Clark v. Teamsters Local Union 651, Civil Action No. 5: 17-273-DCR

CourtUnited States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court of Eastern District of Kentucky
Citation349 F.Supp.3d 605
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 5: 17-273-DCR
Parties Sara CLARK, et al., Plaintiffs, v. TEAMSTERS LOCAL UNION 651, et al., Defendants.
Decision Date24 October 2018

349 F.Supp.3d 605

Sara CLARK, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
TEAMSTERS LOCAL UNION 651, et al., Defendants.

Civil Action No. 5: 17-273-DCR

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, CENTRAL DIVISION. (at Lexington).

Filed: October 24, 2018


349 F.Supp.3d 613

Daniel Luke Morgan, David J. Guarnieri, Jaron P. Blandford, Jason R. Hollon, McBrayer, McGinnis, Leslie & Kirkland, PLLC - Lexington, Lexington, KY, for Plaintiffs.

Alton D. Priddy, Thomas J. Schulz, Priddy, Cutler, Naake & Meade, PLLC, Louisville, KY, for Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Danny C. Reeves, United States District Judge

This matter is pending for consideration of the motions for summary judgment filed by Defendants Michael Philbeck, Teamsters Local Union 651 ("Local 651") and International Brotherhood of Teamsters ("IBT") [Record Nos. 66 and 67]. For the reasons that follow, Defendant IBT's motion for summary judgment [Record No. 66] will be granted. Defendants Philbeck's and Local 651's motion for summary judgment [Record No. 67] will be granted, in part, and denied, in part.

I.

Plaintiffs Sara Clark and Carol Estepp filed this action against Local 651, Philbeck, and IBT in June 2017. [Record No. 1] The Court later granted a motion to dismiss claims for wrongful termination, destruction of evidence, and civil conspiracy. [Record No. 12] The remaining claims include alleged violations of the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act ("LMRDA"), the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), Kentucky wage and hour statutes, invasion of privacy, defamation, and a hostile work environment in violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Clark and Estepp are former employees of Teamsters Local Union 651. Clark was hired in 2008 as the Finance and Benefits Coordinator but was terminated in March 2017. [Record No. 1, p. 3] She paid union dues to IBT until her termination. [Record No. 74, p. 2] Estepp was hired as the Dues Coordinator with Local 651 in 2012. [Record No. 74, p. 20] She resigned in May 2018. [Record No. 74, p. 20] Estepp paid union dues to IBT until June 2017. [Record No. 1, p. 3] The plaintiffs were originally salaried employees, but were switched to an hourly rate in August 2016. [Record No. 1, p. 7] Local 651's President Philbeck had discretion to decide when the plaintiffs could take leave and he approved their overtime pay. [Record No. 1, p. 13] The plaintiffs allege they would clock out

349 F.Supp.3d 614

and continue to work or deliver packages on their way home. [Record No. 74-2, p. 69-70]

The plaintiffs claim that Philbeck used derogatory language against women and commented on their appearances throughout their time at Local 651. [Record No. 1, p. 4] Estepp testified that Philbeck would kiss her on the cheek every morning, asked her to sit on his lap, and called her "mom." [Record No. 74-2, p. 54-55, 95-97] The plaintiffs also allege that Philbeck used profanities when they disregarded his orders. [Record No. 1, p. 4] Further, the plaintiffs contend that they were fearful that Philbeck would harm or take personnel action against them. [Record No. 74-2, p. 91-93]

Clark testified that the situation escalated in June 2016. While Estepp looked on, Philbeck cursed at Clark and told her to leave Local 651 after she refused his request to modify his 401(k) contributions in an effort to hide money from his wife, whom he was divorcing. [Record No. 74-1, p. 157] Following this exchange, Clark sent a letter in June 2016 to the Local 651 Executive Board describing verbal abuse and a hostile environment at Local 651. [Record No. 74-12] But rather than apologize to Clark as he was instructed, the plaintiffs assert that Philbeck again verbally attacked and ridiculed her in the presence of other Local 651 officials. [Record No. 1, p. 5] Clark met with Local 651's Executive Board personnel on July 24, 2016, to provide information on Philbeck's alleged 401(k) contribution scheme. [Record No. 74-13] The plaintiffs also attended a meeting in July 2016 to provide information on Philbeck's supposed improprieties, including an inappropriate relationship with a female employee. [Record No. 1, p. 5] Clark submitted a second letter in October 2016 to the membership of Local 651, describing the situation at union and alleged retaliation, defamation, slander, and various wrongdoings occurring there. [Record No. 74-19]

