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Ryncarz v. Belmont County Court of Common Pleas Juvenile Court Division

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Seventh District, Belmont

June 19, 2017


         Civil Appeal from the Court of Common Pleas of Belmont County, Ohio Case No. 14 CV 0368.

          For Plaintiff-Appellant: Atty. David L. Delk, Jr. Grove, Holmstrand & Delk, P.L.L.C.

          For Defendant-Appellee: Atty. Jeffrey A. Stankunas Atty. Molly R. Gwin Isaac, Wiles, Burkholder & Teetor, LLC

          JUDGES: Hon. Cheryl L. Waite Hon. Gene Donofrio Hon. Carol Ann Robb


          WAITE, J.

         {¶1} Appellant Barbara Ryncarz appeals the March 30, 2016, decision of the Belmont County Common Pleas Court to grant summary judgment in favor of Appellee, Belmont County Court of Common Pleas, Juvenile Division ("Juvenile Division"). Appellant initially contends that she presented a prima facie case of age discrimination. Appellant then argues that even if Appellee demonstrated a nondiscriminatory reason for her termination, she presented evidence that this reason was merely pretext. For the reasons that follow, Appellant's arguments are without merit and the judgment of the trial court is affirmed.

         Factual and Procedural History

         {¶2} In 1985, Appellant began employment as a deputy clerk in the Juvenile Division of the Belmont County Common Pleas Court. Appellant was considered an unclassified, at-will employee. Sometime in 1998, Judge Mark Costine became judge of the Juvenile Division and Appellant's supervisor. At the beginning of Appellant's employment, no formal performance evaluation process existed. In 2009 a formal evaluation process was implemented and included semi-annual written evaluations.

         {¶3} In January of 2009, Appellant received a written evaluation which contained "outstanding" marks. However, it was noted in this evaluation that her communication with her co-workers needed improvement. A year later, Appellant was promoted to Chief Deputy Clerk. She continued to receive outstanding remarks in her evaluations until her June 30, 2013 evaluation. Shortly thereafter, Appellant was given a verbal warning regarding her attitude towards the other staff members. On November 15, 2013, Appellant received the following written warning from Judge Costine:

Engaging in discriminatory harassment. Ongoing passive aggressive behavior towards specific employees. Continued lack of communication and inappropriate unprofessional communication and interaction or lack of interaction. Problems with attitude, behavior, tone of voice, and overall demeanor towards others. Issues in regards to ability to supervise and ongoing supervisory duties.

         Judge Costine informed Appellant that her behavior provided grounds for termination, but he allowed her an opportunity to improve her performance. According to Judge Costine's deposition, her attitude and behavior did not improve. Consequently, on March 12, 2014, Judge Costine terminated Appellant during a private meeting. On March 28, 2014, the judge sent her a certified letter confirming her termination. At the time, Appellant was forty-seven years old and was approximately one year away from retirement eligibility. Appellant was eventually replaced as Chief Deputy Clerk by Rebecca Gibson, who was sixty-three years old at the time.

         {¶4} On December 11, 2014, Appellant filed an age discrimination complaint against the Office of the Belmont County Auditor. On January 5, 2015, Appellant filed an amended complaint to add the Juvenile Division as the proper party and remove the auditor's office. Appellee filed a motion for summary judgment on January 7, 2016. The trial court granted Appellee's motion on the basis that Appellant failed to establish a prima facie case of age discrimination. This timely appeal followed.

         Summary Judgment

         {¶5} An appellate court conducts a de novo review of a trial court's decision to grant summary judgment, using the same standards as the trial court set forth in Civ.R. 56(C). Grafton v. Ohio Edison Co., 77 Ohio St.3d 102, 105, 671 N.E.2d 241 (1996). Before summary judgment can be granted, the trial court must determine that: (1) no genuine issue as to any material fact remains to be litigated, (2) the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, (3) it appears from the evidence that reasonable minds can come to but one conclusion, and viewing the evidence most favorably in favor of the party against whom the motion for summary judgment is made, the conclusion is adverse to that party. Temple v. Wean United, Inc.,50 Ohio St.2d 317, 327, 364 N.E.2d 267 ...

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