FROM JUDGMENT ENTERED IN THE COURT OF COMMON PLEAS COUNTY OF
SUMMIT, OHIO CASE No. CV-2017-12-5287
A. ROMER, Attorney at Law, for Appellant.
CHRISTIAN M. WILLIAMS and TARYN A. WEISS, Attorneys at Law,
DECISION AND JOURNAL ENTRY
JENNIFER L. HENSAL JUDGE
Patricia Pilato appeals from the decision of the Summit
County Court of Common Pleas, granting summary judgment in
favor of the Board of Education of the Nordonia Hills City
Schools and the business director for the school district,
Matt Gaugler. For the reasons that follow, this Court
Ms. Pilato worked in the cafeteria at Nordonia High School
for over 20 years, eventually becoming the manager. In this
position, Ms. Pilato was a member of the Ohio Association of
Public School Employees union. Throughout her employment, Ms.
Pilato received positive performance evaluations and, up
until the facts giving rise to this case, had never received
disciplinary action. Relevantly, part of Ms. Pilato's job
responsibilities included ordering food from Gordon Food
Service ("GFS"). To do this, Ms. Pilato would log
on to the GFS website with her own username and password.
Other than her immediate supervisor, Sue Petonic (who had her
own username and password), no one else at the high school
had access to GFS's online ordering system.
In May 2017, Ms. Pilato requested time off to have knee
replacement surgery, which would require her to be off work
during the last two weeks of the school year. While Ms.
Pilato was on leave, a GFS order that Ms. Petonic placed did
not arrive. After contacting GFS, Ms. Petonic learned that
someone using Ms. Pilato's username and password on a
non-school computer had cancelled the order. Although Ms.
Pilato denied cancelling the order, Ms. Petonic and Mr.
Gaugler did not believe her, in part because her "story
changed multiple times[.]" Ms. Petonic also learned
that, while Ms. Pilato was on leave, Ms. Pilato was logging
into the online payroll system and correcting other
employees' time. According to Ms. Pilato, Ms. Petonic
instructed her to continue working while on leave. According
to Ms. Petonic, she instructed Ms. Pilato not to work while
on leave. Further, during her investigation of the cancelled
food order, Ms. Petonic spoke with other cafeteria employees
who alleged that Ms. Pilato had bullied and harassed them.
Mr. Gaugler ultimately decided that Ms. Pilato should be
removed from her position as manager, and that - given the
allegations of bullying - she should not return to work at
the high school. He, therefore, provided Ms. Pilato with
three options: (1) complete an Employee Assistance Program
and take a non-management cafeteria position at one of the
other schools within the district; (2) resign, thereby
allowing her to retain the district's contributions to
her retirement benefits; or (3) be terminated for
insubordination. After speaking with a union representative,
Ms. Pilato resigned.
Ms. Pilato then sued the school district and Mr. Gaugler
(collectively, "Defendants"), asserting three
causes of action against them: (1) disparate-impact
disability discrimination; (2) disability discrimination for
failure to provide reasonable accommodation; and (3)
retaliation. She also asserted a claim for aiding and
abetting discrimination against Mr. Gaugler only.
After a period of discovery, Defendants moved for summary
judgment on all of Ms. Pilato's claims. In doing so, they
argued that Ms. Pilato could not establish a prima facie case
of disability discrimination because she was not disabled,
never requested an accommodation, and did not suffer an
adverse employment action because she voluntarily resigned.
Defendants further argued that, even if Ms. Pilato could
establish a prima facie case, they had a legitimate,
non-discriminatory reason for their actions: Ms. Pilato
cancelled the GFS food order, requiring Ms. Petonic to go to
the physical GFS store to buy the necessary food items, which
they "needed * * * immediately."
Ms. Pilato responded in opposition. She argued that she was
disabled because she had knee pain prior to her knee
replacement surgery, which required her to wear a knee brace.
Without the knee brace, she asserted, she would not have been
able to work. She also argued that she was disabled during
her recovery from surgery because she could not walk without
the assistance of a walker or cane, and that - even when she
could walk unassisted several weeks after her surgery - she
did so slowly and with a limp. Regarding an accommodation,
Ms. Pilato argued that she requested an accommodation by
virtue of her request for leave while recovering from
surgery, and that she was denied a reasonable accommodation
because Ms. Petonic instructed her to continue working while
on leave. She further argued that she suffered an adverse
employment action because she faced a demotion, and was
constructively discharged by being forced to resign.
With respect to Defendants' assertion that they fired her
due to the cancelled GFS order, Ms. Pilato maintained that
she did not cancel the order, and asserted that Ms. Petonic
"had motivation to conceal the fact that she told [her]
to continue working while on disability leave and therefore
concoct alternative reasons for why [she] would be working
while on leave." She also argued that the cancelled
order did not result in any harm because Ms. Petonic was able
to go to the physical GFS store and purchase the necessary
food items to serve that day. She further argued that the
harsh punishment was not justified given her history of
exemplary performance. She, therefore, concluded that
"it would seem as if something other than a legitimate
business reason motivated the employment actions taken
The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of
Defendants, holding that Ms. Pilato was not disabled as
defined under Revised Code Section 4112.01(A)(13), and that
no evidence indicated that Defendants regarded her as such.
It then made several alternative holdings, including that Ms.
Pilato: (1) did not suffer an adverse employment action
because she voluntarily resigned; (2) never requested an
accommodation (and even if her request for leave to undergo
knee surgery qualified as a request for an accommodation, she
was granted leave); and (3) failed to meet her burden of
demonstrating that Defendants' actions were a pretext for
disability discrimination. The trial court further held that,
since Ms. Pilato's disability-discrimination claims
failed, her claim against Mr. ...