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Jahahn v. Wolf

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Tenth District

June 25, 2013

Leigh Jahahn, Plaintiff-Appellant,
Allison Wolf et al., Defendants-Appellees.

APPEAL from the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas. C.P.C. No. 11 CVC05-6687

Rosenberg & Ball Co., LPA, and David T. Ball, for appellant.

Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease LLP, Jonathan R. Vaughn, and Samantha A. Stilp, for appellee.



{¶1} This is an appeal by plaintiff-appellant, Leigh Jahahn, from an entry of the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas granting summary judgment in favor of defendants-appellees, Allison Wolf and Nationwide Children's Hospital ("NCH").

{¶2} On August 4, 2008, NCH hired appellant as an accountant/data analyst, a position she held until her termination on May 13, 2009. Pursuant to NCH policy, new employees are required to complete a 90-day introductory period, during which absences are not permitted. During the first 90 days of her employment, appellant was absent a total of four days; as a result of these absences, appellant was counseled by her supervisor, appellee Wolf (individually "Wolf), and appellant's introductory period was extended an additional 30 days.

{¶3} NCH timesheets indicated that appellant also had absences from work on February 6 and 20, 2009, March 9 and 10, 2009, and that during this time appellant made requests to leave work early for doctor appointments. Appellant was also absent from work commencing April 15, 2009 and continuing until May 13, 2009 (the date of her termination). According to appellant's affidavit, she was diagnosed in May 2009 with mononucleosis. On May 6, 2009, appellant requested leave of absence from April 6 to June 7, 2009. Wolf approved leave for appellant from April 16 to May 13, 2009, but Wolf informed appellant that she would be terminated if she did not return to work on May 13, 2009. When appellant failed to report to work on that date, NCH terminated her employment.

{¶4} On May 31, 2011, appellant filed a complaint against appellees alleging causes of action for defamation per se against both Wolf and NCH. The complaint alleged that, when prospective employers contacted Wolf as a reference for appellant, Wolf "falsely told those prospective employers that Plaintiff was terminated for excessive absenteeism and that Plaintiff caused problems in the workplace." (Complaint, ¶ 52.)

{¶5} On March 6, 2012, appellees filed a motion for summary judgment against appellant. Attached to the motion were various exhibits, including the deposition testimony of appellant. On March 23, 2012, appellant filed a memorandum in opposition to the motion for summary judgment, which included the affidavit of Kellie Guajardo. Appellees filed a reply memorandum April 2, 2012. By entry filed June 12, 2012, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of appellees.

{¶6} On appeal, appellant sets forth the following assignment of error for this court's review:

The trial court erred in granting the motion for summary judgment of Defendants-Appellees Allison Wolf and Nationwide Children's Hospital.

{¶7} Under her single assignment of error, appellant challenges the trial court's grant of summary judgment, arguing that the trial court failed to construe the facts most strongly in favor of the non-moving party. Appellant further argues that the court erred in its determination that the statements at issue were qualifiedly privileged.

{¶8} Pursuant to Civ.R. 56(C), summary judgment shall be granted if the filings in the action, including the pleadings and affidavits, "show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." This court's review of a trial court's decision granting summary judgment is de novo. Bonacorsi v. Wheeling & Lake Erie Ry. Co., 95 Ohio St.3d 314, 2002-Ohio-2220, ¶ 24.

{¶9} Appellant argues that genuine issues of material fact exist as to whether her former supervisor, Wolf, made defamatory statements to two prospective employers after appellant's termination. In her deposition testimony, appellant stated she had posted her resume on an Internet job site, and that she was contacted by Jen Savage of Tailored Management, a third-party staffing agency. Appellant testified that Savage, after speaking with Wolf in August 2009, contacted appellant and told her that Wolf "was saying negative information about me, she was talking about my leave of absence from work, when I'd been off" (Appellant's Depo., 213.) According to appellant, Wolf had mentioned "attendance issues." ...

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