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Shaw v. Access Ohio

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Second District, Montgomery

July 27, 2018

MICHELLE SHAW, et al. Plaintiffs-Appellants
ACCESS OHIO Defendant-Appellee

          Civil Appeal from Common Pleas Court Trial Court Case No. 2016-CV-4199

          DAVID M. DUWEL, Atty. Reg. No. 0029583, 130 West Second Street, Suite 2101, Dayton, Ohio 45402 Attorney for Plaintiffs-Appellants

          PRISCILLA HAPNER Atty. Reg. No. 0066275, P.O. Box 91106, Columbus, Ohio 43209 Attorney for Defendant-Appellee


          TUCKER, J.

         {¶ 1} Plaintiff-appellant Elaine Barrow and her mother, plaintiff-appellant Michelle Shaw, filed a joint complaint raising state law claims of race discrimination. Shaw appeals the Civ.R. 12(B)(6) dismissal of her claims. Barrow appeals the summary judgment rendered against her. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         {¶ 2} Access Ohio d/b/a Access Residential (hereinafter "Access") is an Ohio company headquartered in Columbus. It operates community mental health centers for mental health and substance abuse treatment for individuals who qualify for Medicaid. Access operates a residential alcohol and drug rehabilitation program located on Wayne Avenue in Dayton. The facility is licensed by the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (hereinafter "the State").

         {¶ 3} In September 2015, Regional Program Director Chauncey Wallace recruited and hired Shaw to work at Access as a human resources manager. As part of her duties at Access, Shaw was responsible for processing personnel forms and files, a function that included checking references and obtaining criminal background checks for all new employees. Shaw's daughter, Barrow, was hired approximately two weeks later as a Chemical Dependency Counselor Advisor.[1]

         {¶ 4} On Wednesday, December 30, 2015, Access was audited by the State. As part of the audit, the State inspectors asked to meet with randomly-selected clients who were currently residing at the facility. At the conclusion of the audit, Access was directed to investigate resident claims that Shaw had been helping clients sign up for food stamps and that Barrow had been improperly purchasing the food stamps from the clients for a reduced price. [2] Access was also directed to investigate Shaw's notation in an employee's personnel file indicating that Shaw had verified the employee's prior employment. According to the record, the State had closed the facility identified as the employee's reference prior to the date Shaw indicated she had verified the employee's prior employment. The investigators further informed Access that some of the clients interviewed during the audit claimed Shaw was not addressing their grievances, that she had been observed throwing their written grievance forms into the trash, and that she would later retaliate against any client that filed a grievance. Access was directed to submit a written report and correction plan for all the issues raised during the audit by the following Monday.[3]

         {¶ 5} As part of their investigation, Operations Manager Missy Honeycutt and Operations Team Member Patty Parsley met with each client residing in the facility. Numerous residents claimed to have heard about the food stamp allegation involving Barrow and a client named Roy who was no longer residing at the facility. Only one resident, known as Herbert, stated that he had witnessed Barrow hand cash to a resident; he assumed it was related to food stamps.

         {¶ 6} Also, during their investigation, Honeycutt and Parsley were unable to locate any documentation related to client grievances that had been given by residents to Shaw. They concluded the lack of documentation corroborated the clients' claims that Shaw threw their grievances in the trash. They further found discrepancies in Barrow's employment application, for which Shaw was responsible. Specifically, Barrow's application form affirmatively denied being related to any other employee of Access, despite her relationship to Shaw. Further, Barrow's form indicated that she had a valid driver's license, despite the fact that her license was suspended. Barrow's application also listed criminal convictions which disqualified her for employment at Access. Finally, the completed reference check form performed by Shaw did not match the dates of employment listed on Barrow's job application. Shaw had not informed anyone of the problems with Barrow's application.

         {¶ 7} Honeycutt and Parsley met privately with Shaw. When the issue of Barrow buying food stamps was raised, Shaw informed Honeycutt and Parsley that, a few weeks prior, she had received a grievance from a client regarding the claim that Barrow was buying food stamps from clients. Shaw further stated that she had given the grievance to Wallace to investigate. Wallace was then called into the meeting. He confirmed that he had been notified of the grievance, but he denied that Shaw had asked him to investigate it. Shaw then stated that she must have given the grievance to Brenda Wolfe, who was Barrow's immediate supervisor. When questioned, Wolfe noted that she had heard the allegation from a client and had reported it to Wallace. She denied being asked to investigate the complaint. Although Shaw claimed she did not investigate the grievance because of her relationship to Barrow, she admitted that she had spoken to Barrow about the claims and that Barrow had denied the allegations. Shaw also initially denied receiving any grievances from clients, but later indicated that she had investigated a few grievances. However, she was unable to produce any documentation regarding these grievances. Shaw admitted helping clients enroll in the food stamp program. Shaw's employment was terminated.

         {¶ 8} Honeycutt and Parsley also met with Barrow to inform her of their investigation and their decision to terminate her employment. Barrow denied the allegations regarding the food stamps and indicated that she did not believe the matter had been properly investigated.

         {¶ 9} On August 12, 2016, Barrow and Shaw filed a complaint seeking damages under R.C. 4112.99 based upon the claim that their termination was racially motivated in violation of R.C. 4112.02. Access filed a Civ.R. 12(B)(6) motion to dismiss Shaw's complaint. Access argued that Shaw's statement in the complaint that she was terminated "solely on the basis that she was Plaintiff Barrow's mother" negated any claim of racial discrimination. Shaw thereafter filed a response in which she stated the following:

Michelle Shaw is alleging that due to her race African-American and the fact that she was Plaintiff Elaine Barrow (also an African American) mother [sic], she was treated disparatively [sic] by Defendant and terminated. The phrase in question, "solely on the basis she was Elaine Barrow's mother" was intended to assert that there was no legitimate business reason for the termination. To the extent that the Court believes this language is confusing, Plaintiff requests leave to file an Amended Complaint to state that her termination was based on her race and that no legitimate business reason existed for her termination.

Dkt. No. 11.

         {¶ 10} The trial court found that Shaw's complaint set forth a non-discriminatory reason for her termination, i.e., her familial relationship to Barrow, and, thus, it did not articulate a viable cause of action for race discrimination. The trial court further found that Shaw had failed to identify how she would cure the defect in the complaint. The trial court granted the motion to dismiss and denied the request to amend.

         {¶ 11} Discovery was conducted, following which Access filed a motion for summary judgment against Barrow. The trial court granted the motion. Barrow and Shaw appeal.

         II. ...

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