Santoli v. Vill. of Walton Hills, CASE NO. 1:12CV1022

CourtUnited States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Ohio
PartiesMARIE SANTOLI, ET AL., Plaintiff, v. VILLAGE OF WALTON HILLS, ET AL., Defendant.
Docket NumberCASE NO. 1:12CV1022
Decision Date03 March 2015


CASE NO. 1:12CV1022


March 3, 2015




This matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment on the Claims Asserted Against Them by Plaintiff Marie Santoli (ECF # 37). For the following reasons, Defendants' Motion is granted, in part, and the remaining state law claims are remanded to the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas for further adjudication.

Plaintiff Marie Santoli filed her Second Amended Complaint on October 19, 2012. In her Second Amended Complaint, Santoli alleges that on March 16, 2001, she began working part-time for Defendant Village of Walton Hills ("Walton Hills"). On January 5, 2003, Santoli was offered a full-time position as a Dispatcher which she accepted. Her job duties expanded over time to include work as the Mayor's Clerk of Court, Record Custodian and Assistant to the Police Chief. She eventually left her Dispatcher position.

On January 1, 2011, Defendant Kevin Hurst ("Hurst") became Mayor of Walton Hills. At this time, Santoli was actively communicating with the local chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police ("FOP") in her capacity as representative of the Dispatchers and as Clerk of Courts. Also, at this time, Walton Hills' officials were made aware that the Mayor's Clerk of Court position

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was subject to the safety personnel collective bargaining agreement. Walton Hills retained legal counsel to determine whether the Clerk of Court position was indeed subject to the collective bargaining agreement and counsel agreed that it was. Thereafter, Santoli alleges Defendants Walton Hills, Hurst and Kenn Thellmann ("Thellman") interfered with Santoli's union activity by directly communicating with the FOP and actively discouraged collective bargaining agreement discussions. In May of 2011, Hurst requested Santoli be removed as Clerk of Court and in June of 2011 Walton Hills, Hurst and Thellmann changed Santoli's job duties and/or job title from Clerk of Court to dispatcher.

On September 8, 2011, Santoli requested a leave of absence under the Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA") to care for an ill family member. Santoli began her FMLA leave on September 21, 2011. During her FMLA leave, Defendants hired an investigator to determine if her FMLA use was legitimate. This investigation included survelliance of Santoli's home, her ill family member's home and following Santoli. Also, on December 3, 2011, an audit report alleged Santoli had made a number of errors as Clerk of Court. Santoli was disciplined for these errors even though she was no longer Clerk of Court. Santoli alleges these errors were made by other employees. Ultimately, Santoli received a written reprimand and a reduction in pay.

Santoli's Second Amended Complaint alleges claims for FMLA Interference, FMLA Retaliation, and state law claims for Negligent Retention and Supervision, Invasion of Privacy under Ohio common law, Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress and Constructive Discharge.

Defendants move for summary judgment on all Plaintiff's claims. According to Defendants, Santoli requested and received all benefits to which she was entitled under the

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FMLA, therefore, she cannot prevail on her FMLA Interference claim. Defendants further allege Santoli cannot prevail on her FMLA Retaliation claim because Defendants had legitimate, non-retaliatory business reasons for holding disciplinary hearings, reducing her wages and giving her a lower performance evaluation.

Defendants further contend Santoli's FMLA claims against the individually named Defendants must be dismissed because employees of public agencies cannot be liable under FMLA. Defendants also argue that Santoli's state law claims, premised on FMLA violations are preempted by federal law and must be dismissed. Furthermore, because the FMLA only delineates certain damages, Defendants argue the Court should dismiss all Santoli's damages claims for damages outside those permitted by statute.

Defendants next argue that Walton Hills is entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiff's state law claims because Walton Hills is entitled to immunity under Ohio Revised Code § 2744. For the same reason, Defendants assert individual named Defendants are entitled to immunity for Plaintiff's state law claims.

Finally, Defendants move for summary judgment on Plaintiff's state law Negligent Retention, Invasion of Privacy, Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress and Constructive Discharge claims as a matter of law.