In the meantime, Philbeck became suspicious of potential financial improprieties committed by Clark. Philbeck posted a letter on the Local 651's secretary's door in August 2016, alleging financial improprieties by Clark. [Record No. 74-14] Philbeck and Local 651's Vice President, Morse Minix, also discussed Clark's purported financial wrongdoing. [Record No. 1, p. 7] Philbeck again accused Clark of financial impropriety during Local 651's Executive Board meeting on September 30, 2016. [Record No. 1, p. 8] The Executive Board, however, issued a statement that no financial impropriety occurred and no investigation was necessary following the meeting. [Record No. 74-16] Philbeck nevertheless continued to make allegations regarding Clark's alleged financial improprieties from December 2016 to March 2017. [Record No. 1, p. 9] IBT audited Local 651 in early 2017 and found no malfeasance or illegal activity committed by Clark. [Record No. 1, p. 9] Additionally, Philbeck allegedly made comments about Estepp and Clark having personal relationships with male employees in the office. [Record No. 74-1, p. 222-23, Record No. 74-2, p. 86-87]

IBT became involved in the dispute in September 2016, when business agent Matt Montgomery1 wrote to IBT concerning the problems at Local 651. [Record No. 74-17] The plaintiffs, however, allege that no action was taken in response to the

349 F.Supp.3d 615

letter. [Record No. 1, p. 8] IBT sent representative Dennis Morgan to audit Local 651 in early 2017. [Record No. 74-31] Estepp stated in a letter to Morgan in April 2017 that she was afraid Philbeck would retaliate against her if she complained about his improper behavior and brought up Philbeck's comment that Estepp stay out of office politics. [Record Nos. 74-32; 74-2, p. 89-90] Morgan spent approximately one month at Local 651 during which time he spoke with employees regarding Local's compliance with financial and administrative procedures. [Record Nos. 74-31; 66-1, p. 8] Estepp met with Morgan briefly on April 13, 2017. [Record No. 66-1, p. 8] However, Morgan never talked with Clark because she had been terminated when he arrived to address the issues raised in the Montgomery letter. [Record No. 66-1, p. 8]

Following Clark's termination, Local 651's administrative assistant Stephanie Buchenroth used a lost password function and changed the passwords on Clark's Local 651 e-mail and Dropbox accounts. [Record No. 74-24, p. 23] Clark created the Dropbox account using her work e-mail. [Record No. 74, p. 34] Buchenroth subsequently searched the Dropbox and e-mail. [Record No. 67-1, p. 21] The Dropbox account contained both work-related and personal documents. [Record No. 74-1, p. 143-145] The Dropbox was accessed while IBT was on site at Local 651 performing an audit. [Record No. 1, p. 17-18]

II.

Summary judgment is appropriate if there are no genuine disputes regarding any material facts and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a) ; see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett , 477 U.S. 317, 322–23, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986) ; Chao v. Hall Holding Co. , 285 F.3d 415, 424 (6th Cir. 2002). A dispute over a material fact is not "genuine" unless a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. , 477 U.S. 242, 247-48, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). The determination must be "whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law." Anderson , 477 U.S. at 251–52, 106 S.Ct. 2505 ; see Harrison v. Ash , 539 F.3d 510, 516 (6th Cir. 2008).

Once the moving party has met its burden of production, "its opponent must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Keeneland Ass'n, Inc. v. Earnes , 830 F.Supp. 974, 984 (E.D. Ky. 1993) (citing Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp. , 475 U.S. 574, 586, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986) ). The nonmoving party cannot rely on the assertions in its pleadings; rather, it must come forward with probative evidence to support its claims. Celotex , 477 U.S. at 324, 106 S.Ct. 2548. In deciding whether to grant summary judgment, the Court views all the facts and inferences drawn from the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. , 475 U.S. at 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348

III.

a. Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act Claim

(i) Local 651 and Philbeck

"Congress enacted Title I of the [LMRDA], 29 U.S.C. §§ 411 - 415, to provide union members with a right to freedom of expression that would in turn help ensure that unions would be democratically governed." Harvey v. Hollenback , 113 F.3d 639, 642 (6th Cir....

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