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Satterwhite v. Cleveland Metropolitan School District

United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Eastern Division

December 11, 2017

SHALANA SATTERWHITE, Plaintiff
v.
CLEVELAND METROPOLITAN SCHOOL DISTRICT, Defendant

          ORDER

          SOLOMON OLIVER, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Currently pending before the court in the above-captioned case is Defendant Cleveland Metropolitan School District's (“CMSD” or “Defendant”) Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 4) Counts Two and Four of the Complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. For the following reasons, Defendant's Motion to Dismiss is denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On June 16, 2017, Plaintiff Shalana Satterwhite (“Plaintiff”) commenced this civil action against Defendant, alleging claims of retaliation and gender discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e, et seq. (“Title VII”), as well as supplemental Ohio state law contract and tort claims. (Compl., ECF No. 1.) On September 1, 2017, Defendant filed its Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 4) Counts Two and Four of the Complaint, alleging Title VII gender discrimination and intentional infliction of emotional distress, respectively.

         Since in or about May 2014, Plaintiff, a female, has been employed by Defendant as a Mobile Deputy/Police Officer. (Id. ¶¶ 12, 14.) In or about June 2015, Plaintiff filed a Charge of Discrimination against Defendant with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), Charge No. 532-2015-01987 (“EEOC Charge”), alleging certain violations of Title VII. (Id. ¶ 15.) In December 2015, that EEOC Charge against Defendant was settled in mediation facilitated by the EEOC (“EEOC Charge Settlement”). (Id. ¶ 16.)

         According to Plaintiff, following the settlement of the EEOC Charge, Plaintiff was subjected to a number of materially adverse employment actions by Defendant in retaliation for her filing the EEOC Charge, a protected activity within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a). (Id. ¶ 18.) In January 2016, Plaintiff's supervisors and peers began to engage in a purposeful campaign of harassment intended to punish Plaintiff for filing the EEOC Charge. (Id. ¶ 20.) Sergeant Jacomdamius Lee was encouraged by other CMSD Safety and Security Department (“Security Department”) supervisors to “let her fail” as punishment for her filing the EEOC Charge and with the intention of “forc[ing] her out of her job.” (Id. ¶ 21.) Sergeant Lee also instructed Lieutenant Terry Wheeler to avoid providing certain law enforcement training to Plaintiff, including taking her out on patrol. (Id. ¶ 22.) Plaintiff was assigned on a full-time basis to security duty positions that were normally rotated through by all Security Department police officers because they were positions that did not require a fully qualified law enforcement officer and, as such, did not provide any career advancement or training opportunities. (Id. ¶ 23.)

         On or about January 19, 2016, Plaintiff was asked to attend a meeting with her superiors after roll call where she was reprimanded for “asking too many questions.” During that meeting, her supervisors also allegedly asked Plaintiff whether they would need to use “kid gloves” in order to deal with her, to which Plaintiff responded that she wanted to be treated equally. (Id. ¶ 24.) Also in January 2016, Plaintiff's supervisors encouraged an environment wherein Plaintiff's male peers were permitted to isolate and mock Plaintiff without discipline, including by making repeated statements that she should “just quit.” (Id. ¶ 25.) Other officers within the Security Department also were permitted to circulate a petition for signature that called Plaintiff out by name and criticized her for the duties she was assigned to as a result of the EEOC Charge Settlement terms CMSD agreed to with Plaintiff. (Id. ¶ 27.) On or about January 27, 2016, Officer Martin Carrion spoke with Sergeant Kevin Oliver, accusing Plaintiff of failing to respond to a dispatch call at James Fords Rhodes School. Although that accusation was false, as supported by taped radio calls, Officer Carrion was never disciplined for the false accusation. (Id. ¶ 26.)

         On February 1, 2016, Plaintiff filed an internal complaint for “harassment/retaliation/hostile work environment” against the Security Department as a direct result of the various actions that had been taken against her at work in the month following the EEOC Charge Settlement. (Id. ¶ 28.) On February 2, 2016, just one day later, Plaintiff's supervisors selectively targeted Plaintiff in order to impose discipline that was not in accordance with the Security Department's normal policy for enforcement when they uncovered student-confiscated “brass knuckles” in her locked patrol car at the end of the day. (Id. ¶ 29.) Sergeant Oliver alleged that the brass knuckles should have been immediately logged into evidence in accordance with Security Department policy and, in front of Sergeant Lee, instructed Officer Lynn Wyatt to research possible criminal charges that could be brought against Plaintiff in connection with the incident. (Id. ¶¶ 30-31.) This directive apparently came from Lieutenant Wheeler, even though, both before and after the brass knuckle incident, other Security Department officers, including Sergeant Oliver, had routinely left major evidence, including drugs, in patrol cars or out on desks without logging them into evidence immediately and without facing any disciplinary actions. (Id. ¶¶ 31-32.)

