 3 week's severance, so you will
see 8 hours for yesterday, your accrued vacation time (55
hours) and 3 weeks of severance that will all be paid in the
final check.” Id. ¶ 43; Compl., ECF No.
1-1, ¶ 42. Attached to that same email was Ms.
Blackwood's final pay memorandum which included the
“3 weeks of severance” amounting to $4, 038.46.
Blackwood Aff., ECF No. 40-1, ¶¶ 43-44.
that same day, Ms. Genender sent Ms. Blackwood another email
stating that “[p]er West Virginia labor laws, we have
to pay you within 4 business days. Therefore, you will see a
direct deposit of all pay owed to you (from my previous
email), no later than Wednesday, ” which would have
been March 22, 2017. Id. ¶ 45. Ms. Blackwood
claims that this email confirmed “Berry Dunn's
payment of severance pay pursuant to the terms of its
severance pay policy.” Id. On Tuesday, March
21, 2017, Ms. Genender sent Ms. Blackwood another email
stating: “My previous email indicated that we would be
providing you with severance payment. We are in the process
of drafting a separation agreement with a waiver of claims
that you will need to sign in order to be eligible for any
severance payment.” Id. ¶ 47.
Wednesday, March 22, 2017, Ms. Blackwood sent an email to Ms.
Genender stating the following:
After receiving your promise of my final payment being
directly deposited into my bank account today, I used funds I
had available for purchases that could and would have been
delayed if I had not relied on your promised payment.
Not only was your promise of payment unequivocal, the form of
payment promised (direct deposit to my bank account) assured
me my bank would allow me full availability and use of these
funds immediately on receipt!
As such, I need the payment of all funds outlined in the
attachment to your initial email on March 17, 2017 direct
deposited into my account today as promised. Otherwise, I
will not have the funds to meet . . . my family's needs.
ECF No. 19-3, at 7. She states in her affidavit that she
“had made purchases and other financial commitments to
[her] family that [she] would not have promised (band camp;
medical needs of daughter; miscellaneous expenses for son
entering college; advance mortgage payment) all of which
[she] would not be able to cover without the severance pay
promised.” Id. ¶ 48.
March 27, 2017, Ms. Blackwood received the severance
agreement, which she ultimately refused to sign inasmuch as
she asserts that a provision of the agreement would have
prevented her “from working in [her] field in the State
of West Virginia” and was therefore unconscionable.
Id. ¶¶ 49-51. Ms. Blackwood never received
any severance pay. She asserts that she expected to “be
paid severance based on [her] experience in having worked for
other consulting firms” and that “these firms
have always paid severance to terminated professional
employees . . . . [as] it is the norm for this type of
employment.” Id. ¶ 42.
court notes that inasmuch as the parties have not exchanged
discovery in this matter, the plaintiff submitted, with her
response in opposition to defendant's motion for summary
judgment, an affidavit containing the text of several of the
emails noted above. These same emails have been attached to
previous briefings by the plaintiff and/or described in the