Spitulski v. Bd. of Educ. of the Toledo City Sch. Dist.

Decision Date28 September 2018
Docket NumberNo. L-17-1300,L-17-1300
Citation2018 Ohio 3984,121 N.E.3d 41
Parties Ronald P. SPITULSKI, Appellant v. BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE TOLEDO CITY SCHOOL DISTRICT, et al. and Heather Baker, et al., Appellees
CourtOhio Court of Appeals

Dennis D. Grant, Columbus, for appellant.

Roman Arce, David Rodman Cooper, Toledo, and Shawn Nelson, Cleveland, for appellees.



{¶ 1} Plaintiff-appellant, Ronald Spitulski, appeals judgments in favor of the Toledo Public Schools Board of Education, James Gault, and Heather Baker (collectively, "the Board"), rendered by the Lucas County Court of Common Pleas on May 28, 2015, September 10, 2015, February 3, 2016, October 3, 2016, August 23, 2017, September 13, 2017, and November 13, 2017. For the reasons that follow, we affirm the trial court's judgments.

I. Background

{¶ 2} This is the second time that this action has been before this court. Our decision in Spitulski v. Bd. of Edn. of the Toledo City School Dist. , 2017-Ohio-2692, 90 N.E.3d 287, ¶ 8 (6th Dist.),1 includes a detailed recitation of the factual background of this case, which, in large part, we repeat here.

{¶ 3} Sixty-seven-year-old Ronald Spitulski was employed by the Board of Education of the Toledo City School District ("the District") for nearly 25 years, most recently as a supervisor of the pupil personnel center. He was responsible for conducting suspension appeal and expulsion hearings. He reported to Heather Baker, the director of pupil placement and child adjustment services, and Baker reported to James Gault, then the chief academic officer.

A. Issues arise with Spitulski's work performance.

{¶ 4} Between November of 2012, and May of 2013, Baker received complaints that Spitulski had acted unprofessionally in his treatment of a non-attorney "parent advocate," several parents, and a character witness. In addition to this, on May 8, 2013, Spitulski admitted to Baker that he lost almost a year's worth of digitally-recorded hearings that he conducted during the 2012-2013 school year.

B. The CBA outlines the disciplinary process.

{¶ 5} Spitulski was an administrative employee of the Board, and as such, was a member of the Toledo Association of Administrative Personnel ("TAAP"). TAAP and the Board are parties to a collective bargaining agreement ("CBA"). The CBA provides procedures for addressing disciplinary concerns. Those procedures call for progressive discipline where appropriate, and they set forth a three-step disciplinary process: (1) an informal level, (2) a continuing disciplinary investigation ("CDI"), and (3) a CDI report.

{¶ 6} Under step one, an administrator who wishes to informally discuss a matter that may lead to a CDI must consult with her supervisor and notify the employee and TAAP in writing on a prescribed form known as "a buff sheet." The buff sheet must describe (1) the conduct in question, (2) the date, time, and place of the meeting requested, and (3) the right of the employee to have a TAAP representative present. Under the CBA, every effort must be made to resolve matters at the informal level. If the matter is resolved, a record of the meeting and the prescribed resolution must be placed in the employee's personnel file.

{¶ 7} If the matter is not resolved at step one, or if it is a "serious matter," step two provides for a CDI, also referred to as "a hearing on the record." The supervising administrator or TAAP may submit a written request to the personnel office for a CDI within 10 days from knowledge of the serious matter, or within five working days from the date of the informal meeting. A TAAP representative shall be permitted to be present for a CDI.

{¶ 8} Finally, under step three, a CDI report is generated. A designated human resources representative may hear testimony, examine witnesses, and review all relevant material pertaining to the CDI. He or she must then issue a report to the superintendent (or his designee), who must render a decision or recommend action to the Board. A copy of the superintendent or Board's decision must be sent to all parties concerned and placed in the employee's file. The employee may submit a written response which shall be attached to the decision. The employee or TAAP may then appeal from the decision. If the decision is to terminate the employee's contract, such termination must comply with Article VII, section E of the CBA. This provision of the CBA requires compliance with the Ohio Revised Code, including R.C. 3319.16, relating to the termination of a contract by a board of education.

