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Caimona v. Ohio Civil Service Employees Association

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

December 3, 2019




         This matter comes before the Court upon the Motion for Summary Judgment of Defendants Public Employees Representative Union Local 5 (“PERU”) and Jeff Freeman (“Freeman”) (collectively, the “Union Defendants”). (Doc. No. 48.) Plaintiff Joseph Caimona (“Caimona”) filed a brief in opposition to the Union Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment on May 29, 2019, to which the Union Defendants replied on June 13, 2019. (Doc. Nos. 53, 54.)

         Also, currently pending is the Motion for Summary Judgment of Defendants Ohio Civil Service Employees Association, AFSCME Local 11, AFL-CIO (“OCSEA”), Christopher Mabe (“Mabe”), Buffy Andrews (“Andrews”), and Douglas Sollitto (“Sollitto”) (collectively, the “OCSEA Defendants”). (Doc. No. 49.) Caimona filed a brief in opposition to the OCSEA Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment on May 29, 2019, to which the OCSEA Defendants replied on June 14, 2019. (Doc. Nos. 52, 55.)

         For the following reasons, the Union Defendants and the OCSEA Defendants' Motions for Summary Judgment (Doc. Nos. 48, 49) are GRANTED.

         I. Background

         a. Factual Background

         i. Caimona's Work History at OCSEA

         OCSEA is a statewide labor organization that represents public employees in various jobs in local and state government throughout Ohio. (Doc. No. 49-1 at ¶ 3.) PERU is a labor union representing the bargaining unit employees of OCSEA. OCSEA and PERU are parties to a collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”), which sets forth the terms and conditions of employment for PERU's members. (Id. at ¶ 4; Doc. No. 7-1.) Under the terms of the CBA, PERU “is recognized as the sole and exclusive representative for all regular full-time and part-time employees of [OCSEA] in the classifications of: . . . Staff Representative.” (Doc. No. 7-1 at 3.)

         On October 19, 2015, Caimona, an employee of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (“ODRC”), was temporarily assigned to OCSEA as a Project Staff employee under an agreement between OCSEA and the State of Ohio. (Doc. No. 49-1 at ¶¶ 5-6.) Under this agreement, Caimona remained employed by ODRC, and the State of Ohio continued to pay his salary and benefits, subject to reimbursement from OCSEA. (Id.) As Project Staff, Caimona was assigned to work on the AFSCME Strong Campaign, which was an effort focused on updating the list of active union members, increasing union membership, encouraging non-union employees to join and become members, and speaking to members about donating to the union's political action committee. (Doc. No. 49-3 at ¶ 6.) The position required Caimona to travel quite extensively throughout Ohio. (Id.) Although no party specifically addresses the issue, it appears that Caimona lived in Youngstown, Ohio while working for OCSEA. (See Doc. No. 52-1 at ¶ 2.)

         While assigned to the AFSCME Strong Campaign, from October 2015 to March 2016, Andrews was Caimona's supervisor. (Doc. No. 49-3 at ¶ 6.) Andrews works as an Operations Director for OCSEA. (Id. at ¶ 10.) In that capacity, and among her other duties, Andrews supervises eight Staff Representatives, including Sollitto. (Id.) Sollitto was Caimona's co-worker during Caimona's employment at OCSEA and never had any supervisory authority over Caimona. (Doc. No. 49-1 at ¶ 12.) Although Andrews supervises OCSEA employees, she does not have the authority to hire, fire, promote, reassign, or make any decisions that would result in a change of benefits for the OCSEA employees under her supervision. (Id. at ¶ 11.)

         On March 7, 2016, Caimona was hired as a full-time employee of OCSEA and ended his employment with the State of Ohio. (Id. at ¶ 7.) At this time, Caimona was placed under the primary supervision of Timothy Roberts (“Roberts”), OCSEA's Governmental Affairs Director. (Id.) As a full-time OCSEA employee, Caimona was assigned numerous duties, including work on the PEOPLE drive, which was focused on identifying current union members, updating union membership cards, meeting with members to ensure they remained committed to the union, and encouraging members to get involved in various forms of political action in support of union causes. (Id. at ¶ 8.)

         Pursuant to the terms of the CBA, Caimona served a probationary period during his first year of employment with OCSEA, including the time he held his temporary position. (See Doc. No. 7-1 at 9-10.) During this probationary period, any discipline or termination of Caimona would not be subject to the grievance procedure contained in the CBA. (Id. at 9.) Caimona's probationary period ended on October 19, 2016. (Doc. No. 46 at 70.)

