United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Eastern Division
SCOTT G. DOBOS, Plaintiff,
HOWLAND LOCAL SCHOOLS BOARD OF EDUCATION, et al., Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER
KATHLEEN B. BURKE, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Scott Dobos was a maintenance worker employed by Defendant
Howland Local Schools Board of Education
(“Board”). He alleges that, after a series of
disciplinary meetings and hearings, he was forced to resign
by Defendant Superintendent Kevin Spicher
(“Spicher”). He has brought a procedural due
process claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the
Board and Spicher (collectively “Defendants”),
asserting that the pre-termination process he received was
constitutionally defective. Defendants assert that Dobos
resigned voluntarily and that he received due process.
have filed a motion for summary judgment, Dobos filed an
opposition brief, and Defendants replied. For the reasons
explained below, while there is a question of fact as to
whether Dobos resigned voluntarily, there is no genuine issue
of material fact regarding Dobos's due process claim
because Dobos cannot show he was denied adequate
pre-termination process. Therefore, Defendants are entitled
to summary judgment.
started working at Howland Schools full time as a maintenance
worker in January 2000, after spending two years at Howland
as a substitute maintenance worker. Doc. 26-2, p. 15 (Dobos
deposition). During his time at Howland he reported to Jeff
McVicker, but he was not actively supervised. Id.,
p. 26; Doc. 26-3, p. 13 (Keith Spicher's deposition).
November 2015, the Board hired Superintendent Spicher's
brother, Keith Spicher (hereinafter “Keith”), to
be Operations Supervisor. Doc. 26-3, p. 7; Doc. 16-2, pp. 36-37.
As Operations Supervisor, Keith became the supervisor of all
maintenance staff. Doc. 26-3, p. 7. The maintenance workers,
including Dobos, were unhappy with the change because they
had never been closely supervised before. Doc. 26-3, p. 13.
Dobos was also unhappy because he had applied for the
supervisor job but the Board hired Keith instead. Doc. 26-2,
Keith was hired, Dobos applied for the job “Maintenance
II” worker and was hired for that position, effective
on or about December 14, 2015. Id., p. 30. Dobos
wanted the Maintenance II position because he believed this
position would not require long hours, nor would it require
him to be on call as he previously had been. Id. pp.
The missing sink parts
December 21, 2015, Keith was asked to sign an “OK to
PAY” invoice for a computer board that Dobos had
ordered. Doc. 26-2, p. 184. Keith contacted Dobos to confirm
that the part had been received. Id. Dobos initially
did not remember if it had been received; he then remembered
that it had been. Id. Keith asked him where it was
and pointed out that Dobos had ordered five of the same parts
on three separate occasions between March and December 2015.
Id.; Doc. 26-2, pp. 83, 92; see also Doc. 26-2, pp.
186-188 (invoices). The total cost of these parts was roughly
$2, 900. Id. Dobos explained that the parts were for
the sinks in the high school. Doc. 26-2, p. 184. He told
Keith that he did not know where any of the parts were but
that he would get back to him. Id. When Keith asked
him why he kept ordering the parts when they had never been
installed, Dobos had no answer and could not remember if they
had been installed or not. Id.
admits that, between December 21, 2015, and February 5, 2016,
he did not attempt to provide any information to Keith about
the location of the five missing sink parts. Doc. 26-2, p.
January 5, 2016, disciplinary meeting
December 21 and/or December 22, 2015, Keith met with
maintenance workers and explained that they would be
installing projectors in classrooms during the school holiday
break. Doc. 26-3, pp. 18-19. Keith asked the workers if they
had any other projects planned over the break and
“nobody said anything.” Doc. 26-3, p. 19. Dobos
recalls that he told Keith that he had some other projects to
do and that he would “get to” the projectors.
Doc. 26-2, p. 38. Dobos started working on the projectors two
days after the meeting. Id. He did not understand
Keith to say that the workers should start installing the
projectors immediately. Id.