         On April 7, 2016, CMSD issued a “written reprimand” signed by Chief Lester Fultz in connection with the brass knuckles incident, stating that Plaintiff was been “found in violation of the Rules and Regulations of the Safety and Security Department.” (Id. ¶ 33.) The reprimand included a finding of “improper conduct” and also included a notation that it would be placed in Plaintiff's personnel file and could be used as a factor in calculating future disciplinary actions against her. (Id.) This reprimand was issued even though, during the time period between the February 2, 2016 brass knuckle incident and the April 7, 2016 reprimand, multiple complaints were made to Security Department supervisors about policy violations by other male officers, including failing to log evidence, without those complaints resulting in the type of disciplinary action taken against Plaintiff. (Id. ¶¶ 34-35.)

         Also in April 2016, Lieutenant Wheeler, with Chief Fultz's knowledge, assigned Plaintiff to a new patrol region in violation of the terms of the EEOC Charge Settlement. (Id. ¶ 36.) Lieutenant Wheeler also gave an order that Plaintiff was not allowed to ride in the same patrol car with another female, Plaintiff's former partner, Officer Lynn Wyatt, even though there existed no formal or informal Security Department policy that prevented two qualified female officers from riding together, and even though two male officers were still permitted to ride together. (Id. ¶ 37.) Plaintiff alleges that Lieutenant Wheeler issued this order because of Plaintiff's gender and that he told other supervisors that the reason for the order was because he did not want the two women talking to each other. (Id. ¶ 38.) On or about April 27, 2016, Plaintiff filed a union grievance against CMSD in connection with her assignment to a new patrol region. (Id. ¶ 39.) On or about April 28, 2016, Plaintiff also filed an internal complaint for unfair gender treatment, discriminatory harassment, and retaliation. (Id. ¶ 40.)

         On May 9, 2016, after a Two-Step union grievance hearing resulted in a decision in Plaintiff's favor, Chief Fultz, who was in attendance, became angry, stood up, and said to Plaintiff, “Is there anything else you want[, ] Satterwhite? Is this over? Can I go?” before leaving the room. (Id. ¶ 41.) On August 1, 2016, an investigator for CMSD issued Plaintiff a letter with the results of the investigation and interviews in connection with Plaintiff's internal complaint. (Id. ¶ 42.) The letter stated that there was “no evidence” to substantiate Plaintiff's claims, and further stated that the investigation did not uncover “any evidence” that CMSD's Policy Prohibiting Sexual Harassment and Discrimination and Title IX Grievance Procedures had been violated and that the file was closed. (Id. ¶ 42.) The letter stated there was “no evidence, ” even though, following Plaintiff's April 28, 2016 complaint, several officers provided testimony to CMSD's investigator consistent with Plaintiff's Complaint in this action. (Id. ¶ 43.) Even after the closure of Plaintiff's internal complaint file, gender-based harassment and retaliatory actions continued through March 2017, creating an unsafe and hostile work environment for Plaintiff, including where male officers would tell Plaintiff that they would not provide back up to her on dispatch calls and where Plaintiff was subjected to disparate scrutiny of her every action. (Id. ¶ 44.) Plaintiff alleges this was done with the intent to inundate her personnel file to help push her out of the Security Department and tarnish her record as a police officer. (Id.)

         On March 6, 2017, Plaintiff feared that the hostile environment at the Security Department had grown too risky and so she was forced to resign her position citing “ongoing harassment [and] safety issues within my Department.” (Id. ¶ 45.) Plaintiff secured a new position as a police officer at Lakewood Community College. (Id.) Plaintiff considered returning to the Security Department in order to prevent it from “getting away with its retaliation against her, ” however she was told that Chief Fultz stated to a union representative that he would not hire Plaintiff back because he viewed her as “trouble.” (Id. ¶ 46.) In spite of her resignation from the Security Department, the harassment from CMSD continued into her new position at Lakewood Community College. On May 19, 2017, the same investigator who handled her internal complaint at CMSD and said there was “no evidence” to support Plaintiff's claims, sent a lawful public records request to Plaintiff's new employer requesting her personnel file, but also requested information on Plaintiff's “separation from service with the College, if any[, …] and any electronic or other written communications related to her employment or discharge [and…m]y understanding is that Officer Satterwhite may have only been employed with the College for a short time[.]” (Id. ¶ 48.) This request was sent even though Plaintiff was never discharged from her at-will position at Lakewood Community College and currently works rotating shifts for that employer. (Id. ¶ 49.) As a result of the request, Plaintiff was confronted by her new supervisors at Lakewood Community College Police Department about why they had received the request, which caused Plaintiff “intense anxiety and emotional distress.” (Id. ¶ 50.) Subsequent to all of the foregoing events, Plaintiff sought psychological treatment for what has since been diagnosed as emotional distress in connection with her time working for Defendant. (Id. ¶ 51.)

         II. LAW AND ANALYSIS

         The court examines the legal sufficiency of Plaintiff's claims under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Mayer v. Mulod, 988 F.2d 635, 638 (6th Cir. 1993). The United States Supreme Court in Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007), and in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949-50 (2009), clarified the ...


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