Edwards v. Cascade County Sheriff's Dept.

Decision Date31 December 2009
Docket NumberNo. DA 07-0592.,DA 07-0592.
PartiesRobert EDWARDS, Daniel Kohm, John Doe, Louis Goaziou, David Zrowka, and Ray St. Onge, Plaintiffs and Appellants, v. CASCADE COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT, David Castle, in his individual capacity, and Clyde "Blue" Corneliusen, in his individual capacity, and Cascade County, Defendants and Appellees.
CourtMontana Supreme Court

For Appellants: Elizabeth A. Best (argued), Best Law Offices, P.C., Great Falls, Montana.

For Appellees Cascade County Sheriff's Department, David Castle, and Clyde "Blue" Corneliusen: Kevin C. Meek, Davis, Hatley, Haffeman & Tighe, P.C., Great Falls, Montana.

For Appellee Cascade County: Robert J. Vermillion (argued), Smith, Walsh, Clarke & Gregoire, PLLP, Great Falls, Montana.

For Amicus Curiae: Karl J. Englund, Karl J. Englund, P.C., Missoula, Montana, Lawrence A. Anderson (argued), Lawrence A. Anderson, P.C., Great Falls, Montana.

District Court Judge JAMES A. HAYNESdelivered the Opinion of the Court.

¶ 1 Appellants Robert Edwards (Edwards), Daniel Kohm (Kohm), and David Zrowka (Zrowka) are current and former sheriff's deputies who sued their employer on constitutional and tort theories related to political retaliation and statutory wage claims. Appellants John Doe (Doe), Ray St. Onge (St. Onge), and Loius Goaziou (Goaziou), all held the rank of lieutenant in Cascade County and brought similar claims against the defendants. These individuals appeal from the decision of the Eighth Judicial District Court which, by summary judgment, dismissed most of their claims. We affirm in part, and reverse in part, and remand for further proceedings consistent with this Opinion.

¶ 2 We restate the issues as follows:

¶ 3 Issue One: Were Deputies Edwards, Kohm, and Zrowka required to exhaust the Collective Bargaining Agreement grievance procedure before pursuing their political discrimination, wage, and related claims in the District Court?

¶ 4 Issue Two: Does the Montana Human Rights Act constitute the "exclusive remedy" for the claims of Edwards, Kohm, and Zrowka, as well as sheriffs' lieutenants Doe and St. Onge and detention lieutenant Goaziou, precluding any other constitutional, statutory, or tort claims which are premised upon their Montana Human Rights Act claims?

¶ 5 Issue Three: Were all of the Appellants deprived of their constitutional rights to a jury trial, access to the courts, and full legal redress?

PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

¶ 6 Appellants' complaints involve proceedings at the local administrative level, before the Montana Human Rights Bureau (HRB), and in both state and federal courts. A summary of the procedural history related to five of the Appellants' HRB claims is set forth in Edwards v. Cascade Co., 2009 MT 229, 351 Mont. 360, 212 P.3d 289.

¶ 7 At the time of the 2004 sheriff's primary election in Cascade County, Appellants Edwards, Kohm, and Zrowka were full-time deputy sheriffs covered by the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). Doe and St. Onge were sheriff lieutenants, and Goaziou was a detention staff lieutenant. These latter three positions (Doe, St. Onge, and Goaziou) were not covered by the CBA. Doe used a fictitious name due to the nature of his work.1 All six Appellants actively supported the losing candidate for sheriff in the Democratic primary election. Respondent Dave Castle (Castle) won the primary election, defeating Sheriff Funyak. There was no Republican opponent. When Funyak resigned as sheriff, Castle was sworn in and immediately appointed Clyde "Blue" Corneliusen (Corneliusen) as undersheriff. The Appellants allege the undersheriff soon expressed and undertook to carry out Castle's retaliatory objective: "I won't be done with any of the Funyak supporters until they are either out of this f—ing office or in their place."

¶ 8 All of the Appellants except Deputy Edwards ultimately resigned from their employment with Cascade County Sheriff's Department and Cascade County (collectively referred to as the "County").

The Collective Bargaining Agreement.

¶ 9 The contracted terms of the CBA define the circumstances under which deputy sheriffs covered by the CBA must file a written grievance. A "grievance," as defined in the CBA, "is limited to a complaint or request of an Employee which involves the interpretation of, application of or compliance with the provisions of this Agreement." CBA, Art. 2.

¶ 10 The terms of the 2004-2005 CBA define "Employee" as full-time regular deputy sheriffs represented by the Cascade County Deputy Sheriff's Association for the purposes of collective bargaining. The "Association" refers to the Cascade County Deputy Sheriff's Association. The "Employer" is defined as the Board of Commissioners of Cascade County and the Cascade County Sheriff.

