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Gaither v. Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Sixth District

July 19, 2013

Clara C. Gaither Appellant
v.
Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority Appellee

Trial Court No. CI201102002

Thomas A. Sobecki, for appellant.

Janine T. Avila, Tammy G. Lavalette and Joan H. Rife, for appellee.

DECISION AND JUDGMENT

JENSEN, J.

{¶ 1} Plaintiff-appellant, Clara C. Gaither, timely appeals the November 29, 2012 judgment of the Lucas County Court of Common Pleas granting summary judgment in favor of defendant-appellee, Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority ("TARTA"). The issues before the court are (1) whether the trial court erred in holding that appellant failed to establish a prima facie case of retaliation, and (2) whether the trial court erred in holding that appellant failed to establish that TARTA's asserted non-retaliatory reasons for terminating appellant were pretextual. For the reasons that follow, we find appellant's assignments of error not well-taken and affirm the trial court's dismissal of appellant's claim.

A. Factual Background

{¶ 2} Clara C. Gaither was employed by TARTA as a coach operator (i.e., a bus driver) from April 10, 2002, until her termination on June 20, 2008. Gaither claims that she was terminated in retaliation for filing complaints of race and gender discrimination, the last of which she lodged on June 12, 2008.[1] TARTA denies that Gaither's termination was retaliatory or discriminatory. It claims that it discharged Gaither because she committed her fifth route deviation in violation of TARTA's policies.

{¶ 3} Gaither had a lengthy disciplinary history that included chronic attendance problems, multiple accidents (one of which she failed to report), and inaccurate reporting of traffic violations. She had been suspended a number of times. Pertinent to this case, she also had been disciplined on several occasions for driving her bus off route or off schedule.

{¶ 4} According to her job description as a TARTA bus driver, Gaither was required to arrive at work on time and to meet all time points on her route. "Meeting all time points" means that she was required to drive her bus according to schedule and to reach each stop at the appropriate time. Before beginning her route, Gaither was expected to pick up a "time board" at the station office. The time board indicates where and when the driver is supposed to be at certain time points during the bus route. Bus drivers are prohibited from deviating from their route without prior authorization from the dispatcher. Gaither was trained on the use of the time boards and understood that route deviation was grounds for termination.

{¶ 5} Despite understanding TARTA's policies with respect to meeting time points and driving the designated bus route, Gaither had a history of violations. On August 5, 2002, she was counseled about operating her route ahead of schedule. On May 19, 2005, she was counseled again about operating off schedule and off route. She was told that future incidents would result in more severe discipline, up to and including termination. On June 26, 2007, Gaither received a written warning for operating off route and off schedule and was told that further instances would result in more severe discipline. And on July 30, 2007, Gaither was suspended for driving off route and missing a time point. TARTA maintained documentation of these incidents.

{¶ 6} On June 18 or June 19, 2008, while Gaither was operating a route for another driver who was on vacation, TARTA received a complaint from a customer indicating that Gaither's bus had never arrived to pick up the customer. TARTA investigated and found that Gaither had failed to operate her bus according to the proper time board. Gaither said that she had followed the same route all week but had checked the time board on Monday only, and possibly Tuesday. Because she failed to check the time board on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, she failed to recognize that the schedule had been amended to correct an error in the schedule. She had been driving the wrong route most of the week and had been missing numerous time points.

{¶ 7} Jerry Austin, TARTA's then-Superintendent of Transportation, reviewed Gaither's file and discovered her lengthy disciplinary history, including her four previous route deviations and her unreported accident. He called a meeting with Gaither on June 20, 2008. Gaither testified that when she was called to speak with Austin, she did not know the reason. She had submitted a complaint of discrimination on June 12, 2008, but Austin informed her that they were not there to discuss her complaint.

{¶ 8} Gaither's complaint originated from a May 15, 2008 incident in which she was assigned a bus that would not start. She believed that a better bus would have been assigned to her if she were white or was driving a route in a predominantly white area. Gaither complained to TARTA's station manager. She perceived that during their discussion, the station manager had talked to her as though she were a child and had "made an unprofessional gesture with her head." Ultimately, one of the mechanics was able to get Gaither's bus started. She was still unhappy about being assigned what she believed to be an inferior bus, and she felt slighted because after repairing the bus, the mechanic did not bring the bus to the front of the garage, thus requiring her to walk to the back of the garage to get it. She claimed also that as she pulled the bus out of the garage, several TARTA mechanics were congregating in front of the garage "with their clansmen demeanor of victory."

{¶ 9} The June 12, 2008 complaint was not the first that Gaither had filed. Gaither had made claims of discrimination or harassment in the past. In particular, she believed that TARTA's benefits administrator, Lisa Leu, had harassed her by requiring her to submit to an examination by a TARTA physician in connection with sick leave she took in the Fall of 2004; by requiring her to obtain a work release after a sick leave in August of 2005; and by requesting completed medical certifications relating to a request for FMLA leave in March of 2006. Gaither claimed that Leu had scrutinized her leave requests, had used an arrogant, demeaning tone in addressing her, had exhibited harassment in her "timing, her approach, her voice tone, and her overall mannerism, " and had abused her power. In November of 2005 Gaither filed a charge with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission ("OCRC") regarding Leu's handling of her sick leave, but she withdrew that charge. She also complained to TARTA that in April of 2006, TARTA's Equal Employment Opportunity officer, Craig Bruns, on one ...


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