Vinson v. Linn-Mar Community School Dist., LINN-MAR

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Iowa
Citation360 N.W.2d 108
Docket NumberNo. 83-953,LINN-MAR,83-953
Parties22 Ed. Law Rep. 403 Carolyn J. VINSON, Appellee, v.COMMUNITY SCHOOL DISTRICT, David J. DeWalle and Jerry Williams, Appellants.
Decision Date19 December 1984

Stephen J. Holtman and Gregory M. Lederer of Simmons, Perrine, Albright & Ellwood, Cedar Rapids, and Martha L. Quint of Faches, Gloe & Quint, Cedar Rapids, for appellants.

Tom Riley, Hugh G. Albrecht and Mary K. Hoefer, Cedar Rapids, for appellee.


McCORMICK, Justice.

This case demonstrates how mountains can be built from molehills. A dispute between a school bus driver and school district officials about what entry the driver should make on time cards to receive predetermined compensation escalated into an action by the driver against the officials and district for defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress and wrongful discharge, resulting in judgment for the driver on jury verdicts totalling $226,132.40. Upon defendants' appeal, we affirm in part and reverse in part.

The determinative questions involve the applicability of Iowa Rule of Civil Procedure 215.1, submission of the three theories of action, various damages issues, evidentiary rulings, and conduct of plaintiff's counsel. We recite the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict.

Plaintiff Carolyn J. Vinson was employed as a school bus driver by defendant Linn-Mar Community School District. Her immediate supervisor was defendant Jerry Williams, the district's director of transportation. Defendant David J. DeWalle was the district's business administrator, school board secretary and Williams' immediate superior.

Pursuant to the terms of a master employment contract, plaintiff was paid in accordance with the designated route time for the route she drove. The route time was not the actual driving time on a particular occasion but the amount of time determined by Williams to represent a reasonable time within which the route ordinarily could be completed. Extra pay was available in appropriate cases for delays caused by breakdown.

Plaintiff drove the same route during the 1979-80 and 1980-81 school years. In the afternoon she left the bus barn at 2:45 p.m., drove to Williams Elementary, picked up the students, delivered them to their homes, and then returned to the bus barn. During the 1979-80 school year her pay was based on route time of one and one-half hours. It was increased by one quarter hour for a period during the winter to allow for delays caused by bad weather. In filling out her time cards, plaintiff showed her starting time as 2:45 p.m. and recorded her return time as the time shown on the office clock after her return to the bus barn, rounding the time off to the nearest five minutes. The time shown on the cards did not affect her compensation, however, because her compensation was based on the time allotted for the route. Other drivers recorded their time in the same way.

In the morning of October 21, 1980, plaintiff raised an issue with Williams about breakdown pay. She also questioned whether a fellow employee was entitled to seniority over her because she thought the employee had quit for a time during her period of employment. She suggested that another driver with less seniority than she had was being given extra runs that she was being denied. She continued the discussion with Williams' just before starting her afternoon route. When she returned from the afternoon route, Williams' secretary informed her that she was being overpaid because her route had a starting time of 2:50 p.m. instead of 2:45 p.m. All of the other drivers started at 2:45 p.m., and no one had previously told her she had a different starting time. Williams was present and, upon plaintiff's inquiry, he verified that she was not to start until 2:50 p.m. This upset her, she says, because she was concerned about the safety of the children waiting for her outside the school. That evening she called DeWalle to express her concern, and the next morning she called in to report she was ill and could not drive the morning route. She came to work in the afternoon.

Commencing with the afternoon of October 22, 1980, and ending in November, Williams conducted a time study of plaintiff's afternoon route. He timed plaintiff's actual driving time and did not include the time consumed by plaintiff's additional duties in shutting the bus down after her return from the route. He determined that the route could be driven within one hour and fifteen minutes. DeWalle directed that plaintiff's compensation be adjusted accordingly to pay her for a route time of one and one-quarter hours. This had the effect of reducing plaintiff's pay from $8.30 to $8.05 for driving the afternoon route. DeWalle told Williams that the change should be reflected on plaintiff's time card.