¶ 11 The management rights and statutory duties of the office of the sheriff are specifically excluded from the CBA grievance procedure. CBA, Art. 4.2 The "office of the sheriff" is not defined in the CBA. Promotions are specified as a management right of the sheriff. CBA, Art. 7.3

¶ 12 The CBA contains a non-discrimination clause:

It is the permanent policy of the Employer to provide equal opportunities for employment, retention, and advancement to all Employees regardless of race, color, creed, national origin, sex, age, marital status or political belief. [Emphasis added.]

The Employer will not discriminate against any Employee because of Association membership or activity and the Association will not discriminate against any Employee because of lack of membership or lack of activity in the Association. CBA, Art. 6.

¶ 13 Article 16 of the CBA requires the Employer to pay wages to employees "calculated according to applicable Montana State Law."

¶ 14 To initiate a CBA grievance, a dispute must be submitted in writing "to the Lieutenant who is the grievant's immediate supervisor." CBA, Art. 10. Five progressive resolution levels exist in the CBA's grievance process, culminating in binding arbitration. CBA, Art. 10.

Grievance History.

¶ 15 Appellants Edwards and Kohm filed grievances in early October 2004 with the Board of Commissioners for Cascade County, and claimed violations of the County's promotion policies. Edwards asserted Undersheriff Corneliusen failed to follow accepted procedure for considering Edwards as a candidate for promotion from Deputy Coroner to Chief Deputy Coroner. Kohm alleged Sheriff Castle failed to follow proper process in considering Kohm as a candidate for promotion from sergeant to lieutenant. In December 2004, the Board of County Commissioners found in favor of Edwards and Kohm and directed the promotion processes be restarted and redone.

¶ 16 Appellant Zrowka wrote a letter to Sheriff Castle expressing concerns over the elimination of an evidence technician/photo lab technician position. Zrowka delivered copies of this letter to the County Attorney's office and to the human resources officer.4

¶ 17 In late October 2004, Edwards and Kohm also filed complaints of discrimination with the Montana Department of Labor and Industry (Department) alleging that they were subjected to employment discrimination based on their political beliefs.

¶ 18 In December 2004, Doe, Goaziou, and Zrowka filed similar complaints of discrimination with the Department.

Human Rights Bureau Proceedings.

¶ 19 In April 2005, the HRB issued its report finding reasonable cause that Edwards was subjected to discrimination, and the HRB retained jurisdiction. On that same date, the HRB issued a report finding no reasonable cause to support Kohm's complaint, and dismissed it. The Department issued Kohm a Notice of Dismissal, accompanied by a "right to sue" letter informing Kohm he could pursue his complaint of discrimination in district court.5

¶ 20 In June 2005, the HRB found a lack of reasonable cause to support the complaints of Doe, Goaziou, and Zrowka. Those complaints of discrimination were dismissed, and "right to sue" letters were issued.

¶ 21 In July 2006, the HRB issued its final order and judgment for Deputy Edwards, resulting in a $40,948.83 award for emotional damages and loss of past wages, a $795.42 per month award of future wages for a year, health care costs for anxiety and depression, and restoration to duty status. The HRB decision permanently enjoined the County from further adverse discriminatory employment action based upon political ideas or beliefs. Neither party appealed this award. Although Edwards prevailed before the HRB on his claim that he was unlawfully retaliated against because of his political beliefs and ideas, he contends he is entitled to pursue independent constitutionally-based claims, including constitutionally-based privacy claims which derive from wrongful disclosure of his private personnel matters and false allegations that he used marijuana.

¶ 22 Before the HRB investigations were completed, Edwards and Kohm filed this lawsuit in District Court alleging violations of their constitutional rights of freedom of speech and freedom of association under the Montana Constitution and 42 U.S.C. § 1983, in addition to Edwards' alleged right to privacy violation. The First Amended Complaint added Doe, Goaziou and Zrowka as plaintiffs.

Montana District Court Proceedings.

¶ 23 Because federal civil rights violations were alleged under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the County removed all of these claims to federal court. The County then filed a motion in the United States District Court to stay the federal court proceedings on the ground that the administrative proceedings under the Montana Human Rights Act had not been exhausted and finalized. In its motion to stay, the County argued the gravamen of Appellants' claims was grounded in discrimination. The County asserted the Montana Human Rights Act, codified at Title 49, MCA (MHRA), provides the exclusive remedy for illegal discrimination, and in any...

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