Alexander v. Columbus State Cmty. Coll., 14AP–798.

CourtUnited States Court of Appeals (Ohio)
Writing for the CourtHORTON, J.
Citation35 N.E.3d 949
PartiesApril L. ALEXANDER, Plaintiff–Appellant, v. COLUMBUS STATE COMMUNITY COLLEGE, Defendant–Appellee.
Docket NumberNo. 14AP–798.,14AP–798.
Decision Date04 June 2015

35 N.E.3d 949

April L. ALEXANDER, Plaintiff–Appellant

No. 14AP–798.

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Tenth District, Franklin County.

June 4, 2015.

35 N.E.3d 951

William J. O'Malley, Columbus, for appellant.

Michael DeWine, Attorney General, Eric A. Walker and Frank S. Carson, for appellee.



{¶ 1} Plaintiff-appellant, April L. Alexander (“Alexander” or “plaintiff”), appeals from a judgment of the Court of Claims of Ohio granting the summary judgment motion of defendant-appellee, Columbus State Community College (“CSCC”). Because Alexander failed to establish either a breach of contract claim, or a prima facie case of age discrimination, we affirm.


{¶ 2} On August 30, 2013, Alexander filed a complaint in the Court of Claims of Ohio alleging breach of contract and age discrimination under R.C. 4112.14. Alexander was employed by CSCC for over eleven (11) years, from October 2001 until April 2013. During that time, Alexander was employed as an EEO/Employee Relations Program Coordinator, and starting in 2011, she also became the coordinator of CSCC's Title IX program. Alexander was sixty-one (61) years old at the time of her discharge on April 8, 2013.

{¶ 3} The court also notes that Alexander appealed her termination to the State Personnel Board of Review (“SPBR”) over the issue of whether she was a classified or unclassified employee. The Administrative Law Judge concluded that Alexander was an unclassified employee. The hearing was held on October 17 and 18 of 2013, and the transcript, in which Alexander, Deborah Heater (“Heater”), CSCC's Vice President of Human Resources, and others testified, is part of the record in this case.

{¶ 4} In January 2013, Heater became Alexander's direct supervisor. (Heater Affidavit, ¶ 2.) According to Heater, she was “tasked with evaluating the structure and function of the human resources department” and had the authority to “restructure the department and recommend termination of employees.” (Heater Affidavit, ¶ 3.) Heater noted that there was an “uneven balance of workload” between the employees in the Employment Services section of Human Resources. (SPBR Tr. 253.) Heater's “evaluation found that there were not enough EEO and Title IX complaints to fulfill a full-time position that Alexander held,” and for which she “earned $75,000 per year.” (Heater Affidavit, ¶ 4.) Heater met with Alexander and told her to “start looking” for another job “because of what I knew the restructuring was going to be * * * for the department and there were some other issues with communication.” (SPBR Tr. 303–04.) Heater decided to create the position of “diversity inclusion officer” and “eliminate Alexander's position as Program Coordinator.” (Heater Affidavit, ¶ 4.) CSCC President David T. Harrison authorized her to terminate Alexander's employment. (Heater Affidavit, ¶ 5.) In addition, Heater states that Alexander was an unclassified “at-will” employee who was “terminated based on the legitimate business needs of CSCC.” (Heater Affidavit, ¶ 5, 8.)

{¶ 5} According to Alexander, Heater met with her either on March 5, 2013 (SPBR Tr. 152, 156), or March 14, 2003 (Alexander Affidavit, ¶ 3), and told her to “start looking for another job” and informed her that a co-employee, Stephanie Demers (“Demers”), would be taking over her EEO duties, and several other employees would take over her Title IX duties. (Alexander Affidavit, ¶ 3.) Alexander testified that Heater also told her that “she knew I wasn't happy and she didn't think that I could help her * * * achieve her

35 N.E.3d 952

goals within H. R.,” (SPBR Tr. 393), and that “it would be a good idea that * * * because she was a new manager, she was able to decide who * * * she wanted to be on her staff, and I was not one of those people.” (Alexander Depo., 20.)

