United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER
Kathleen B. Burke United States Magistrate Judge
Arlesia Dawson (“Dawson”) was terminated by
Defendant Northeast Ohio Community Alternative Program
(“NEOCAP”) from her position as Executive
Secretary to NEOCAP's Executive Director, Jake E. Jones,
Sr. (“Jones”). She brings federal law claims for
gender discrimination and sexual harassment against
Defendants NEOCAP and Jones. First, Second, and Fourth Claims
for Relief, Doc. 1, pp. 4-6. She also asserts state law claims
for spoliation of evidence and negligent infliction of
emotional distress. Doc. 1.
have filed a motion for summary judgment as to all of
Dawson's claims. Doc. 21. Dawson has filed a cross-motion
for partial summary judgment based on her contention that
NEOCAP is liable on her federal claims because it failed to
adopt a policy governing senior-subordinate non-work related
social interactions. Doc. 24.
reasons set forth more fully below, Defendants are entitled
to summary judgment on Dawson's federal claims and
Dawson's cross-motion is without merit. Dawson admitted
on deposition that she does not believe Defendants
discriminated against her and that Jones never suggested that
she have anything other than a professional relationship with
him. Those admissions undermine her claims and she has not
demonstrated the existence of any genuine issue of material
fact such that a reasonable jury could find for her on her
Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over
Dawson's state law claims for spoliation of evidence and
negligent infliction of emotional distress.
the Court GRANTS Defendants' Motion for
Summary Judgment (Doc. 21) as to Plaintiff's federal
claims stated in her First, Second, and Fourth Claims for
Relief; DISMISSES WITHOUT PREJUDICE
Dawson's state law claims - the Third (spoliation of
evidence) and Fifth (negligent infliction of emotional
distress “NIED”) Claims for Relief; and
DENIES Plaintiff's Motion for Summary
Judgment (Doc. 24).
provides an alternative to incarceration for felony
offenders. Doc. 1, ¶6. It is the last step in the
continuum of increasing punishment before incarceration.
Id. It is a minimum-security operation housing
approximately 120 offenders. Id. NEOCAP is
administered by a local Judicial Corrections Board that
includes at least one common pleas court judge from each
county NEOCAP serves. Id.
NEOCAP employee discipline and harassment policies
has specific procedures and policies to address allegations
of sexual harassment and employee discipline that aare
documented in the employee Personnel Policies Handbook. Doc.
21-2. The disciplinary section of the Personnel
Policies Handbook states that NEOCAP employs a
“Progressive Discipline” practice to address
disciplinary matters. Id. at pp. 2. This practice
includes giving the employee a verbal reprimand and, if a
verbal reprimand does not work, giving the employee a written
reprimand. Id. If a written reprimand is not enough,
suspension or termination can occur, but the staff member
must be given the opportunity to tell his/her side of the
issue and there must be an opportunity to correct the
situation. Id. The Executive Director has the final
decision regarding the disciplinary action. Id.
Finally, upon receiving the handbook, every employee signs an
acknowledgement that states “I understand that the
handbook is a set of guidelines and it is not a binding
contract and acknowledge that my employment is at-will and
NEOCAP can terminate my employment at any time and bypass any
disciplinary process if deemed necessary. Id. at pp.
93; Doc. 21-4, pp. 2, ¶10.
harassment policy states:
It is the policy of NEOCAP to provide all staff members with
a workplace free of harassment as required by Title VII of
the Ohio Civil Rights Act of 1964 (as amended), Section
4112.0 of the Ohio Revised Code, and the Governor's
Executive Order 87-30. Every effort will be made to eradicate
all forms of harassment.
ALL STAFF MEMBERS ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR ADHERING TO THIS
POLICY; DISCOURAGING HARASSMENT; REPORTING SUCH INCIDENTS TO
THE APPROPRIATE PERSON; AND COOPERATING IN ANY INVESTIGATIONS
WHICH MIGHT RESULT.
Doc. 21-2 at p. 4 (capitalization in original).
Harassment Complaint Procedure states further: “Staff
members who believe they have been subjected to harassment
will notify any member of management immediately.”
