Hinton v. Ohio Dep't of Youth Servs., 2021-00063JD

CourtCourt of Claims of Ohio
Writing for the CourtPATRICK E. SHEERAN, JUDGE
Citation2022 Ohio 1598
PartiesROGER HINTON, et al. Plaintiffs v. OHIO DEPARTMENT OF YOUTH SERVICES, et al. Defendants
Docket Number2021-00063JD
Decision Date28 March 2022

2022-Ohio-1598

ROGER HINTON, et al. Plaintiffs
v.
OHIO DEPARTMENT OF YOUTH SERVICES, et al.
Defendants

No. 2021-00063JD

Court of Claims of Ohio

March 28, 2022


Sent to S.C. Reporter 5/12/22

Gary Peterson, Magistrate Judge

DECISION

PATRICK E. SHEERAN, JUDGE

{¶1} Pursuant to L.C.C.R. 4(D), Defendants' motion for summary judgment is now before the Court for a non-oral hearing. For the reasons stated below, the Court GRANTS the motion.

Standard of Review

{¶2} Motions for summary judgment are reviewed under the standard set forth in Civ.R. 56(C), which states, in part:

Summary judgment shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, written admissions, affidavits, transcripts of evidence, and written stipulations of fact, if any, timely filed in the action show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law. No evidence or stipulation may be considered except as stated in this rule. A summary judgment shall not be rendered unless it appears from the evidence or stipulation, and only from the evidence or stipulation, that reasonable minds can come to but one conclusion and that conclusion is adverse to the party against whom the motion for summary judgment is made, that party being entitled to have the evidence or stipulation construed most strongly in the party's favor
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"[T]he moving party bears the initial responsibility of informing the trial court of the basis for the motion, and identifying those portions of the record before the trial court which demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact on a material element of the nonmoving party's claim." Dresher v. Burt, 75 Ohio St.3d 280, 292, 662 N.E.2d 264 (1996). To meet this initial burden, the moving party must be able to point to evidentiary materials of the type listed in Civ.R. 56(C). Id. at 292-293.

{¶3} If the moving party meets its initial burden, the nonmoving party bears a reciprocal burden outlined in Civ.R. 56(E), which states, in part:

When a motion for summary judgment is made and supported as provided in this rule, an adverse party may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of the party's pleadings, but the party's response, by affidavit or as otherwise provided in this rule, must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. If the party does not so respond, summary judgment, if appropriate, shall be entered against the party.

Factual Background

{¶4} Plaintiffs Denise Guess and Roger Hinton bring claims for employment discrimination based on race, including wrongful termination, hostile work environment, and retaliation, against Defendants Department of Youth Services (DYS) and Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC) as a result of various incidents that led to their involuntary disability separation. Since 1991, Plaintiffs have been employed with DYS and have held various positions. Plaintiff Guess, an African American female, became an Infrastructure Specialist I for DYS in 2013. Plaintiff Hinton, an African American male, became an Information Technologist 3 for DYS in 2016. At the time of their disability separation, Plaintiffs worked at the Information Technology (IT) Help Desk (the help desk) as a part of a services project that Defendants shared. Guess Depo., p. 40, 45, 61-62; Hinton Depo., p. 34-36, 60-61, 95, 100.

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{¶5} The help desk was set up in an area occupied by DRC and Plaintiffs worked alongside other staff that were either employed by or contracted with DRC. Id. The help desk has nine staff members: six DRC employees, including Chris McCoy, Tim Fornal, Jimmy Long, Noral Cohen, Braeden Ramge, and Steve Rayburn; two DYS employees, Guess and Hinton; and one contractor, Tyler Thompson (formerly Tyler Gilchrist). Guess Depo., 136; Hinton Depo., p. 168; Cavendish Depo., p. 9-11. Thompson, a mixed-race female, is an employee of Sophisticated Systems who is contracted by DRC to staff the help desk. Thompson Depo., p. 8-9, 19. The five DRC help desk employees are white males. Hinton Depo., Ex. G; Guess Depo., p. 136, 146, 168. Although this shared project required agency collaboration, Defendants maintained separate supervisory staff, human resources departments, and management policies and procedures. Guess Depo., p. 66-68; Hinton Depo., p. 57-58, 101. Accordingly, Plaintiffs were subject to DYS policies and procedures. Id. Hinton Depo., p. 57-58, 101; Guess Depo, p. 66-68, 85-86. Likewise, the DRC employees were subject to DRC policies and procedures. Hinton Depo., p. 53-58, 95-98, 100-101; Guess Depo., p. 85-86.

