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Mezey v. Ohio Development Services Agency

Court of Claims of Ohio

December 2, 2016

GAIL MEZEY Plaintiff
v.
OHIO DEVELOPMENT SERVICES AGENCY Defendant

          Sent to S.C. Reporter 1/10/17

          DECISION

          PATRICK M. MCGRATH Judge

         {¶1} Before the court are objections filed by plaintiff Gail Mezey on October 4, 2016 to Magistrate Anderson M. Renick's decision of September 20, 2016. In his decision, Magistrate Renick determined that Mezey failed to prove claims of wrongful termination in violation of public policy and promissory estoppel after defendant Ohio Development Services Agency (ODSA) terminated Mezey's employment. Mezey objects to Magistrate Renick's factual findings supporting his determination that she did not prove her claim of wrongful discharge in violation of public policy and his conclusions drawn from the disputed factual findings. She does not object to Magistrate Renick's recommended decision directed to her promissory-estoppel claim.

         {¶2} Under the Ohio Rules of Civil Procedure, in ruling on objections to a magistrate's decision, a court is required to undertake an independent review as to the objected matters to determine whether a magistrate has properly determined the factual issues and appropriately applied the law. Because the court determines that, upon independent review, the magistrate has properly determined the factual issues and appropriately applied the law related to Mezey's claim of wrongful termination in violation of public policy, the court concludes that judgment in favor of ODSA should be entered.

         I. Background

         {¶3} Mezey represents that in 2011, after two employees left the Film Bureau, a branch of the Ohio Office of Travel and Tourism in what was formerly the Ohio Department of Development, she "agreed to come in and work on a temporary, 'intermittent' basis * * * to assist with the transition to new, permanent staff (or until senior managers 'figured out what they wanted to do' * * *)." (Objections at 2.) According to Mezey, she "was asked to go to 40 hours per week" in May 2011, and she "later was asked to reduce her hours to 32 per week" in September 2011, but "within a few months she was again working 40 hours most weeks because of the workload." (Objections at 3.) Mezey indicates that, after "the first few months of her work at the Film Office, " she "began to discuss with each of her successive supervisors and with upper management at the agency the question of her claimed status as an 'intermittent' employee" after she had taken on increased hours and responsibilities. (Objections at 7.) Mezey represents that in the summer of 2013 she consulted an attorney who sent a demand letter dated June 11, 2013 to ODSA's director (David Goodman), requesting that her employment status be changed to "full-time/permanent" and seeking "a measure of back pay" for the period that she had been treated as an intermittent employee. (Objections at 9.) Mezey maintains that subsequently she began to receive a "chilly reception" from management employees and supervisors. (Objections at 9.) According to Mezey, she was told to keep her hours to "approximately 19 per week, or 1000 per year, in June of 2013" and, except for a week, she complied with the instruction. (Objections at 10.) Mezey represents that in August 2013 when she arrived at a meeting that she requested, she was "summarily discharged." (Objections at 10.)

         {¶4} On February 12, 2015, Mezey sued ODSA in this court, asserting three "counts": (1) "Violation of Public Policy, " (2) "Promissory Estoppel, " and (3) "Violation of Ohio Law." The court referred the cause to mediation and, in accordance with Civ.R. 53, it also appointed Magistrate Anderson Renick without limitation of authority specified in Civ.R. 53(C). After the court learned that mediation did not resolve the case, ODSA moved to dismiss Mezey's complaint. Magistrate Renick issued an order granting ODSA's motion in part and dismissing Mezey's third "count"-"Violation of Ohio Law." He ordered the case to be set for trial in the normal course.

         {¶5} The matter proceeded to trial before Magistrate Renick as to Mezey's claims of a "violation of public policy" and "promissory estoppel." On September 20, 2016, Magistrate Renick issued a decision wherein he determined that Mezey failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence her claims of wrongful discharge in violation of public policy and promissory estoppel. In his decision, Magistrate Renick recommended that judgment be rendered in favor of ODSA.

         {¶6} On October 4, 2016, Mezey filed objections to Magistrate Renick's decision related to his determination of her claim of wrongful discharge in violation of public policy.

         {¶7} ODSA has not filed any objections to Magistrate Renick's decision.

         II. Plaintiff's Objections to the Magistrate's Decision

         {¶8} In her objections, Mezey disputes the magistrate's factual findings pertaining to her wrongful discharge in violation of public policy claim. Mezey contends that the magistrate "erred in the factual findings that led to his conclusion that Plaintiff had not met her burden of proof on this claim." (Objections at 12.) Mezey "submits that the Magistrate erred in concluding that the decision-maker who discharged Ms. Mezey was unaware of her having consulted with an attorney and that there were legitimate, non-retaliatory reasons for her termination." (Objections at 1.) Mezey states: "The Plaintiff respectfully submits that these findings are not supported by the clear weight of the evidence. To the contrary, the evidence showed that Ms. Tolan was aware of Ms. Mezey having sought legal advice and that the stated reasons for her termination were inaccurate or actually false." (Emphasis sic.) (Objections at 11.)

         {¶9} In her objections, Mezey asserts:

a. "First, Ms. Tolan's direct testimony that she did not know about Ms. Mezey's legal claims is undermined by the contents of a letter from DSA's own counsel." (Objections at 12.)
b. "Second, the evidence showed that in fact the stated reasons given by Ms. Tolan for discharging Ms. Mezey - that they did not share the same 'vision' for the Film Office and that Ms. Mezey was engaged in 'kingdom building' by focusing on activities she was interested in rather than the tax credit administration - were pretextual. The actual reason therefore must have been her consulting with an attorney and attempting to assert legal claims relating to her employment." (Objections at 14.) Mezey claims that trial testimony rebuts allegations that she disobeyed instructions about her work hours, made unapproved trips, failed to work with other arms of the agency, and disseminated poor-quality written materials.

         For purposes of review, the court labels Mezey's claims as "Objection No. 1, " and "Objection No. 2."

         III. Law and Analysis

         A. Mezey's objections are timely filed but her objections to the magistrate's factual findings are not supported by a transcript of all the evidence submitted to the magistrate relevant to her objections or an affidavit of that evidence.

         {¶10} Civ.R. 53(D)(3)(b) pertains to objections to a magistrate's decision. Pursuant to Civ.R. 53(D)(3)(b)(i), "A party may file written objections to a magistrate's decision within fourteen days of the filing of the decision, whether or not the court has adopted the decision during that fourteen-day period as permitted by Civ.R. 53(D)(4)(e)(i). If any party timely files objections, any other party may also file objections not later than ten days after the first objections are filed." Civ.R. 53(D)(3)(b)(ii) provides, "An objection to a magistrate's decision shall be specific and state with particularity all grounds for objection." According to Civ.R. 53(D)(3)(b)(iii):

An objection to a factual finding, whether or not specifically designated as a finding of fact under Civ.R. 53(D)(3)(a)(ii), shall be supported by a transcript of all the evidence submitted to the magistrate relevant to that finding or an affidavit of that evidence if a transcript is not available. With leave of court, alternative technology or manner of reviewing the relevant evidence may be considered. The objecting party shall file the transcript or affidavit with the court within thirty days after filing objections unless the court extends the time in writing for preparation of the transcript or other good cause. ...

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