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Miller v. Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction

Court of Claims of Ohio

March 8, 2013


To S.C. Reporter August 22, 2013

Emily M. Simmons, Assistant Attorney General


Holly True Shaver, Magistrate

(¶ 1} Plaintiff brought this action alleging employment discrimination. The issues of liability and damages were bifurcated and the case proceeded to trial on the issue of liability.

(¶ 2} On May 10, 2010, plaintiff began her employment with defendant as a Corrections Officer (CO) at Noble Correctional Institution (NCI). Plaintiff was subject to a one-year probationary period. During her probationary period, plaintiff received on-the-job training and had the opportunity to work every shift and CO position throughout the institution.

(¶ 3} Plaintiffs performance was first evaluated on July 18, 2010. During that evaluation, under the dimension titled "Dealing with Demanding Situations" it was noted that "Miller is new and has had no emergency situations yet." (Defendant's Exhibit N.) However, plaintiff met all of the goals that were expected of her, and her overall evaluation was rated "satisfactory." Plaintiffs performance was evaluated a second time on November 18, 2010. (Defendant's Exhibit B.) During that evaluation, it was noted that "Miller seems to understand the importance of boundaries between inmates and officers but has not been in a situation to apply the reasonable risk factor." It was also noted that "Miller needs to work on her communication of the rules and expectations to inmates. In regards to the fact of inmates running around during such times as count time and lock down [sic]. Miller needs to show more control of the inmates assigned to her." Finally, under the goal titled "Makes prudent and sound decisions and takes appropriate action to diffuse problem situations, " it was noted that the rater had "not observed this officer in a problem situation." Plaintiff remained on probation.

(¶ 4} On January 24, 2011, plaintiffs performance was evaluated again. As a result of this evaluation, plaintiffs employment was terminated effective February 3, 2011. The basis for termination was reflected in reports from incidents that had occurred on December 3, 2010, December 24, 2010, and January 19, 2011. The reports allege that plaintiff had panicked while she was working in the control room, and that she had responded inappropriately to corrections officers' requests for assistance during fights between inmates.

(¶ 5} Plaintiff asserts that defendant terminated her employment on the basis of her gender in violation of R.C. Chapter 4112.

(¶ 6} R.C. 4112.02 provides, in pertinent part, that: "It shall be an unlawful discriminatory practice: (A) For any employer, because of the * * * sex * * * of any person, to discharge without just cause, to refuse to hire, or otherwise to discriminate against that person with respect to hire, tenure, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, or any matter directly or indirectly related to employment."

(¶ 7} In Ohio, "federal case law interpreting Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Section 2000(e) et seq., Title 42, U.S. Code, is generally applicable to cases involving alleged violations of R.C. Chapter 4112." Plumbers & Steamfitters Joint Apprenticeship Commt. v. Ohio Civ. Rights Comm., 66 Ohio St.2d 192, 196 (1981).

(¶ 8} Absent direct evidence of discriminatory intent, Ohio courts resolve claims of disparate treatment using the evidentiary framework established by the Supreme Court of the United States in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). See Canady v. Rekau & Rekau, Inc., 10th Dist. No. 09AP-32, 2009-Ohio-4974, ¶ 22. "Under the McDonnell Douglas framework, a plaintiff bears the initial burden of establishing a prima facie case of discrimination. In order to do so, the plaintiff must present evidence that: (1) [she] is a member of a protected class, (2) [she] suffered an adverse employment action, (3) [she] was qualified for the position in question, and (4) either [she] was replaced by someone outside the protected class or a non-protected similarly situated person was treated better." Id. at ¶ 23.

(¶ 9} If plaintiff establishes a prima facie case, the burden of production shifts to defendant to "articulate some legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for [its action.]" McDonnell Douglas, supra, at 802. If defendant succeeds in doing so, then the burden shifts back to plaintiff to prove that the legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons offered by defendant were a mere pretext for discrimination. Id. The court must determine either: "'(1) that the proffered reason had no basis in fact, (2) that the proffered reason did not actually motivate the discharge, or (3) that the proffered reason was insufficient to motivate the discharge.'" Owens v. Boulevard Motel Corp., 10th Dist. No. 97APE12-1728 (Nov. 5, 1998), quoting Frantz v. Beechmont Pet Hosp., 117 Ohio App.3d 351, 359 (1st Dist.1996).

(¶ 10} It is undisputed that plaintiff, as a female, is a member of a protected class, and that she suffered an adverse employment action. Defendant asserts that plaintiff was not qualified for the position because she failed to respond appropriately to critical situations as noted in the incident reports.

(¶ 11} "The prima facie burden of showing that a plaintiff is qualified can be met by presenting credible evidence that his or her qualifications are at least equivalent to the minimum objective criteria required for employment in the relevant field. Although the specific qualifications will vary depending on the job in question, the inquiry should focus on criteria such as plaintiffs education, experience in the relevant industry, and demonstrated possession of the required general skills." Saha v. Ohio State Univ., 10th Dist. No. ...

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