December 30, 2015, Keith sent Dobos a letter informing him
that a disciplinary meeting would take place in Keith's
office on January 5, 2016, to discuss “events that took
place on December 21 and December 22, 2015, whereby you were
assigned to install projectors.” Doc. 26-2, p. 172.
Discussion items were listed as the failure to carry out
directives as assigned and the failure to communicate
rationale for deviating from the assigned directives.
Id. Dobos was instructed to have a union
representative accompany him. Id. According to
Keith, at the meeting, Dobos indicated that he did not
understand the assignment and Keith gave him a verbal
warning. Doc. 26-3, p. 21; Doc. 26-2, p. 173. According to
Dobos, he was “shocked” that Keith alleged he
failed to follow directives and that Keith was mistaken about
whether Dobos failed to communicate his rationale for
deviating from the directives “because [Keith] knew
what I was doing.” Doc. 26-2, pp. 39-40. Dobos did not
believe Keith had issued him a verbal warning; rather, he
believed that the verbal warning portion of the disciplinary
process was dismissed because everyone understood it was a
misunderstanding. Doc. 26-2, p. 41.
the meeting, Dobos and his union representative, Tammy
Heslop, made it clear to Keith that Dobos no longer wanted to
have anything to do with the boilers now that he was a
Maintenance II employee. Doc. 26-2, pp. 46, 174.
Additionally, Keith told Dobos to complete his work orders
and report to his supervisor after completing each order.
Doc. 25-2, p. 1, ¶2.
The boiler incident
wrestling tournament was held at Howland over the January 16,
2016, weekend. Doc. 27, p. 19. On the morning of Saturday the
16th, Keith got a call informing him that there was no heat
in the school. Id.; Doc. 26-3, p. 26. He called an
HVAC company to come to the school to investigate. Doc. 26-3,
p. 26. The HVAC workers told Keith that the boilers had been
shut down. Id. Keith informed the Superintendent and
told an IT worker to review camera footage of the boiler
room. Id., p. 27. The camera footage showed Dobos
entering the boiler room and coming out a few moments later.
Id. The camera evidence was turned over to the
February 1, 2016, fact finding meeting
on the above evidence regarding the boiler incident,
Defendants scheduled a fact-finding meeting for February 1,
2016. Doc. 25-1, p. 1, ¶3. Dobos understood that the
meeting “probably” had something to do with the
boilers being shut down based on a paper he received prior to
the meeting “that probably said something about the
boilers.” Doc. 26-2, pp. 62-63. He also had a
conversation with union representatives before the meeting.
Doc. 26-2, p. 62. At the meeting, Dobos was present with
union representatives Heslop, Ruth Rule and Bill Padisak.
Doc. 26-2, pp. 39, 59, 177 (minutes of meeting). When asked
whether he shut the boilers down prior to the tournament
weekend or knew anything about the boilers being shut down,
Dobos denied any knowledge. Doc. 26-2, p. 59, 177.
Superintendent Spicher concluded the meeting by informing
Dobos that the district would continue to investigate and
would review camera footage. Id.
fifteen minutes after the meeting ended, Dobos returned to
the meeting site and told the Superintendent, “I did
it.” Doc. 26-2, pp. 67 (Dobos deposition), 178 (minutes
of meeting, Exhibit F to Dobos Deposition).
February 5, 2016, pre-disciplinary hearing
letter dated February 3, 2016, Superintendent Spicher
informed Dobos that he was required to attend a
pre-disciplinary hearing on February 5. Doc. 26-2, p. 179
(letter). The letter informed Dobos that there were
allegations being made against him following the conclusion
of the February 1st hearing. Id. The letter set
forth the allegations to be discussed at the meeting and
informed Dobos that he would have an opportunity to respond
to the allegations at the pre-disciplinary meeting and share
his side of the story. Id. The letter informed him
that, depending on how the meeting went, disciplinary action
might be taken, including reprimand, unpaid suspension or
termination. Id. The allegations set for discussion
included insubordination (for failing to follow directives to
no longer work on or be near the boilers and failing to
notify supervisor of a deviation from an assigned work
order); failing to notify appropriate school personnel that
he shut down the boilers; intentional subversion; and
complicity to cover-up/mislead investigators during the first
to the pre-disciplinary hearing, Dobos “assumed”
that he would be asked questions about the boilers being shut
down but “never thought” that disciplinary action
would be an outcome of the meeting, although he did
understand it was a pre-disciplinary hearing and stated that
he did read the letter listing possible disciplinary
outcomes. Doc. 26-2, p. 69.
