Stultz v. Virginia, Civil Action No. 7:13CV00589

Decision Date26 August 2016
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 7:13CV00589
Citation203 F.Supp.3d 711
Parties David Lee STULTZ, Plaintiff, v. Commonweath of VIRGINIA, DEPARTMENT OF MOTOR VEHICLES, et al, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Western District of Virginia

Audra M. Dickens, Dale Wade Webb, Frankl Miller & Webb LLP, Melvin E. Williams, Mel Williams PLC, Roanoke, VA, for Plaintiff.

Ryan Spreague Hardy, Sydney E. Rab, Office of the Attorney General, Richmond, VA, for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Glen E. Conrad, Chief United States District Judge

This case is presently before the court on the plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment and the defendants' motion for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, the parties' motions will be granted in part and denied in part.

Summary of the Facts
I. Stultz's employment with DMV

David Lee Stultz was employed as a law enforcement officer with the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles ("DMV") from November 25, 2005 until he was terminated on April 16, 2013. From November 2010 to October 1, 2012, Stultz served as the Special Agent in Charge ("SAC") of the Appomattox Division of DMV Law Enforcement Services, which was headquartered at the DMV's Customer Service Center in Lynchburg (the "Lynchburg CSC"). While in that position, Stultz supervised a number of employees, including Assistant SAC Robert Supinger, Senior Special Agents Anastasia Wootten and Andrew Hicks, and Program Support Technician Jennifer Dawson. His chain of command included Donald Boswell, the Director of Law Enforcement Services; Joseph Hill, the Assistant Commissioner of DMV's Office of Enforcement and Compliance; and Richard Holcomb, the Commissioner of DMV.

The Appomattox Division was abolished effective October 1, 2012. From that point until his termination, Stultz managed the DMV's Vehicle Theft Enforcement Unit. While in that position, Stultz's chain of command included Thomas Penny, the Director of Field Operations; Hill; and Holcomb.

II. Concerns about Dawson

Upon being appointed to the SAC position, Stultz began to receive complaints regarding Dawson, who performed administrative functions for the Law Enforcement Services office in Lynchburg. The complaints increased after Stultz began working full-time at that office, and Stultz, himself, observed her unusual and erratic conduct. Such conduct included crying uncontrollably, lying on the floor, sitting in complete darkness, hiding under her desk, making remarks about possessing a concealed weapons permit, expressing fear that her stepson was trying to kill her, and making suicidal remarks.

Stultz relayed his concerns regarding Dawson's behavior to Boswell and Hill. Stultz "was told to keep it ‘low key’ and [he] was not allowed to implement progressive discipline beyond ... verbal counseling [or] take any action responsive to the behavior [he] observed to include involving family support or mental health services." Docket No. 454–1 at 5, ¶ 23.

At Dawson's request, Boswell and Hill approved a series of office modifications in an effort to alleviate her safety concerns. They agreed to add a lock to the glass entry door to the office, and to install a push button at Dawson's desk that would allow her to unlock the door for people to enter. They also approved Dawson's request for a panic alarm and intercom system. Even after those modifications were made, Dawson continued to express fear for her personal safety at work. With Boswell's approval, Stultz implemented a policy prohibiting DMV law enforcement officers from working alone with Dawson at the Lynchburg office.

III. Supinger's hotline complaint and Stultz's subsequent communications with the Police Benevolent Association and the Secretary of Transportation

On October 17, 2011, Supinger utilized the State Employee Fraud, Waste, and Abuse ("FWA") Hotline operated by the Division of State Internal Audit ("DSIA") to lodge an anonymous complaint regarding Dawson and the effect that her behavior was having on the Lynchburg Law Enforcement Services office. Supinger emphasized that Dawson was exhibiting the traits of someone in need of professional services, that her behavior was damaging morale and productivity, and that other employees were afraid to be left in the office alone with her. At the conclusion of the complaint, Supinger pleaded for "help ... before this gets any worse and one of us gets hurt." Docket No. 454–7 at 8. Supinger listed Stultz as Dawson's supervisor, and identified several employees affected by Dawson's conduct, including Supinger, Hicks, and Wootten.

Supinger's complaint was assigned Case Number 12650. DSIA forwarded the anonymous complaint to DMV's Internal Audit division ("Internal Audit"). James Womack, the Director of Internal Audit, assigned the complaint to Cheryl Sanders. Both Womack and Sanders were employed under Assistant Commissioner Hill's chain of command.

