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Bower v. Metroparks of Butler County

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

June 11, 2019

DANIEL BOWER Plaintiff,
v.
METROPARKS OF BUTLER COUNTY, et al. Defendants.

          Dlott, J.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          Karen L. Litkovitz United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Daniel Bower brings this action for violations of his federal and state rights against defendants MetroParks of Butler County ("Metroparks"), the Metroparks of Butler County Board of Park Commissioners ("Board"), and Jonathan Granville in his official and individual capacities. (Id., ¶ 2). This matter is before the Court on motions to dismiss the complaint under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) filed by the Board (Doc. 9) and Granville (Doc. 10), plaintiffs memoranda in response to the motions (Docs. 15, 16), and defendants' reply memoranda (Docs. 21, 22).

         I. Allegations of the complaint

         Plaintiff makes the following allegations in the complaint (Doc. 1): Plaintiff is a citizen of the State of Ohio. (Id., ¶ 10). Plaintiff began his employment with defendants as Chief of Public Safety & Law Enforcement in June 2013. (Id., ¶¶ 12, 14). The Board, a political subdivision of the State of Ohio, is a public entity comprised of public appointees. (Id., ¶ 3). The Board is an employer under applicable federal and Ohio law. (Id.). Granville is the Executive Director of Metroparks and plaintiffs direct supervisor. (Id., ¶ 12). At all relevant times, the Board "employed, controlled, or had the right to control" Granville. (Id., ¶ 4). Granville acted at all times relevant to the complaint in his official capacity as an agent for Metroparks and the Board, and/or in his individual capacity, and in the course of his employment. (Id., ¶ 12).

         At all relevant times, plaintiff has "been disabled by anxiety, depression and PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder)" related to his military and police service. (Id., ¶ 10). His disabilities significantly impacted his life activities, including neurological functioning, thinking, sleeping, and socialization; however, plaintiff remained qualified for his employment position with defendants at all relevant times. (Id., ¶¶ 11, 13). Defendants were aware of plaintiff s disabilities because he told Granville and the Board about his disabilities and he requested leave and other accommodations, including "changed supervisory methods," for his disabilities. (Id., ¶ 14). Plaintiff also qualified for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), but defendants refused to offer plaintiff FMLA leave. (Id., ¶¶ 15, 16).

         On or about June 6, 2016, Granville rated plaintiff as "exceptional/highly effective" and recommended him for a merit-based pay increase. (Id., ¶ 16). Plaintiff received ''excellent" performance evaluations until August 2016, when he informed Granville that "he was disabled and of the nature of his disabilities." (Id., ¶ 17). Granville then "threatened Plaintiff s job" and refused to accommodate his disabilities or discuss doing so. (Id., ¶¶ 19, 21). Granville admittedly managed plaintiff more closely after learning of his disabilities and "became openly hostile to plaintiff." (Id., ¶ 20). Granville set higher standards for plaintiff than for others and set "unreasonable and arbitrary deadlines." (Id.).

         Plaintiff received no prior written warning or discipline before receiving a negative performance review, which he claims was a "sham performance review to justify recommending that the Board terminate Plaintiff or force him to resign." (Id., ¶¶ 23, 24). Granville told plaintiff that he would be terminated during the review when plaintiff refused to resign. (Id., ¶ 24). Plaintiff "publicly protested Granville's recommendation to the Board at a Board meeting" verbally and in writing, telling the Board that Granville had discriminated against him based on his disabilities and refused to accommodate his disabilities. (Id., ¶¶ 25, 26). '"On information and belief, the Board terminated plaintiff without investigating his complaint." (Id., ¶ 27). Plaintiff was replaced by a non-disabled person who did not take FMLA-protected leave. (Id., ¶ 28).

         Based on these allegations, plaintiff brings a claim for disability discrimination and retaliation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq. (Id., ¶¶ 32-39, Count I) and under Ohio Rev. Code Chapter 4112 (Id., ¶¶ 40-47, Count II). Plaintiff alleges that he was fully qualified for his position at all relevant times, he requested reasonable accommodations for his disabilities, and defendants refused to engage in the interactive process and denied his requests. Plaintiff claims that defendants discriminated and retaliated against him because he is disabled and they perceived him as disabled; because he requested accommodations for his disability; and/or because he complained they discriminated against him based on his disability. Plaintiff alleges that defendants treated him less favorably than non-disabled people, refused to accommodate his disabilities, and terminated his employment.

         Plaintiff also brings a claim for interference and retaliation under the FMLA, 29 U.S.C. § 2615, et seq. (Id., ¶¶ 48-54, Count III). Plaintiff alleges he had a serious health condition that qualified him for FMLA leave; he notified defendants of his need for medical leave and took medical leave; and defendants interfered with his rights under the FMLA and retaliated against him. Plaintiff alleges that defendants denied him FMLA leave, treated him less favorably than employees who did not exercise their rights under the FMLA, and terminated him in violation of the FMLA.

         Finally, plaintiff brings a claim for violation of his rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Id., ¶¶ 55-60, Count IV). Plaintiff alleges that defendant Granville, acting under color of state law, violated his rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution to be free from disability discrimination and retaliation. Plaintiff claims that Granville's allegedly wrongful conduct "was the direct result of official practices and customs established by Defendants MetroParks and the Board that allowed discriminatory treatment against persons with disabilities to go unchallenged, uninvestigated, and unaddressed." (Id., ¶ 57).

         Plaintiff claims that as to each violation of his constitutional and statutory rights, defendants' conduct was intentional, willful, wanton, malicious and in reckless disregard of plaintiffs legal rights. (Id., ¶¶ 38, 46, 53, 58).

         II. Rule 12(b)(6) standard

         In deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court must accept all factual allegations as true and make reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Keys v. Humana, Inc., 684 F.3d 605, 608 (6th Cir. 2012) (citingHarbin-Bey v. Rutter, 420 F.3d 571, 575 (6th Cir. 2005)). Only "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief is required. Id. (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). "[T]he statement need only give the defendant fair notice of what the . .. claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Id. (quoting Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). Although the plaintiff need not plead specific facts, the "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level" and to "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 570). A plaintiff must "plead[J factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). Although the court must accept well-pleaded factual allegations as true for purposes of a motion to dismiss, the court is "not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citing Papasan v. A/lain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)).

         III. The Board's motion to dismiss (Doc. 9)

         The Board moves to dismiss plaintiffs claims under the ADA, the FMLA and Ohio Rev. Code § 4112.02 on the ground plaintiff has not pled sufficient facts to permit an inference that the Board was his "employer" as defined under these statutes. The Board moves to dismiss plaintiffs § 1983 claim on the theory an individual cannot seek relief under § 1983 for a claim that is cognizable under the ADA. Plaintiff argues in response that he has sufficiently pled that the Board was his "employer" as defined by the applicable statutes. (Doc. 15). Plaintiff further contends that he brings a § 1983 claim for violation of his rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which he may pursue independently of his statutory claims. In reply, the Board contends that plaintiff cannot bring a claim for disability discrimination in violation of the ADA in the guise of an Equal Protection claim under § 1983 and further, plaintiff has not pled sufficient facts to state a claim for violation of his equal protection rights. (Doc. 22).

         A. Whether the Board qualifies ...


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