appeared at the hearing with union representatives Heslop and
Padisak. Doc. 26-2, p. 71, 180 (minutes of 2/5
hearing). According to the minutes, Dobos stated
that he had shut down the boilers and had forgotten to turn
them back on. Doc. 26-2, p. 180. He explained that he had
been following up on a classroom leak that he had worked on
several weeks earlier. Id. When asked, he admitted
that there was no work order for this leak. Id. He
did not recall whether he had shut down the boilers when he
worked on the leak the first time and admitted that the
problem both times was the same. Id. When asked if
he could have turned off a valve to work on the leak instead
of shutting down the boilers, Dobos stated that he did not
know but that he did not think so. Id. When asked
whether he was permitted to work on the boilers, Dobos
responded, “I do what is in the best interest of the
district.” Id. Superintendent Spicher commented
that insubordination could apply if Dobos was not supposed to
be working on boilers and yet chose to do so and Dobos
stated, “If that is what you would call it-I don't
know-I was just trying to do a good job.” Id.
He did not think it would be a big deal to shut the boilers
down for a short time and did not notify any school official
that he had shut them down. Id. Dobos also admitted
that, a few days prior, he may have put water in the boilers
if he thought that they needed water even though he had been
directed to no longer work on the boilers; “I do
whatever I need to do to keep the schools up and
running.” Id, p. 181.
recalls that Superintendent Spicher then asked him about some
computer boards that Dobos had purchased on behalf of the
school district on three occasions. Doc. 26-2, p. 72, 181.
According to Spicher, Dobos stated that he had installed the
sink parts somewhere at the school but could not remember
where. Doc. 25-1, p. 2, ¶5. The minutes reflect that the
Superintendent stated that there were no work orders for the
computer boards and asked Dobos to bring all the computer
boards to the office before Dobos left for the day so that
they could be inventoried. Doc. 26-2, p. 181. Dobos does not
recall that the Superintendent told him to bring them to the
office “that day.” Id., p. 73. He did
not bring them to the Superintendent's office that day
because he “didn't see a major rush on it. Plus, I
got called away.” Id. The next day Dobos
called off work. Id., p. 75. A few days later he
brought boxes containing parts to the office after
“Keith called me and said he needed them right
away.” Id., p. 75.
Dobos was placed on administrative leave. Id., 182
(letter notice). The notice stated,
This action is being taken as a result of allegations against
you which have initiated an active investigation into
allegations stated in the pre-disciplinary hearing letter
given to you dated February 03, 2016 (copy attached) and any
other inappropriate and /or inconsistencies as related to the
performance of your job.
Doc. 26-2, p. 182. Dobos understood that he was placed on
leave for the boiler issue. Id., p. 78. He did not
understand the language cited above with respect to
“any other inappropriate and/or inconsistencies as
related to the performance of your job” and did not ask
anyone what it meant. Id., pp. 78-79.
February 24, 2016, pre-disciplinary hearing
February 18, 2016, Superintendent Spicher wrote Dobos a
letter informing him that a pre-disciplinary hearing would
take place on February 24, 2016. Doc. 26-2, p. 183. The
This meeting is being conducted as a result of investigative
findings as related to allegations stated in the
pre-disciplinary hearing letter dated February 03, 2016 and
any other findings as related to the performance of your job.
You will have the opportunity to respond to any findings at
the above aforementioned meeting to share your side of
events. You will remain on paid administrative leave until
further notice and/or pending meeting outcomes.
* * *
on hearing results, outcomes may ...