         In January 2017, following the retirement of George Yerkes (“Yerkes”), Caimona was assigned to fill Yerkes' position as a Staff Representative, and as a result, came back under the direct supervision of Andrews. (Doc. No. 49-1 at ¶ 14.) Caimona's duties as a Staff Representative included assisting local chapters and their members with contract negotiations, grievances, handling individual member issues and complaints, preparing unfair labor practice charges, and other duties relating to monitoring and enforcing OCSEA's applicable collective bargaining agreements with local and state government employers. (Doc. No. 49-3 at ¶ 11.) Staff Representatives are assigned a geographical area to service, usually work out of their home, and are generally unsupervised. (Id.) As such, Staff Representatives are required to submit bi-weekly timesheets documenting and detailing the work they have performed during that period. (Id. at ¶ 12.) The timesheets of all Staff Representatives, as well as their monthly expense reports, are reviewed by an Operations Director. (Id.) Caimona acknowledged that one of Andrews' jobs was to review timesheets, and he agreed it is important that those timesheets be accurate. (Doc. No. 46 at 188.)

         ii. Caimona's Allegations of Sexual Harassment and Termination

         Caimona alleges that “[r]elatively quickly after he went to work with OCSEA in October of 2015, Andrews began attempting to isolate Caimona into awkward social situations and trying to insinuate herself upon him.” (Doc. No. 52 at 2; Doc. No. 53 at 2.) Caimona points to numerous incidents, which are discussed below, as evidence of Andrews' inappropriate actions.

         According to Caimona, in January 2016, while working in a conference room in OCSEA's office in Columbus, Andrews suggested that Caimona get a hotel room in Columbus for the night instead of driving back to Youngstown. (Doc. No. 46 at 146; Doc. No. 52-1 at ¶ 2.) After Caimona declined to get a hotel room, Andrews came around the table where they were working, and while leaning over the table to pick something up, deliberately “brushed her breasts” up against him. (Doc. No. 46 at 142-47; Doc. No. 52-1 at ¶ 2.) Andrews denies that this incident ever occurred. (Doc. No. 49-3 at ¶ 8.)

         On February 29, 2016, Andrews assigned Caimona to attend a meeting in Cincinnati, although other employees who lived much closer could have been assigned and the meeting lasted only twenty minutes. (Doc. No. 52-1 at ¶ 3.) Andrews suggested that Caimona stay overnight in Cincinnati, but Caimona again refused. (Id.) Similarly, in early March 2016, Andrews made Caimona travel to Reynoldsburg, a Columbus suburb, for a two-day meeting and recommended he get a hotel room. (Id. at ¶ 4.) Caimona declined and instead drove home in between the two days. (Id.) During this same time period, Andrews assigned Columbus-area employees to attend meetings in Canfield, an area very close to Caimona, and falsely claimed Caimona had turned down those assignments. (Id.) On March 30, 2016, Andrews also told Caimona he was going to be assigned work in Westerville, another Columbus suburb, and that it would involve overnight stays. (Id. at ¶ 5.)

         On March 31, 2016, Andrews saw Caimona walking to dinner after he had checked into his hotel room for the night on a work assignment at Lebanon Correctional Institution. Andrews suggested he wait, come to her room after she checked in, and then they could get dinner together. (Id. at ¶ 6; Doc. No. 46 at 153-54.) Caimona did not respond and instead continued to dinner by himself. (Doc. No. 46 at 153-54.) A couple of months later, on June 15, 2019, Andrews attended a Pick-a-Post meeting to which Caimona and Sollitto had been assigned. (Doc. No. 52-1 at ¶ 7.) According to Caimona, Sollitto told Caimona to either file an Equal Employment Opportunity (“EEO”) complaint or sleep with Andrews so she would leave everyone else alone, as Sollitto had never seen Andrews attend this type of meeting before and blamed her attendance on Caimona. (Id.) Specifically, Caimona alleges that Sollitto told him to “take one for the team.” (Doc. No. 46 at 32.)

         On July 12, 2016, Andrews asked Caimona to meet her at the Holiday Inn in Niles for negotiations with the Trumbull County Engineer's Office. (Id. at 160.) Caimona refused to attend the negotiations because he was not a lead on the contract negotiating team, and he believed any direct negotiations with the Trumbull County Engineer's Office would be an unfair labor practice because it had hired attorneys to represent it in negotiations. (Id. at 160-61.) Although the timing is somewhat unclear, at some point in July 2016, Caimona also overheard Andrews demanding that Mabe, the President of OCSEA, “probation remove” Caimona or she would quit her job. (Id. at 17.)

         In June or July 2016, Caimona reported Andrews' harassment to Mabe. (Id. at 171; Doc. No. 52-1 at ¶ 9.) Caimona appears to have met with Mabe at least twice, although the exact timing of these meetings is again unclear. According to Caimona, Mabe initially said he would take care of the issue, and when the harassment did not stop, assigned Caimona to a job in Columbus working on organizing union cards to get him away from Andrews. (Doc. No. 46 at 171-75; Doc. No. 52-1 at ¶ 9.) Caimona also claims that Mabe stated he should have fired Caimona and that he was considering abolishing Caimona's job so that Caimona could not say he was fired. (Doc. No. 46 at 93.) However, Mabe asserts that Caimona never told him that Andrews was sexually harassing him. (Doc. No. 49-2 at ¶ 3.)