On or about November 28, 2011, Sanders contacted Stultz regarding the anonymous complaint and conducted an interview by telephone. She was assisted by another internal auditor in her office. During the interview, Sanders inquired about Dawson's behavior in the workplace. Stultz shared the concerns that Dawson had expressed regarding her safety, including Dawson's fear that her stepson was trying to kill her. Stultz described the actions that had been taken in an effort to alleviate Dawson's safety concerns. He also discussed the impact that Dawson's behavior was having on her coworkers. Additionally, Stultz indicated that he was afraid that Dawson may commit suicide.

Stultz advised Sanders that he would gather additional information to respond to all of her inquiries. On November 30, 2011, Stultz emailed Sanders a chronological list of events involving Dawson, along with other documents supporting his concerns.

Stultz also provided Sanders with the names of additional employees with first-hand knowledge of Dawson's behavior, including Supinger, Wootten, Hicks, and Betty Jenson. However, none of those employees were interviewed by Sanders. Instead, the only other person that she talked to was Hill.

An interview narrative was prepared following Stultz's interview. The original version of the interview narrative included the information that Stultz had shared regarding Dawson's stepson and her fear that he might harm her. Although the DMV Internal Audit Office Policy and Procedures Manual expressly provides that an interviewee's responses should be recorded verbatim, Womack directed Sanders to alter the interview narrative to remove any references to Dawson expressing fear for her safety. Stultz's statements to the internal auditors that Dawson was "afraid for her life," that "she would be fine today and laying in the floor tomorrow," and that she had "a meltdown on Monday, November 21, 2011 when she was scared for her life" were changed to state that Dawson "was having some personal family issues" and that those issues had "caused her to act disruptively while at work." Docket No. 454–76 at 14, 16.

On January 20, 2012, Womack sent DSIA a final report regarding Supinger's FWA complaint. The report indicated that Supinger's allegations were "unsubstantiated" and that there was "no evidence that [Dawson had] placed co-workers at risk of physical harm ... [or was] destroying morale and damaging productivity." Docket No. 454–76 at 4–5. In a subsequent deposition, Sanders acknowledged that while the report included the finding that Dawson posed no risk of harm, the investigation by Internal Audit did not actually "look at anything in reference to the mental stability of Ms. Dawson or any safety risk she posed." Docket No. 454–15 at 13.

In March of 2012, Stultz obtained a copy of the final report through a Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA") request. Upon receiving the report, Stultz discovered that it included no mention of his concerns regarding Dawson's safety and the safety of others in the workplace, and yet contained a specific finding that Dawson posed no risk of harm.

Stultz subsequently communicated with Tim Sadler with DSIA. Based on the information gained from those communications and his review of the file for Case No. 12650, Stultz determined that the FWA program "was susceptible to manipulation and had in fact been corrupted" by DMV officials. Docket No. 454–1 at 10. The safety concerns identified by Stultz had not been investigated by DMV's internal auditors and instead had been "sanitized from the summary of the investigation report" submitted to DSIA. Id. Although Stultz was told that the FWA program does not typically cover workplace safety issues, the FWA complaint was closed as "unsubstantiated," with the specific finding made that Dawson posed no risk of harm to others. Docket No. 454–76 at 5.

In May of 2012, on his own time and using his personal phone, Stultz contacted Sean McGowan, the Executive Director of the Virginia Police Benevolent Association ("PBA"), and shared his concerns regarding the possibility that the FWA investigation had been fraudulently manipulated. McGowan agreed to help Stultz gain access to Sean Connaughton, the Secretary of Transportation.

On May 31, 2012, Stultz began communications with Connaughton and his executive assistant, Georgia Esposito. Stultz sent McGowan an email from his personal email account that was immediately forwarded to Connaughton's attention. In the email, the subject of which was "Governor Hotline (Fraud, Waste and Abuse)," Stultz shared his concerns regarding the manner in which the anonymous complaint had been handled by DMV's internal auditors. Stultz indicated that the auditors had sanitized the final report submitted to DSIA, and that the information that he had shared during his interview and in follow-up communications regarding Dawson's behavior had been omitted from the final report. Stultz described the investigation as "fraudulent," and emphasized that "it kept the situation [with Dawson] from being handled at that time." Docket No. 454–2 at 50–51.

Stultz forwarded...

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2 cases
  • Supinger v. Commonwealth, Case No. 6:15–CV–00017
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Western District of Virginia
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    ...with the disruptive behavior of a coworker. As such, they are not matters of public concern. See Stultz v. Virginia, Dep't of Motor Vehicles , 203 F.Supp.3d 711, 735 n.6 (W.D. Va. 2016) ("[T]he court is of the opinion that [Dawson] communications fall within the category of personal employe......
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