Id. at p. 5.
Dawson's employment at NEOCAP and termination
complaint, Dawson alleges that she was personally recruited
and hired by Jones. Doc. 1, ¶9. She applied to work at
NEOCAP on November 2, 2015. Doc. 23, pp.
45:14-46:5.She applied for the positions of Program
Assistant and Resident Supervisor. Doc. 23, pp. 45:24-46:5.
However, she was hired as an Executive Secretary to the
Director on February 8, 2016. Doc. 1, ¶5. Dawson alleges
that, when she was hired, Jones told her that her position as
Executive Secretary was to only work for him and that she did
not have to take instruction from other personnel unless
Jones directed her otherwise. Doc. 23, pp. 54:8-56:1,
58:24-59:19. She continued to work as Jones's Executive
Secretary until she was terminated on March 28, 2017. Doc. 1,
Dawson's conflicts with Jones and other
Dawson's employment at NEOCAP, several incidents occurred
in which she was in conflict with another employee. First,
Dawson and Robert Blower (“Blower”) had a verbal
conflict in July 2016. Doc. 23, pp. 64:3-10; Doc. 21-4,
¶2. Jones asked Dawson to start helping Blower with
payroll. Doc. 23, p. 64:17-21. The verbal confrontation
stemmed from a disagreement between Dawson and Blower as to
how overtime should be calculated. Id. Dawson
alleged that Blower wanted to fire her for her
insubordination but, when Jones spoke to her about the
incident, she alleges that Jones said, “You can't
be insubordinate to someone who you're not subordinate
to.” Id. at pp. 66:24-67:5. Jones also told
Dawson that sometimes when she raises her voice it could be
taken as aggressive. Id. at p. 68:6-13. This was
documented in Dawson's September 2016 performance
evaluation. Doc. 21-3, p. 45.
second incident occurred in March 2017 when Blower asked
Dawson to distribute employees' health insurance cards to
their individual mailboxes. Doc. 23, pp. 79:8-23, 80:25-82:7.
To distribute the cards, Dawson put a note on the time clock
for the employees to see her to get their cards. Id.
at pp. 80:16-24. She left the note for employees because
there had been previous problems where items in mailboxes had
disappeared and she did not want the health cards to be
taken. Id. Blower talked to Jones about Dawson's
failure to follow directions. Id. at pp. 82:8-85:13.
When Jones spoke with Dawson regarding the insurance cards
and informed her to put the insurance cards into the
mailboxes, Dawson responded by stating, “do not say
anything to me if they -- if [the insurance cards] disappear
out of the mailboxes.” Doc. 23, pp. 84:4-85:23. Dawson
acknowledged that Jones had indicated Dawson raised her voice
with him when indicating that he should not blame her if the
insurance cards disappeared but did not recall raising her
own voice regarding that issue. Doc. 23, p. 8:14-23.
final incident occurred roughly a week later on March 22,
2017. Doc. 21-3, p. 48. Dawson was wearing headphones while
working at her desk. Id. Jones asked her to remove
the headphones. Id. Jones claims that Dawson was
argumentative after he asked her to remove her headphones.
Id. Dawson alleges that she had worn her headphones
while working many times before and no one had said anything
to her about it until that day. Doc. 23, p. 129:12-23. After
the headphone incident, Jones met with Dawson in his office
to discuss her behavior. Doc. 21-3, p. 48. Jones indicated in
a personnel file memo that Dawson continued to be
argumentative during the meeting. Id. Within the same
personnel file memo, Jones indicated that he told Dawson that
he “would not accept her argumentative insubordinate
behavior toward [him] or . . . Robert Blower, as she did one
week [prior] when he asked her to put staff medical cards in
their mailboxes [and] . .. [that] type of behavior reaches
the level of terminable.” Doc. 21-3, pp. 48. Dawson
did not recall Jones telling her the foregoing during the
March 22, 2017, meeting. Doc. 23, pp. 136:24-137:9.