{¶ 6} On April 8, 2013, Alexander was given a letter stating that her position with CSCC was being terminated. The letter states in pertinent part:

This letter serves as official notification that you are being discharged from your position with Columbus State Community College (CSCC) effective April 8, 2013 pursuant to CSCC Policy No. 3–32. As an at-will employee at CSCC, you serve at the pleasure of the President. Both you and the college are free to end your employment for any reason or for no reason at all.
Your separation is based on the misalignment of your role with the operational needs of the college relative to equal employment opportunity monitoring, anti-discrimination/ anti-harassment compliance, and affirmative action reporting. I will be moving compliance aspects of this position to another function within the HR Department. There is also an operational need to have visibility and engagement to establish Employee Diversity and Inclusion objectives. The college does not envision a role for you moving forward given our past discussions and working relationship.

(Plaintiff's exhibit A.)

{¶ 7} CSCC Policy and Procedures Manual Policy No. 3–32, which deals with disciplinary action, states in part that discipline is “typically” progressive in nature and will “generally” take the form of verbal warning, written warning, suspension without pay and termination. (Plaintiff's exhibit B, Policy No. 3–32(A)). However, the policy also states that “[i]n appropriate cases, the college reserves the right to move to immediate termination when warranted.” (Plaintiff's exhibit B, Policy No. 3–32(A)). Policy 3–32(D) recites a non-exhaustive list of behaviors that may warrant immediate termination. Policy 3–32(H) states that “Full–Time Staff” members, as Alexander claims to be, may be terminated without going through the disciplinary process for violations of college policy and/or the law. Although Alexander's notice of discharge was “pursuant to CSCC Policy No. 3–32,” both parties to this action acknowledge that Alexander was not terminated for disciplinary reasons. (Heater Affidavit, ¶ 5; Alexander Depo., 18–19, 28–29.)

{¶ 8} The termination letter clarifies that CSCC's position is Alexander was an “at-will” employee who serves at the pleasure of CSCC's President. The second paragraph briefly states Heater's reasoning for the termination of Alexander, and how duties will be reassigned, and ends by stating that “[t]he college does not envision a role for you moving forward given our past discussions and working relationship.” (Plaintiff's exhibit A.)

{¶ 9} On July 21, 2014, CSCC filed a motion for summary judgment. On August 15, 2014, Alexander filed a memorandum contra in opposition to CSCC's motion for summary judgment. On September 12, 2014, the Court of Claims granted CSCC's motion for summary judgment. The court found that Alexander was an at-will employee and that no contract, express or implied, existed between her and CSCC and consequently, her breach of contract claim failed as a matter of law. (Decision, 4.) The court also found that Alexander failed to present sufficient evidence to support a prima facie case of age discrimination. (Decision, 6.) The court further found that, even if Alexander had satisfied her prima

35 N.E.3d 953

facie case, CSCC had presented a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the termination. (Decision, 6.) The court concluded that Alexander failed to present any evidence demonstrating that CSCC's proffered reason was a pretext for discrimination. (Decision, 6–7.)


{¶ 10} Alexander appeals, assigning the following errors:

[I.] The Court of Claims erred when it determined that no reasonable factfinder could find that Ms. Alexander established all of the elements of a breach of contract claim.
[II.] The Court of Claims erred when it determined that no reasonable factfinder could find that Ms. Alexander established all of [the] elements of a prima facie age discrimination case.
[III.] The Court of Claims erred when it determined that no reasonable factfinder could determine that Defendant's proffered reason for terminating Ms. Alexander's employment was pretext for discrimination.


{¶ 11} Appellate review of summary judgment motions is de novo. Helton v. Scioto Cty. Bd. of Commrs., 123 Ohio App.3d 158, 162, 703 N.E.2d 841 (4th Dist.1997). “When reviewing a trial court's ruling on summary judgment, the court of appeals conducts an independent review of the record and stands in the shoes of the trial court.” Mergenthal v. Star Banc Corp., 122 Ohio App.3d 100, 103, 701 N.E.2d 383 (12th Dist.1997). We must affirm the trial court's judgment if any of the grounds raised by the movant at the trial court are found to support it, even if the trial court failed to consider those grounds. Coventry Twp. v. Ecker, 101 Ohio App.3d 38, 41–42, 654 N.E.2d 1327 (9th Dist.1995).

{¶ 12} Summary judgment is proper only when the party moving for summary judgment demonstrates that: (1) no genuine issue of material fact exists, (2) the moving party is entitled...

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