Shinholster v. Akron Auto. Ass'n, Inc.

Decision Date11 April 1989
Docket NumberNo. C88-884-A.,C88-884-A.
Citation711 F. Supp. 357
PartiesConnie SHINHOLSTER, Plaintiff, v. AKRON AUTOMOBILE ASSOCIATION, INC., et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Ohio

Edward L. Gilbert Co., LPA, Akron, Ohio, for plaintiff.

Edward Kemp, Roetzel & Andress, Akron, Ohio, for defendants.

ORDER

SAM H. BELL, District Judge.

Plaintiff Connie Shinholster filed this action against her former employer, defendant Akron Automobile Association, Inc. (AAA), also referred to as Akron Automobile Club, and Richard Duffy, the executive director of AAA, in his individual and official capacity. Her employment was terminated on April 10, 1987, by Richard Duffy for issuing a driver's license over the counter without the benefit of certain identification and authorization.

Plaintiff, a black female, asserts two federal civil rights claims in her complaint. First, she claims that the defendants violated 42 U.S.C. § 1981 by applying rules and regulations in a discriminatory manner and by treating her less favorably than white employees. She also claims that defendants violated 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by infringing her fourteenth amendment rights to due process and equal protection. Specifically, she claims that she was treated less favorably by the defendants because of her race and that they maintained different standards based on race. Furthermore, she claims that she was not provided an adequate due process hearing prior to her termination.

Plaintiff also asserts two state law claims. She contends that defendants breached their contract with her based on their Personnel Procedure Manual which contract they are equitably estopped from denying. Second, plaintiff contends that defendants intentionally inflicted emotional distress upon her by providing false, misleading and detrimental references to her perspective employers.

Plaintiff seeks relief in the form of an injunction as to further discriminatory conduct, compensatory damages in the amount of $1,500,000.00 and punitive damages in the amount of $500,000.00.

The defendants have moved for summary judgment as to all of plaintiff's claims and have submitted several affidavits and plaintiff's deposition in support. Plaintiff opposes the motion contending that material issues of fact remain as to all issues.

Pursuant to Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the party moving for summary judgment has the burden of showing that no genuine issue of material fact exists and that as a matter of law, it is entitled to summary judgment. In reviewing a motion for summary judgment, a court must consider the pleadings, related documents and evidence and all reasonable inferences in a manner most favorable to the non-moving party. Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 90 S.Ct. 1598, 26 L.Ed.2d 142 (1970); Smith v. Hudson, 600 F.2d 60 (6th Cir.1979); cert. dismissed, 444 U.S. 986, 100 S.Ct. 495, 62 L.Ed.2d 415 (1979); Board of Ed. Cincinnati v. Department of H.E.W., 532 F.2d 1070 (6th Cir.1976). The inquiry performed at this stage is whether a trial is required to resolve genuine factual issues. "There is no issue for trial unless there is sufficient evidence favoring the non-moving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party. If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249-50, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510-11, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986) (citations omitted). See, also, Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). The facts which follow are drawn from the evidence before the court.

Plaintiff was employed as a clerk/typist in the License Department of AAA from October, 1979 until April 10, 1987. AAA has maintained a License Department at its Akron office for at least eighty years as a service to its members. AAA provides all personnel, office space, equipment, utilities and other expenses necessary to properly discharge licensing functions.

Defendant Richard Duffy became a Deputy Registrar of the State of Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) on July 1, 1986, and continued in that capacity at all times pertinent to this lawsuit. He has been employed by AAA for eighteen years and is now Vice President, General Manager and Chief Executive Officer of AAA. He is the most senior employee in the Akron office. His duties as Deputy Registrar are defined in the Deputy Registrar Agreement with the Bureau of Motor Vehicles— State of Ohio (the Agreement).

The income generated by the License Department accounts for 5% of AAA's total income. It does cover 90% of the cost of operating the license department, however. Deposition of Richard J. Duffy at 100. Operation of the License Department is viewed by AAA as an essential service it provides to its members and the general public.

