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Swysgood v. Board of Education of Northwestern Local School District of West Salem

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

June 20, 2018




         Pending before the Court are two motions: (1) Plaintiff Scott Swysgood's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (ECF No. 43) and (2) Defendants Board of Education of the Northwestern Local School District of West Salem and Superintendent Jeffrey Layton's Amended Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 47). The parties have filed memoranda in opposition. ECF Nos. 50 & 51. They have also filed replies. ECF Nos. 53 & 54. Plaintiff has filed a sur-reply to Defendants' motion. ECF No. 58. For the reasons that follow, Plaintiff's motion is denied, and Defendants' motion is granted, except as to Plaintiff's breach of contract claim.

         I. Background[1]

         A. Plaintiff's Employment at the Northwestern Local School District

         Plaintiff began working as the Transportation Coordinator/Head Bus Mechanic for the Northwestern Local School District in January 2012. ECF No. 1 at PageID #: 3. As part of his job, Plaintiff was in charge of supervising the transportation department. ECF No. 40-1 at PageID #: 1059. This included, among other things, preparing and scheduling bus routes and assigning drivers. Id. at PageID #: 1060. Plaintiff also had duties as head mechanic, such as performing repairs on vehicles Northwestern owned. Id. at PageID #: 1061.

         Plaintiff's employment with the school district was through contract. He signed the first of three contracts on February 1, 2012. ECF No. 1-1. The contract listed an annual salary of $22, 109.00. Id. This total came from an hourly rate of $19.46, paid for 142 work days in the year. Id. A heading at the top of the contract stated “SUPPORT EMPLOYEE'S CONTRACT -TWO YEAR(S) LIMITED.” Id. (emphasis in original).

         Plaintiff later entered into a three-year contract that paid him an annual salary of $49, 131.00. ECF No. 1-3. This contract listed an annual hourly rate of $23.62, paid for 260 work days in the year. Id. As with his prior contract, this one contained a heading describing the document as a “SUPPORT EMPLOYEE'S CONTRACT.” Id.

         Plaintiff entered into one more contract. For the 2016-17 school year, Plaintiff's salary was “$55, 401.00 in addition to a 1% salary bonus.” ECF No. 1-5. This contract did not include an hourly rate, but it did specify that the contract contemplated 260 working days. Id. The contract also did not have a heading listing Plaintiff as a support employee. The contract listed things not included in his prior contracts, such as term life insurance, medical insurance and reimbursement for unused vacation days. Id.

         On August 3. 2016, two days after the 2016-17 contract went into effect, Plaintiff received a document that contained a heading of “SALARY NOTIFICATION: SUPPORT STAFF.” ECF No. 1-7. The notification, which was not part of Plaintiff's contract, listed his salary as $55, 955.00. Id. It also stated “[a]ny additional hours or days your supervisor may ask you to work should be so noted on a time sheet and submitted to the Treasurer's Office for additional compensation.” Id.

         B. Accumulation of Excess Hours

         During his time working at the Northwestern Local School District, Plaintiff kept records of the hours that he worked so as to document how many hours over forty he worked each week. ECF Nos. 1-2, 1-4, and 1-6. Plaintiff contends that he had accrued 4912.25 hours of compensatory time by the time his employment ended. ECF No. 43 at PageID #: 1267. Each month, Plaintiff would give a copy of the hours he had accrued the prior month to either Layton or his secretary. ECF No. 30-1 at PageID #: 293-94. Layton would then review the time sheet listing the hours, sign the time sheet, and scan a copy of the time sheet onto his computer on the school's computer network. Id. at PageID #: 295.

         The parties dispute whether Plaintiff was owed monetary compensation for these hours. In his deposition, Plaintiff testified that Layton told him when he began working in the school system that he should keep track of all his time because Plaintiff “would be compensated for it at a certain time.” ECF No. 39-1 at PageID #: 985-86. Plaintiff also testified that Kim Wellert, a school board member, told him that he was entitled to compensation for his earned compensatory time. Id. at PageID #: 949. Layton testified that he told Plaintiff that he did not have to use the compensatory time record sheet, because it was intended for hourly employees. ECF No. 30-1 at PageID #: 309. Layton also testified that he sensed Plaintiff “felt validation” from submitting the time sheets, and, due to that, he never told Plaintiff to stop handing them in to him. Id. at PageID #: 323.

         The Northwestern School District has three types of employees: (1) hourly employees; (2) administrative employees; and (3) certified employees. ECF No. 36-1 at PageID #: 760-62. The parties dispute whether Plaintiff was an hourly employee or an administrative employee.

         Administrative employees are eligible to participate in an informal flex time policy. Id. at PageID #: 328. According to Layton, administrators could use flex time for need-based requests when they were up-do-date on their responsibilities. Id. at PageID #: 328. Administrators did not necessarily have to log their hours, but Layton liked to see documentary requests for longer flex time requests, such as taking an entire week off of work. Id. at PageID #: 329. The use of flex time required Layton's approval. Id. at PageID #: 341. Layton also testified that an administrator could only use flex time during the school year in which they earned that time; an administrator could not carry over flex time from a prior year. Id. at PageID #: 260-61. Layton explained that the accrual of overtime pay for hourly workers required pre-approval, whereas administrators did not need to attain pre-approval before working extra hours. Id. at PageID #: 330-31. A document entitled “SUPPORT STAFF SUPPLEMENTARY PAY PLANS, ” states that employees may accrue up to “240 hours (160 overtime hours)” of compensatory time and “employee[s] will be compensated for time beyond this maximum accrual at the rate of one and one-half time his or her normal hourly rate of pay.” ECF No. 41-1 at PageID #: 1196.

         Plaintiff contends that he worked as an hourly employee, rather than an administrative employee. Plaintiff testified that he did not understand himself to be an administrator. Rather, he believed that his job consisted of “work[ing] on the buses and tak[ing] care of the supervision” of bussing for the school system. ECF No. 39-1 at PageID #: 885. He also testified that no one told him his position was an administrative position. Id.

         Plaintiff admits that there were “several times that [he] took comp time, ” and, when he did so, he completed forms to verify his use of compensatory time. Id. at PageID #: 931. For example, Plaintiff took compensatory time to attend a ceremony to commemorate his son joining the Navy. Id. at PageID #: 984-85. Plaintiff admitted that he could use compensatory time “at any time, ” so long as Layton approved. Id. at PageID #: 126.

         To date, Plaintiff has not received any payments for compensatory time he accrued. Throughout his time in the school system, Plaintiff did not ask Layton why he did not receive overtime pay on a monthly basis.[2] Id. at PageID #: 932.

         C. End of Plaintiff's Employment

         Plaintiff wrote a letter to the school board stating, as of August 1, 2016, he intended to use his available compensatory time “to run out [his] current 2016-2017 school year contract.” ECF No. 41-1 at PageID #: 1169. Plaintiff's contract for the 2016-2017 school year began on August 1, 2016. See ECF No. 1-5.

         Layton rejected Plaintiff's request, because Plaintiff would not be able to meet his job responsibilities if he took an entire year off of work. ECF No. 30-1 at PageID #: 336-37.

         Starting on August 1, 2016, Plaintiff did not complete any work for the school district. He came into work on the first, second, and third of August, but he only did so to speak with Layton. ECF No. 39-1 at PageID #: 968. He claimed that he was up to date with his responsibilities, so he was using comp time. Id. Also during that time, Plaintiff removed a tool chest he kept at work. ECF No. 42-3 at PageID #: 1249. The chest was higher than five feet tall and about ten feet long. Id. And, ...

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