{¶ 9} The CBA makes clear that an employee whose conduct is the subject of investigation is entitled to (1) timely and adequate notice of the conduct complained of on a prescribed form, (2) reasonable time to prepare a response, (3) representation by the TAAP; and (4) other reasonable procedures affording due process. If an investigation is not performed in accordance with the procedures set forth in the CBA, it cannot be considered part of the employee's personnel file, and neither the fact of the investigation nor statements made during the investigation may be used in any subsequent Board proceeding. The CBA also specifies that while progressive discipline must be followed where appropriate—providing written warnings and suspensions in lieu of termination—a written warning is not always required and immediate termination may be appropriate in cases of serious misconduct.

C. Baker initiates the disciplinary process.

{¶ 10} On May 23, 2013, Baker emailed Gault requesting a hearing on the record for Spitulski. She cited the following reasons for requesting the hearing: (1) failure to perform job duties, (2) failure to maintain professional relationships and behavior with parents and students, and (3) insubordination. On May 31, 2013, Gault contacted the District's chief human resources officer to request a hearing. He cited the following reasons for his request: (1) violation of licensure code of professional conduct for Ohio educators, (2) violation of board policy section G: Personnel; Title; Staff-Student Relations, (3) failure to perform job duties, and (4) insubordination. He further elaborated as to the conduct giving rise to his request as follows:

Used inappropriate language during a suspension hearing for a student.
Acted in a very unprofessional way towards parents in hearings and while scheduling hearings. Several parents have refused to allow him to hear their cases because they felt he was rude, unprofessional, and unfair. These cases had to be heard by an alternate hearing officer.
He has failed to maintain accurate hearing records or hearing dispositions. Parent and school personnel have verified that one particular disposition was incorrect and was not what was presented in the hearing. When questioned about it, he refused to adjust it, stating it was correct.
Upon request, Ron was unable to supply any audio hearing tapes from any hearings held in his office this school year up until the month of April. He states he is unsure of what happened to them. This is in violation of Ohio Revised Code 9.69 [sic].2

{¶ 11} A hearing on the record took place on August 19, 2013. Gault presented the case to the District's hearing officer, Annmarie Heldt, and Baker and Spitulski testified. A union representative appeared on Spitulski's behalf. On September 9, 2013, Heldt issued a written recommendation to the Board, recommending that Spitulski be terminated. The District's chief human resource officer, Cheryl Spieldenner, recommended that Heldt's recommendation be upheld.

D. The Board terminates Spitulski's employment.

{¶ 12} On October 4, 2013, the District's treasurer provided written notice under R.C. 3319.16 of its intent to terminate Spitulski's employment. Spitulski submitted a written request for arbitration to be conducted by an independent referee, and the Board invoked the hearing procedures provided in R.C. 3319.16. The Ohio Department of Education appointed a neutral referee, attorney James Gucker. On May 5 and 6, 2014, Gucker considered evidence and heard testimony from a number of witnesses. On August 14, 2014, he issued a recommendation to the Board concluding that "good and just cause" did not exist to terminate Spitulski's employment agreement. Notwithstanding the referee's recommendation, the Board passed a resolution on December 16, 2014, terminating Spitulski's employment contract. The contract otherwise would have expired on July 31, 2016.

E. Spitulski seeks recourse.

{¶ 13} Spitulski dually filed a charge of discrimination with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission ("OCRC") and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") in September of 2013, alleging gender, disability, and age discrimination. He later sought permission to withdraw the charge so he could pursue the matter in the common pleas court. The OCRC granted his request on July 17, 2014. At Spitulski's request, the EEOC issued a notice of right to sue dated October 14, 2014. On January 13, 2015, following the Board's termination of his employment contract, Spitulski filed a complaint against the Board, Gault, and Baker alleging eight claims: (1) termination without good and just cause in violation of R.C. 3319.16 ; (2) tortious violation of rights; (3) age discrimination; (4) disability discrimination; (5) retaliation in violation of R.C. 4112.02(I) ; (6) intentional infliction of emotional distress ("IIED"); (7) false light invasion of privacy; and (8) intentional interference with business relationship.

{¶ 14} Through seven different orders, the trial court disposed of all of Spitulski's claims:

May 29, 2015: dismissed counts two and eight;
September 10, 2015: dismissed count one;
February 3, 2016: dismissed Spitulski's claim for punitive damages and attorney's fees;
October 3, 2016: dismissed counts four and seven;
August 23, 2017: dismissed count six;
September 13, 2017: dismissed count three; and
November 13, 2017: dismissed count

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