The district's payroll system required employees to make entries on time cards even though pay was based on designated route time rather than actual driving time. After completing his time study and reducing plaintiff's pay for the afternoon route, Williams told her for the first time to fill out her time cards to show her starting time as 2:50 p.m. and her return time as 4:05 p.m. each date, regardless of actual driving time. Plaintiff did not record the return time in the manner directed. Instead she wrote the time shown on the office clock after she completed each day's route. That is, she recorded her actual check-out time rather than the designated return time. She continued the same practice for her morning route, and no complaint was ever made to her about that. Her compensation was unaffected because she continued to be paid in accordance with the reduced route time.

On December 1, 1980, Williams orally requested that plaintiff change her time cards for the prior two weeks to show a 4:05 p.m. return time. She refused to do so. After consulting with DeWalle, Williams issued her a written memorandum prepared by DeWalle on the subject of "Falsifying Time Cards." The memorandum provided:

During our discussion this morning, I requested that you change the time you had recorded on your time cards dated Nov. 21, 1980 and Nov. 28, 1980 to reflect the correct time required to drive route # 36 in the afternoon, which is 1 hour and 15 minutes. Since you have elected not to record the correct time on your time cards, I will forward your cards to the payroll department without my required approval but with my instructions that you be paid the 1 hour and 15 minute rate.

Further, since you have elected not to change the time you incorrectly recorded, after it was clearly pointed out that the route time does not exceed 1 hour and 15 minutes, I am issuing this memo to you as a written warning for falsifying information on time cards.

This is a very serious matter and any further action of this type will result in suspension. Further action, if needed after suspension, will be in the form of termination of employment.

When plaintiff persisted in recording the actual check-out time on the cards, Williams suspended her, utilizing a written memorandum entitled "Suspension for falsifying time cards":

This is to inform you that you are suspended from work for knowingly falsifying information recorddd [sic] on your time card for the week of December 1, 1980.

This suspension will be for 3 days, commencing December 8, 1980 through December 10, 1980, with work privileges [sic] restored on December 11, 1980. Further action of this nature will result in termination of your employment with the Linn-Mar Community School District.

On December 6, 1980, plaintiff responded as follows by written memorandum to Williams:

I have reflected on this matter, and letter and have decided the charges stated in the letter are too damaging to go unanswered or unchallenged.

Item 1. Your request that I change the time on my card to read 4:05 to conform to the time Linn-Mar wants to pay would in fact be falsifying my card if I did so. If the transportation department intends to pay a flat rate for each run this should be made clear to employees at the outset and then of course time cards would not be needed and if time is to be a factor then time clocks should be in use.

Item 2. Your statement that I elected not to record the correct time on my time card is inconsistent with the facts. The fact being I recorded the time actually taken to drive route # 36 on the days in question.

Item 3. Your statement that my refusal to change the time after it was clearly pointed out that route # 36 takes 1 hour and 15 minutes is similar to saying the sun rises at 5:36 every morning. Conditions of all kinds cause the time to vary and one can estimate the approximate time this or any other run will take but one doesn't slam the door and take off and leave little Johnny who is picking up his books just because the time is right. I am finding it very difficult to stay within your time restrictions and still maintain the margin of safety required of any driver. Just as I am finding it difficult on the morning run to stay within the one hour allotted time. Conditions are frequently causing me to run over one hour.

I will not falsify my time card just to keep your books in order further I cannot understand what your complaint is since you are not paying the 1 hour and 15 minutes rate for the morning and 1 hour and 30 minute rate for the afternoon run even though you did pay those rates last year, as payroll records would surely confirm.

Item 4. We are in agreement on the seriousness of this matter, therefore I do not want this charge of falsifying information in my file and cannot allow it to go unchallenged. If this matter cannot be resolved at this level, I shall require information and addresses of the appropriate body or persons to review my complaint.

When plaintiff returned to work after her suspension, she...

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