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Desmarais v. Scientific Research Corp.

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Charleston Division

November 3, 2015


          For Roger Scott Desmarais, Plaintiff: Jeremy Morgan Forrester, Mary Fitzsimons Fishburne, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Wigger Law Firm, North Charleston, SC.

         For Scientific Research Corporation, Defendant: Cherie Wilson Blackburn, William Chase McNair, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Nexsen Pruet (Chas), Charleston, SC.



         This matter is before the court on defendant Scientific Research Corporation's (" SRC" ) motion for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, the court grants SRC's motion.

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         I. BACKGROUND

         SRC is a foreign corporation organized under the laws of Delaware and operating in Charleston, South Carolina. Compl. ¶ 2. SRC is under a contract with Space and Naval Water Systems Command (" SPAWAR" ) to provide aviation technical services in Antarctica. Def.'s Mot. Ex. A, Lloyd Depo. 9:16-10:18. SRC hired plaintiff Roger Desmarais (" Roger" ) as an Air Traffic Controller in February 2002. Compl. ¶ 6. Beginning in 2003, Roger managed an air traffic control tower in McMurdo Station, Antarctica. Id. ¶ 7. As the manager, Roger was responsible for the security, safety, and overall operations of the air traffic control tower. Id. ¶ 9.

         Under SRC's contract with SPAWAR, SRC also provided weather observers who were located in the air traffic control tower with the air traffic controllers. In the Spring of 2011, Roger complained to SRC's Program Manager James Lloyd (" Lloyd" ) that the weather observers' presence in the control tower violated FAA regulation 7210.3 and USN (80T) because the observers distracted the air traffic controllers. Compl. ¶ 12; Lloyd Depo. 20:22-21:9. Specifically, Roger alleges that the weather observers would make telephone calls, play loud music and video games, and occasionally come to work intoxicated. Compl. ¶ 18. Roger claims that he continuously made complaints throughout his employment, but SRC claims that Roger first made complaints in the Spring of 2011. In July 2011, SRC employees and government officials met to discuss the location of the weather observers. Def.'s Mot. Ex. B, Roger Depo. 71:9-12; 80:6-19. After the meeting, everyone understood that the weather observers would be moved to the ground floor of the air traffic control tower. Roger Depo. 80:6-23. However, the government had final decision-making power. Roger Depo. 80:20-24.

         In August 2011, Roger arrived in Antarctica to begin the season and moved the weather observers' equipment to the lower level of the tower. Roger Depo. 84:1585:17. Additional government personnel arrived in Antarctica in October 2011. On October 11, 2011, Jeremy Clark (" Clark" ), SPAWAR Office of Polar Program's Air Traffic Manager and overall Site Lead, notified Roger that SPAWAR did not authorize the weather observers to be moved to the lower level and that they would have to be relocated to the tower cab. Roger Depo. 86:5-87:9. In response, Roger told Clark that he would " not work[] under weather regulations." Roger Depo. 87:6-10. Roger then had a discussion with Lloyd, during which Roger reiterated that he would not work under weather regulations. Roger Depo. 90:21-91:22. Roger and Lloyd agreed that Roger would stay for a few days and try to resolve the situation. Id. That same day, Roger received notification that he was being " manifested" off the ice on the next available flight. Roger arrived in Charleston a few days later.

         Lloyd attended a meeting with government officials in Charleston on October 14, 2011. Government officials decided that the weather observers did not pose a safety risk in the control tower. Roger submitted a complaint to the United States Navy, arguing that the weather observers' presence in the air traffic control tower violated federal law. Def.'s Mot. Ex. E. John Gampel (" Gampel" ), Interim Inspector General of the Department of Defense, notified Roger by letter dated February 23, 2012 that " [a]ll parties agreed neither the Weather Observer nor the Air Traffic Controller should or would be distracted from proper performance of his/her duties as long as the other acts in a professional manner." Def.'s Mot. Ex. F. The letter further stated that " it was determined the facilities are appropriate and Federal requirements

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for Air Traffic Controllers are satisfied." Id.

         Roger filed the present action against SRC on October 14, 2014, and SRC removed the case to this court on February 11, 2015. Roger brings a single cause of action for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy. Compl. ¶ ¶ 25-29. SRC filed the present motion for summary judgment on July 22, 2015. Roger filed a response on August 10, 2015, and SRC filed a reply on August 20, 2015. The motion has been fully briefed and is now ripe for the court's review.

         II. ...

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