{¶6} Prior to being assigned to the help desk, Guess traveled between the institutions, Central Office, and the regional offices to work on computers. Guess Depo., p. 42. In 2016, DYS investigated and disciplined Guess due to her sick leave balance. Guess Depo., p. 14. Because Guess was aware that a male coworker had a similar sick leave balance and was not investigated or disciplined, she filed a complaint with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission (OCRC) on February 22, 2017. Complaint, ¶ 14-15; Guess Depo., p. 54-58. Ultimately, the written discipline was removed from Guess' personnel file as the result of an agreement. Id. at 60. Thereafter, on February 27, 2017, DYS gave "Guess a written coaching for 'attendance and dependability' issues." Complaint, ¶ 16.

{¶7} In July 2018, Guess was assigned to the help desk. Guess Depo., p. 47. On January 17, 2019, Linda Diroll, DRC's IT Delivery Service Chief who served as the help

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desk manager, issued Guess a written coaching[1] for working 0.10 hours overtime without prior authorization. Id. at 86-89; Hinton Depo., p. 44; Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, p. 4. While Guess acknowledges she knew that working unauthorized overtime is a violation of DYS policy, she was not aware at the time that she had worked over forty hours in the week. Id. at 87-88. According to Guess, other white, male help desk staff-specifically, Steve, Tim, and Jimmy-told her that they had worked overtime before and were not disciplined for it. Id. at 90-92. However, Guess acknowledged that she is not familiar with DRC's policies or employee handbook. Id. at 68. Additionally, Guess was aware of other DYS employees, who were not staffed at the help desk, who had worked overtime before and were not disciplined for it. Id. at 90-92. However, Guess acknowledged that she neither knew whether they had prior authorization for working overtime nor who was involved in these employees' supervision as it related to timekeeping or discipline. Id. at 91-92. Guess filed a grievance regarding the written counseling, but it was not heard. Id. at 97.

{¶8} In January 2019, Guess received a traffic violation for operating a vehicle under the influence (OVI). Id. at 101. In February 2019, Guess took leave on two occasions to attend court dates associated with the OVI. Id. at 100-101, 119-120. While she requested the days off in advance and used leave to do so, she did not provide a reason for taking the time off. Id. at 100-101.

{¶9} Thereafter, Guess approached Diroll about needing future time off every Tuesday for a court-related matter. Id. at 97-99. Diroll refused to allow Guess time off without a court order. Id. at 97-98. Guess attempted to obtain a court order, but she was unable to do so. Id. at 99. Although it was not a court order, Guess showed Diroll alternative documentation to demonstrate that she was in court. Id. at 97-98. When Diroll continued to deny her time off, Guess went to her DYS supervisors to whom she

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explained why she needed to take future leave. Id. at 105-108. Scott Welsh, DYS Network Supervisor, approved Guess' request for future use of leave subject to stipulations regarding the timeframe in which Guess could have the leave, which was written on a coaching form. Id.

{¶10} Shortly after that, Guess was informed that she was being investigated for reasons related to her OVI. Id. at 108-111. On March 19, 2019, Guess was provided formal notice that she needed to attend a pre-disciplinary meeting for failing to receive a manager's approval for using leave to defend a court action. Id. at 115-120, Ex. O. While Guess does not dispute that the policy exists and that she violated it, she contends that she was not aware at the time that a policy required her to disclose why she was using her personal leave. Id. at 119-120. However, Guess recognizes that she signed off on having reviewed DYS' policies. Id. at 120. Additionally, while Guess acknowledges she was adequately represented during the investigation, she believes Diroll initiated the investigation due to racial bias against her. Id. at 124-126.

{¶11} Prior to being assigned at the help desk, Hinton performed bargaining-unit work at various DYS locations. Hinton Depo., p. 43-45. On October 1, 2018, Hinton began his assigned duties at the help desk. Id. at 42. On October 18, 2018, Harvey Reed, DYS Director, sent an email to DYS IT employees explaining that employees were "required to punch in and/or out when leaving the building." Id. at 78-79, Ex. D. On December 6, 2018, after returning from a lunch break, Hinton attempted to clock back in using his work badge; however, Kronos, DYS' time-keeping system, would not accept his badge. Id. at 64-65. Hinton manually went into Kronos and entered his time using the time editor feature. Id. at 66-67, 98. In February 2019, Hinton learned that there was an investigation relating to his unauthorized manual entry of time. Id. at 70-74. Thereafter, Hinton received formal notice of a pre-disciplinary hearing that was later cancelled. Id. at 213. Hinton contends that his white, male help desk coworkers-specifically, Chris, Steve, and Tim-have manually entered their time and were not investigated. Id. at 94-99.

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