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Buddenberg v. Weisdack

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

June 28, 2018

Rebecca Buddenberg, Plaintiff,
Robert K. Weisdack, et al., Defendant.



         Before the Court are two motions: Defendant James Budzik's Motion to Dismiss, Doc #: 14, and the remaining defendants' (“District Defendants”) joint Motion for Partial Judgment on the Pleadings, Doc #: 20. For the following reasons, Budzik's Motion to Dismiss and the District Defendants' Motion for Partial Judgment on the Pleadings are DENIED WITHOUT PREJUDICE.

         I. Background

         On March 6, 2018, Plaintiff Rebecca Buddenberg filed the instant civil rights action, pursuant to both federal and state anti-discrimination laws. Doc #: 1. On March 12, 2018, she filed an Amended Complaint. With the Court's permission, Buddenberg filed a Second Amended Complaint on June 18, 2018.[1] Buddenberg asserts claims against eight defendants: the Geauga County Health District (the “District”), Geauga County Health Commissioner Robert K. Weisdack, District employee Alta Wendell, the District's attorney James Budzik, and Geauga County Board of Health (the “Board”) members Timothy Goergen, David Gragg, Catherine Whitright, and Christina Livers (collectively, the “Board Members”). Compl. ¶¶ 4-8. On May 3, 2018, Budzik filed a motion to dismiss all six claims against him. Doc #: 14. On May 11, 2018, the District Defendants filed a joint motion for partial judgment on the pleadings. Doc #: 20. Buddenberg filed an Opposition on June 8, 2018. Doc #: 29. Budzik and the District Defendants filed their Replies on June 22, 2018. Doc #: 32 and 33.

         II. Facts

         On a motion to dismiss, the court construes all well-pleaded facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Johansen v. Presley, 977 F.Supp.2d 871, 876 (W.D. Tenn. 2013).

         Buddenberg was employed by the District from February 2, 2015 to May 27, 2017. Compl. ¶ 11. She worked as the District's fiscal coordinator until her March 21, 2017 demotion. Id. As fiscal coordinator, Buddenberg was responsible for various aspects of the District's fiscal management and human resources. Id. ¶¶ 12-13. Her ordinary duties did not include reporting ethical and policy violations to the Board. Id. ¶ 14. Commissioner Weisdack hired Buddenberg and was her direct supervisor-except from April 2016-February 2017, when Dan Mix was Buddenberg's direct supervisor. Id. ¶ 15. Mix reported direct to Commissioner Weisdack. Id. ¶ 16. Buddenberg received positive performance evaluations and was well-liked by her co-workers for the first year and a half that she worked at the District. Id. ¶¶ 17-19.

         On October 24, 2016, Buddenberg reported to the Board that Commissioner Weisdack had engaged in unequal pay practices and ethical misconduct, and that he failed to comply with the District's personnel policies. Compl. ¶ 26. She submitted a written report to the Board detailing her concerns on November 13, 2016. Id. ¶ 32. Within less than forty-eight hours of her initial report, Commissioner Weisdack instructed Mix to change Buddenberg's working hours. Id. ¶ 33. Buddenberg had negotiated flexible hours to accommodate getting a Bachelor's degree and taking care of her grandson after work. Id. Commissioner Weisdack provided no explanation for the change in Buddenberg's work schedule and did not adjust any other employee's schedule, including those who had similarly flexible hours. Id. ¶¶ 34-35. As a result, Buddenberg was forced to quit school and could no longer provide adequate childcare for her grandson. Id. ¶ 33. Mix told Buddenberg that Commissioner Weisdack changed her hours because he was mad at her for going to the Board and he wanted to get rid of her. Id. ¶ 36. Commissioner Weisdack began threatening Buddenberg and disparaging her to her co-workers. Id. ¶ 37.

         Buddenberg communicated Commissioner Weisdack's retaliatory behavior to the Board, both orally and in writing, on several occasions. Id. ¶ 40. The Board took no action to protect Buddenberg and Commissioner Weisdack's campaign of retaliation continued. In January 2017, Mix was forced to resign for supporting Buddenberg. Id. ¶ 62. Buddenberg reported Commissioner Weisdack's retaliation toward Mix to Board Member Livers on February 1, 2017. Id. ¶ 64. On February 15, 2017, Buddenberg reported the retaliation to the EEOC. Id. ¶ 67. The District received notice of her EEOC filing on February 24, 2017. Id. ¶ 68. Four days later, Commissioner Weisdack issued Buddenberg a Notice of Proposed Disciplinary Action (the “Notice”), alleging eight policy violations and setting a hearing for March 3, 2017. Id. ¶ 72. Budzik helped Commissioner Weisdack draft the Notice. Id. ¶ 73. In issuing the Notice, the District failed to comply with its own progressive disciplinary policy. Id. ¶¶ 77-79. Further, all of the allegations against Buddenberg were baseless or applied only against Buddenberg. Id. Budzik conducted the March 3, 2017 hearing, knowing that Commissioner Weisdack had retaliated against Buddenberg for protected activity and that all policy violation allegations against her were baseless. Id. ¶ 87.

         After the nearly two-hour long hearing, Budzik offered to settle the matter if Buddenberg would accept a demotion, a pay reduction of nearly $1, 000/month, and drop all retaliation claims, including her EEOC charge. Id. ¶ 94. At a March 7, 2017 Board meeting, Budzik recommended that the Board take disciplinary action against Buddenberg based on the allegations that he knew to be false and were rebutted by Buddenberg during the March 3, 2017 hearing. Id. ¶ 98. On March 16, 2017, the District issued an Ohio Revised Code § 124.34 Order (“Order”), drafted by Commissioner Weisdack and Budzik, finding Buddenberg guilty of nearly all of the allegations in the Notice. Id. ¶ 99. Buddenberg was suspended for three days, demoted to a clerical position, and her pay was cut nearly in half. Id. ¶ 100 Commissioner Weisdack continued to retaliate against Buddenberg until she resigned from the District on May 27, 2017. Id. ¶ 128.

         III. Legal Standard

         The same standard for deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss applies to a Rule 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings. Roth v. Guzman, 650 F.3d 603, 605 (6th Cir. 2011). A 12(b)(6) motion tests the sufficiency of the complaint. To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim is plausible on its face “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

         IV. Discussion

         Budzik moved to dismiss Claims 3-7 and 9 against him. The District Defendants moved to dismiss Claims 6-8 against them. The Court will address each claim in turn.

         A. Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) Retaliation (Claim 3)

         Budzik first argues that Buddenberg cannot bring an FLSA retaliation claim against him because he is the District's outside legal counsel and not her employer. Mot. 5. The anti-retaliation provision of the FLSA prohibits “any person” from “discriminat[ing] against any employee because such employee has filed any complaint or instituted or caused to be instituted any proceeding under [the FLSA.]” 29 U.S.C. § 215(a)(3). The FLSA defines a “person” as “an individual, partnership, association, corporation, business trust, legal representative, or any organized group of persons.” 29 U.S.C. § 203(a) (emphasis added). Thus, by its plain language, § 215(a)(3) prohibits legal representatives like Budzik from retaliating against employees. However, § 215(a)(3) only makes retaliatory conduct unlawful; it does not address the penalties for a person engaging in retaliation. The penalties for violating § 215(b)(3) are delineated in § 216. 29 U.S.C. § 216. Section 216(b) grants an employee a private right of action against any “employer” who violates § 215(a)(3). 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). So, while “any person” is proscribed from ...

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