Non-work related events and Jones's visits to
Non-work related events
her deposition, Dawson explained that around June of 2016,
Jones required that she assist with and attend non-work
related events. Doc. 23, pp. 115:19-116:10; 121:19-22;
124:11-125:5. The non-work related events were related to a
cause that Jones was involved with, i.e., the Howland Terrace
or Howland Home Reunion, and involved selling t-shirts for
that cause and attending the reunion. Doc. 23, pp.
Jones's visits to Dawson's house
July 2016, Jones appeared at Dawson's house on three
separate occasions. Doc. 30-2, pp. 5-7. On the first
occasion, Jones was driving by and saw Dawson working outside
so he stopped to talk to her. Id. The second and
third visits related to Dawson's request to Jones to
borrow NEOCAP's cornhole boards for a party she was
throwing. Id. Jones dropped the boards off and later
picked them up. Id. On all three occasions, Dawson
invited Jones inside and offered him a drink, to which Jones
said yes. Id. During one of these visits, Jones
explained to Dawson how he gets women who do not want to
sleep with him to change their minds. Id. Dawson
alleges that the sexually based conduct to which she was
subjected was Jones coming over to her house uninvited
because he was a married man and her superior and she was an
unmarried woman. Doc. 23, pp. 93:12-94:5.
March 27, 2017, Jones gave Dawson a written reprimand. Doc.
23, pp. 137:22-138:9, 138:23-139:5. The written reprimand
stated that it was a follow-up to a recent meeting they had
regarding Dawson's continuous argumentative insubordinate
behavior. Doc. 21-3, pp. 49. The reprimand also said that
Jones spoke with Dawson “many times regarding [her]
unacceptable behavior” over the course of her one year
of employment. Id. Dawson disagreed that Jones spoke
with her many times. Doc. 23, pp. 139:12-22. Additionally,
within the reprimand, Jones ordered Dawson to come in the
following day, March 28, 2017, with a plan to improve her
performance deficiencies. Doc. 21-3, pp. 49. It also advised
her that any “future acts of this nature will result in
disciplinary actions that may include suspension or
following day, Dawson had an improvement plan typed on her
computer. Doc. 23, pp. 146:2-24. When she arrived in the
office, she did not have time to print the plan off before
she was asked to meet with Jones, but she had some
hand-written notes that she grabbed to take into the meeting
with her. Id. at pp. 148:3-149:9. Kim Massary,
Director of Operations at NEOCAP, was also at the meeting.
Id. at pp. 149:15-17. Dawson claims that, when she
entered the conference room for the meeting, she relayed that
she had something she wanted to say and Jones responded that
it would be a waste of her breath and their time but to go
ahead and say it. Doc. 23, p. 149:20-24. At that point,
Dawson felt she was going to be fired so she opted not to go
over the plan she had on her paper and spoke directly to Ms.
Massary, explaining that she had followed the onboarding
procedure and that she did not understand why she
was being fired.Id. at pp. 149:24-150:9. In his
write-up of the incident, Jones alleges that Dawson failed to
present any plan to correct her behavior but instead said how
she was not the problem and that Jones was the problem.
Id. at pp. 145:13-23, 151:17-24; Doc. 23-1, p. 47.
Dawson was terminated after this meeting. Doc. 21-4, p. 1,
¶ 6; Doc. 23, pp. 155:12-19; Doc. 23-1, p. 47.
Decision by Unemployment Compensation Review
filed for unemployment compensation on March 29, 2017. Doc.
30-4, p. 52. Dawson's application for unemployment
compensation was initially denied based on a finding that she
was terminated for just cause. Doc. 24-2, pp. 1. Dawson then
filed an appeal on May 25, 2017. Id. The appeal was
granted by the Unemployment Compensation Review Commission
(UCRC). Id. at p. 2. The UCRC reasoned that, while
Dawson was in the meeting with Jones, “[her] attempt to
explain her position may have been argumentative and
warranted some type of discipline, it [did] not constitute
insubordination sufficient to warrant her immediate
discharge.” Id. Therefore, the UCRC determined
that Dawson was discharged without just cause so she was
entitled to unemployment compensation benefits. Id.