Standard of Review

"The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). The burden is on the moving party to conclusively show no genuine issue

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of material fact exists, Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986); Lansing Dairy, Inc. v. Espy, 39 F.3d 1339, 1347 (6th Cir. 1994); and the court must view the facts and all inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp, 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). Once the movant presents evidence to meet its burden, the nonmoving party may not rest on its pleadings, but must come forward with some significant probative evidence to support its claim. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324; Lansing Dairy, 39 F.3d at 1347. This Court does not have the responsibility to search the record sua sponte for genuine issues of material fact. Betkerur v. Aultman Hosp. Ass'n, 78 F.3d 1079, 1087 (6th Cir. 1996); Guarino v. Brookfield Township Trs., 980 F.2d 399, 404-06 (6th Cir. 1992). The burden falls upon the nonmoving party to "designate specific facts or evidence in dispute," Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249-50 (1986); and if the nonmoving party fails to make the necessary showing on an element upon which it has the burden of proof, the moving party is entitled to summary judgment. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. Whether summary judgment is appropriate depends upon "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." Amway Distribs. Benefits Ass'n v. Northfield Ins. Co., 323 F.3d 386, 390 (6th Cir. 2003) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52).

FMLA Interference

According to Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint, Defendants interfered with her FMLA rights by:

- failing to adequately post, notify and or publish her rights under the FMLA in a timely manner;

- improperly causing a private investigator of Walton Hills employees to follow, harass

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or otherwise intimidate Santoli and her ill family member while she was on leave;

- improperly interfering with her rights;

- failure to comply with applicable FMLA regulations.

Under the FMLA, an employer may not "interfere with, restrain or deny the exercise of or attempt to exercise, any [FMLA] right provided." 29 U.S.C. § 2615(a)(1); Hoge v. Honda of Am. Mfg., 384 F.3d 238, 244 (6th Cir.2004). "To prevail under the interference theory, the employee must establish the following: (1) he is an "[e]ligible employee," 29 U.S.C. § 2611(2); (2) the defendant is an "[e]mployer," 29 U.S.C. § 2611(4); (3) the employee was entitled to leave under the FMLA, 29 U.S.C. § 2612(a)(1); (4) the employee gave the employer notice of his intention to take leave, 29 U.S.C. § 2612(e)(1); and (5) the employer denied the employee FMLA benefits to which he was entitled." Wysong v. Dow Chemical Co., 503 F.3d 441, 447 (6th Cir. 2007) quoting Cavin v. Honda of Am. Mfg., Inc., 346 F.3d 713, 719 (6th Cir.2003). Interfering with the exercise of an employee's rights under the FMLA includes "discouraging an employee from using [FMLA] leave." Arban v. West Publishing Corp., 345 F.3d 390, 402 (6th Cir. 2003) quoting 29 C.F.R. § 825.220(b).

Furthermore, "interference with an employee's FMLA rights does not constitute a violation if the employer has a legitimate reason unrelated to the exercise of FMLA rights for engaging in the challenged conduct." Grace v. USCAR, 521 F.3d 655, 670 (6th Cir. 2008)citing Arban v. West Publ'g Corp., 345 F.3d 390, 401 (6th Cir.2003). "If the defendant proffers such a justification, then the plaintiff may seek to rebut it by a preponderance of the evidence."Grace, at 670 citing Arban, at 401. "Specifically, a plaintiff can 'refute the legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason that an employer offers to justify an adverse employment action 'by showing that the

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proffered reason (1) has no basis in fact, (2) did not actually motivate the defendant's challenged conduct, or (3) was insufficient to warrant the challenged conduct.' " Grace at 670 quoting Wexler v. White's Fine Furniture, 317 F.3d 564, 576 (6th Cir.2003).

The parties do not dispute that Santoli has satisfied the first four elements of an FMLA interference claim. Defendants reserve their arguments for element five, contending Santoli cannot establish that she was deprived of any benefit under FMLA.

Santoli contends Defendants interfered with her FMLA rights by failing to provide notice as required under the law. While she concedes the employee handbook provided general information she contends she was never provided the requisite information within five business days when she informed Defendants in September 2011 that she needed to take leave.

"When an employee requests FMLA leave, or when the employer acquires knowledge that an employee's leave may be for an FMLA-qualifying reason, the employer must notify the employee of the employee's eligibility to take FMLA leave within five business days[.]" 29 C.F.R. § 825.300(b)(1). "Failure to follow the notice requirements set forth in [§ 825.300] may constitute an interference with, restraint, or denial of the exercise...

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