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Carnes v. Lima City Schools

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

May 2, 2018

Daniel L. Carnes, Sr., Plaintiff
Lima City Schools, et al., Defendants



         This is an employment-discrimination case.

         Plaintiff Daniel Carnes worked as a custodian for the defendant Lima City Schools from 1985 until he retired in November, 2015.

         One year before his retirement, Carnes made delusional statements about a supposed “best friend” relationship he had with a teacher. When Superintendent Jill Ackerman met with Carnes to discuss the incident, Carnes's behavior so alarmed Ackerman that she determined Carnes posed a threat to school safety. Ackerman therefore referred Carnes to the school behaviorist, placed him on leave until he until he obtained a fit-for-duty slip, and ordered him not to enter school property. Carnes never obtained the fit-for-duty slip, however. Instead, and while still on leave, he retired.

         Carnes now alleges that the school district placed him on leave because it regarded him as disabled, in violation of Ohio law, and in retaliation for alleging that the teacher had sexually harassed him, in violation of state law and the First Amendment. He also alleges that the school district deprived him of his protected liberty and property interests without due process of law.

         Jurisdiction is proper under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1367(a).

         Pending is the school district's motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 52). For the following reasons, I grant the motion.


         A. Delusional Statements

         On October 24, 2014, Superintendent Ackerman received a phone call from Angela Heffner, the principal of Liberty Arts Magnet School. (Doc. 26 at 14). Heffner explained that, on the previous day, Carnes told her that the school's first grade teacher “was his best friend, ” that Carnes “wanted to put her children in his will, ” and that Carnes believed the teacher's husband did not like him. (Id. at 15). Carnes also told Heffner that he had tried to visit the teacher's house, but “she had given him the wrong address.” (Id.).

         When Carnes reported to work later that day, Ackerman met with him, his union representative, and Tim Haller, Carnes's supervisor. (Id. at 15, 17). She questioned Carnes about his relationship with the teacher, and Carnes responded that “they were best friends and that they had been best friends for over five years.” (Id. at 17). Carnes also explained that “he was in charge of making sure that her children were safe when she was out of town.” (Id.).

         Ackerman suggested that this relationship might be inappropriate, and Carnes demanded to know what Ackerman was going to do about it. He alleged that the teacher “had been rubbing on his legs . . . rubbing her hair against his face and whispering in his ear that she wanted to give him alcohol.” (Id. at 17-18).

         At that point, Ackerman told Carnes that she was “very concerned about his mental state” and that she wanted him to see a behaviorist who worked in the “health clinic in [the Lima] high school[.]” (Id. at 18). She explained that she was placing Carnes on paid leave, and that he could not return to work before he obtained a “Fit for Duty slip” from a mental health professional. (Id.). This upset Carnes, who said “he was going to file with the EEOC, with the Supreme Court, and the President of the United States.” (Id.).

         Haller shared Ackerman's concern for Carnes's state of mind. He testified that, “[w]ith [Carnes's] erratical [sic] behavior, we felt that not only he may be a threat to [the first-grade teacher] but he may be a threat to the students and quite frankly maybe himself.” (Doc. 27 at 16).

         After the meeting, Ackerman sent Carnes a letter reiterating that she had placed him on paid leave so he could “resolve current health issues that [she] believe[d] are impeding [his] ability to perform [his] assigned duties in a safe manner.” (Doc. 25 at 134). Ackerman also noted that she had made an appointment for Carnes to see a psychologist, Fred Ferri. (Id.). Her letter concluded by instructing Carnes to “remain off of all Lima City Schools property” until the school district had received Dr. Ferri's report and “ma[d]e a determination on [Carnes's] leave status.” (Id.).

         B. Investigations

         Superintendent Ackerman and Principal Haller investigated Carnes's sexual-harassment allegations. (Doc. 27 at 14-15).

         Rather than turning up evidence to corroborate his claims, however, Haller and Ackerman discovered that the teacher “felt uncomfortable with Daniel” because he “was spending a lot of time in her classroom.” (Id. at 15). The teacher reported that, when Carnes “began asking for her address in the spring of 2014, ” she gave him the wrong address. Carnes tried to visit that address, and became “visibly upset” when he learned it was not the teacher's residence. (Doc. 26 at 46).

         On October 31, 2014, the teacher obtained an order of protection against Carnes from the Common Pleas Court of Allen County, Ohio. (Doc. 25 at 137-41). The order, which the court served on the school district, forbade Carnes to have any contact with the teacher or her three children. It also barred Carnes from entering the teacher's residence, her place of employment, and the school that her children attended.

         Meanwhile, Monica Clark, the school district's behaviorist and mental-health specialist, met with Carnes on October 27, 2014. (Doc. 26 at 22). Based on her evaluation of Carnes, she determined that Carnes “was a threat to himself, possibly others” and asked that “he not return to Lima Senior High School because of the threat of safety for the students.” (Id. at 24). She reported her concerns to the Lima Police Department (id. at 56) and to Ackerman, who, in turn, warned the teacher about Carnes. (Id. at 24).

         Carnes met with Dr. Ferri on November 2. (Doc. 25 at 134). Carnes told Ferri that: 1) he hears “voices ‘on the inside'”; 2) the voices are “clear as a bell”; and 3) the voices come to him “from . . . [the first grade teacher].” (Doc. 30-2 at 4). Carnes sometimes saw images in his head of the teacher “and her husband going to bed at night and they were both naked.” (Id. at 9). According to Carnes, he knew that the teacher's husband “gets drunk . . . ‘every night, I know' because the man admits it to him and he also sees it.” (Id.). Carnes also saw visions of the teacher's husband raping her. (Id. at 12).

         Dr. Ferri concluded that Carnes had “a significant delusional disorder” that was “specifically encapsulated in the firmly held belief that he and the teacher have a loving relationship[.]” (Id. at 18). He recommended that Carnes see a psychiatrist and psychologist for at least three to six months of treatment. (Id. at 20). Ferri opined that Carnes should “not return to work at the present time.” (Id.).

         C. EEOC Charge

         Carnes filed a charge with the EEOC on November 4, 2014. (Doc. 8-1 at 2). He alleged that another custodian working for the school district, Rita Johns, harassed him “because of my sex, ” in violation of Title VII. (Id.).

         According to Carnes, Johns was “terrible, ” loud, and vulgar. (Id. at 29). On two occasions - one in late July, 2014, and another in early August, 2014 - Johns had two “altercations” with Carnes. Carnes reported these incidents to Ackerman, and Ackerman suspended Johns for three days without pay and forbade her to have verbal contact with Carnes. ...

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