MEMORANDUM OF DECISION AND ORDER ON DEFENDANTS'
MOTION TO DISMISS
B. Gordon, Justice of the Superior Court.
for decision is the Defendants' Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to
Dismiss the Complaint for failure to state a claim upon which
relief can be granted. For the reasons which follow, the
Court concludes that the defendants' motion must be
Gerda Sylvain has brought a breach of contract action against
her erstwhile employer (hereinafter " Spaulding
Rehabilitation"). The gravamen of plaintiff's claim
is that Spaulding Rehabilitation issued her an "
Employee Handbook" which contained policies concerning
workplace conduct and disciplinary action. The Complaint
asserts that " [a] fair reading of [Spaulding
Rehabilitation's] employee handbook constitutes an
alteration of the employment at-will relationship, " and
charges the defendant with breaching that contract when it
dismissed Sylvain from employment without utilizing any of
the first three steps of its progressive discipline
defendants' have moved to dismiss on each of two
alternate grounds. First, they maintain that, even indulging
the facts in the manner most hospitable to the plaintiff, the
allegations of the Complaint permit no fair inference that
Spaulding Rehabilitation's Employee Handbook constitutes
an enforceable contract or otherwise modified the
parties' at-will relationship. Second, Spaulding
Rehabilitation argues that, even if the terms of the Employee
Handbook could be given contractual effect, the allegations
set forth in the Complaint fail to demonstrate a breach of
any of such terms.
was a Certified Nursing Assistant employed by Spaulding
Rehabilitation from April 2004 until her discharge in April
2012. Prior to her dismissal, Sylvain received consistently
satisfactory performance reviews.
point during her employment, Sylvain received an Employee
Handbook. 41 pages in length, the Handbook
contained a variety of personnel policies. One such policy
was entitled " Corrective Discipline, " and
provided in pertinent part as follows:
If your conduct interferes with the orderly and efficient
operation of Spaulding Nursing & Therapy--North End, either
through poor performance, poor attendance, or misconduct,
corrective action will be taken to address the behavior.
Corrective discipline usually proceeds in the following
First Step--Counseling with written note
Second Step--Written Warning
Third Step--Final Written Warning or Disciplinary Suspension
The progressive approach may be modified based on the facts
and circumstances of each case. Some rule infractions may be
so serious as to cause immediate discharge.
( Employee Handbook, at p. 15.)
related policy set forth in the Employee Handbook ("
Grievance Process") provided in relevant part as
You always have the right to present a matter of concern
regarding corrective action . . . to your supervisor and/or
department head and have it considered on its merits. The
presentation of a concern will have no adverse impact on your
employment status. All concerns will be promptly reviewed and
The formal grievance procedure can only be applied to final
warnings, suspensions or discharges. This in no way prevents
informal problem solving. A concern should be discussed
promptly so that it does not become a lingering problem . . .
Discharged employees, if grieving, must begin the process at
Step II described below.
Staff who do not initiate a grievance within 10 calendar days
of knowledge of the facts related to the grievance forfeit
the right to grieve the matter.
( Employee Handbook, at pp. 15-16.) The Grievance
Process goes on to specify four discrete levels of review
that a grieving employee can bring to bear on her claim. Step
I calls for a discussion with the employee's immediate
supervisor, who is required to respond to the grievance
within five working days. If the employee is not satisfied,
she may take the grievance to Step II. Step II of the process
entails presenting the grievance in writing to the
employee's department head, who must hold a grievance
meeting and respond in writing within five working days. If
the employee remains dissatisfied, she may advance the
grievance to Step III. At Step III, a representative of the
Human Resources Department will review the grievance and
provide a written response within 14 days of the conclusion
of the Department's review. Finally, if the employee
remains dissatisfied with the decision of Human Resources,
she may present the grievance in writing to Spaulding
Rehabilitation's Executive Director. This step concludes
the internal grievance process. ( Employee Handbook,
at pp. 16-17.)
Grievance Process does not state explicitly that utilization
of the procedure is required, failing which the employee will
forfeit rights to bring a contract action in court. The
Grievance Process does suggest, however, that employees were
meant to exercise rights thereunder in a prompt, informal and
non-litigious manner: " This process is designed to
assure a fair and impartial review of your case in an
informal, non-judicial atmosphere." (Id. at
August 17, 2012, Sylvain became involved in a workplace
dispute with a co-employee named Gimina Arthur. What began as
a verbal quarrel in a patient room over a staffing request
escalated into a physical altercation, with Arthur punching
and kicking Sylvain and Sylvain grabbing Arthur by the hair.
Sylvain characterizes this episode as one in which Arthur was
the instigator, and she the victim. In all events, however,
the Employee Handbook's " Rules of Conduct"
section explicitly forbids " [d]isorderly conduct such
as fighting on [Spaulding Rehabilitation] ...