Pursuant to the Agreement, Mr. Duffy, as Deputy Registrar, must adhere to all regulations set out in the Ohio Revised Code and Ohio Administrative Code. His appointment may be revoked and his appointment terminated by the Registrar of BMV in the event of a breach of any of the terms of the Agreement.

The issuance of a duplicate driver's license is governed by terms outlined by the BMV. Initially, certain identification must be shown from a range of acceptable forms. The clerk/typist then types certain data into the computer which brings up all of the information which will appear on the duplicate. The information is thereafter transferred onto an Application for Driver's License which the applicant signs. After paying the fee and being photographed, the applicant is given one copy of the Application for Driver's License as a temporary driver's license. The paperwork is then sent to the Columbus office of BMV which issues the duplicate license through the mail. Only in extraordinary cases will a duplicate license be issued over the counter and before that is permitted, authorization must be received over the telephone from the Columbus office of BMV. A notation should be made in that case on the duplicate that it was issued over the counter per authorization from the person contacted in Columbus.

Every transaction for a duplicate driver's license which is typed into the computer is recorded on its hard disk memory. Each evening the computer maintained by the Columbus office of BMV places a telephone call to the computer at AAA and receives all of the information that was stored on its hard disk memory that day. Once the information regarding an application for a duplicate license is recorded in the Columbus computer, the applicant's previous driver's license will be voided. If an application for a duplicate is voided the same day it is issued, it is deleted from the hard disk memory. The transaction cannot be voided once it is transferred to the computer in Columbus at the end of a given business day.

Mr. Duffy was contacted by Special Agent Frederick F. Lawman in the Spring of 1987 in relation to an investigation he was conducting into the theft and forgery of a United States Treasury check payable to Clifford R. Cooper. A driver's license number was noted on the face of the check which was found to be a duplicate issued from the Akron AAA office.

On April 8, 1987, Mr. Duffy gave Special Agent Lawman permission to interview plaintiff. Plaintiff admitted in that interview that on or about March 27, 1986 she had issued the duplicate over the counter without requiring any identification and without seeking authorization from the Columbus office of BMV. She said that her husband had asked her to issue the license to his friend, and she did so as a favor to her husband. The individual claimed to need the license immediately as a means of identification for an employment application. She denied any knowledge of the Cooper check or any involvement with it by her husband.

Later the same day the duplicate was issued, the man claiming to be Cooper returned to AAA and said he had found his original license. He relinquished the duplicate and received a refund of the license fee. The application for duplicate was then marked VT for "void tonight" and was thereby deleted from the computer's hard disk memory for transfer to Columbus.

Mr. Duffy interviewed plaintiff after her discussion with Special Agent Lawman and asked her about the incident. She made the same admissions to him but stated that she had no idea the duplicate would be used for identification in cashing a stolen check. She never again saw the man who applied for the duplicate and neither she nor her husband have been interviewed by any government agent in relation to their participation in or charged with any crime.

On April 10, 1987, Mr. Duffy terminated plaintiff's employment with AAA after obtaining the advice of counsel and advice and concurrence of the President of AAA. Deposition of Richard J. Duffy at 80. He explained that he was taking this action because plaintiff violated BMV policy by issuing a duplicate driver's license over the counter without proper identification and authorization, that the duplicate issued was used in cashing a forged United States Treasury check, and that the return of the duplicate the same day implicated her, at least unwittingly, in the scheme to cash the check, if such criminal act did in fact occur. Mr. Duffy considered this a very serious offense and, to his knowledge, an offense not previously committed by any employee in the License Department. Any employee committing this offense would be subject to immediate termination in his view pursuant to AAA's policy on termination. This policy provides for a warning after a first offense, two weeks suspension after a second offense and discharge after a third offense. However, according to the policy an employee can be immediately terminated for a serious offense without following all of the steps. All AAA employees are hired for indefinite periods of time and are subject to AAA's policy on discipline.

Mr. Duffy...

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3 cases
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