         In the summer of 2016, Caimona also reported Andrews' harassment to two of PERU's officers, Freeman and Rusty Burkepile (“Burkepile”). (Doc. No. 52-1 at ¶ 12.) Freeman is the President of PERU, and Burkepile is the Vice President of PERU. (Doc. No. 48-16 at ¶ 2; Doc. No. 48-17 at ¶ 2.) Both serve on PERU's Executive Board. (Doc. No. 48-16 at ¶ 3; Doc. No. 48-17 at ¶ 3.) Caimona states that they told Caimona there was nothing they could do because he was still serving his probationary period. (Doc No. 52-1 at ¶ 12.) According to Caimona, Freeman and Burkepile called Andrews, Sollitto, and Mabe a “tripod” who would do anything to help each other out. (Id.)

         On August 8, 12, and 15, 2016, Caimona had meetings at the Trumbull County Engineer's Office, and Andrews asked Caimona to again meet her at the Holiday Inn in Niles regarding these meetings. (Doc. No. 52-1 at ¶ 10.) Caimona refused and instead went directly to the Trumbull County Engineer's Office. (Id.) Subsequently, Caimona asked his then-supervisor Roberts to remove him from the negotiating team for that contract, and Roberts acquiesced. (Id.) Then, on September 12, 2016, Yerkes asked Caimona to cover an election meeting for him, telling him Andrews had made the request. (Id. at ¶ 11.) The next day, Andrews came into the OCSEA offices in Columbus where Caimona was working, accused Caimona of “running around” in her areas, and demanded that Mabe fire Caimona or she would quit her job. (Id.)

         When Caimona's probationary period ended in mid-October 2016, the harassment stopped for a period of time. (Doc. No. 46 at 38.) However, after Caimona was assigned to take over the Staff Representative position for Yerkes, who was retiring, Sollitto warned Caimona that Andrews would try to get Caimona fired, likely using his timesheets, expense reports, or calendar to do so. (Id. at 39.) Subsequently, on January 2, 2019, Andrews told Caimona she was going to Warrensville to help Caimona with two interviews he had to conduct over the next couple of days and suggested that Caimona get a hotel room, but Caimona refused. (Doc. No. 52-1 at ¶ 14.) The next day, Andrews told Caimona about a former friend who had sex with Andrews' boyfriend. (Id. at ¶ 15.) Andrews said she retaliated by having sex with her boyfriend's best friend. (Id.) When Caimona commented disapprovingly, she stated that she was single then and could “screw anybody” she wanted, just like she was single now. (Doc. No. 46 at 162.) The following day, Andrews gave Caimona a key to the Warrensville OCSEA office and told him he could go there to use the computer or just hang out like Yerkes used to before he retired. (Doc. No. 52-1 at ¶ 16.) Caimona tried to refuse the key, but Andrews insisted he take it and stated he could go there anytime he wanted to work in private and that he could call her anytime he wanted her to meet him there. (Id.)

         In early February 2017, Andrews emailed Caimona regarding some concerns she had with one of his timesheets. (Doc. No. 49-3 at ¶ 13.) Caimona responded in an email by telling Andrews that she “needed to stop.” (Id.) Andrews then wrote that it was her duty to review Caimona's work and indicated that there would be an investigation. (Id. at Ex. 1.) Caimona contacted Burkepile regarding his dispute with Andrews and stated that he wanted to file a harassment grievance against her. (Doc. No. 48-16 at ¶¶ 5-7.) Caimona asserts that Freeman and Burkepile refused to file a grievance because of their concern regarding the closeness of Andrews, Mabe, and Sollitto. (Doc. No. 52-1 at ¶ 18.) However, Burkepile and Freeman claim that they met with Andrews on February 7, 2017 to discuss Caimona's timesheet and that they left the meeting believing the situation to have been addressed. (Doc. No. 48-16 at ¶ 8; Doc. No. 48-17 at ¶ 7.) Burkepile had agreed to show Caimona his timesheets in an effort to give Caimona an example on how to complete his own timesheet. (Doc. No. 48-16 at ¶ 8.)

         On February 8, 2017, Caimona called off from work due to stress. (Doc. No. 47 at 2.) Caimona then went on short-term disability and ultimately never returned to work. (Doc. No. 46 at 24; Doc. No. 49-1 at ¶ 15.) On April 27, 2017, OCSEA's Human Resources Manager, Sharon Brady (“Brady”), sent Caimona an email asking if he was returning to work on May 1, 2017, as she had been led to believe. (Doc. No. 49-1 at ¶¶ 2, 21-22.) Caimona replied the same day stating he would not be returning to work on May 1, but instead would be off until June 5, 2017. (Id. at ¶ 22.) On June 1, 2017, Brady received a letter from Prudential Insurance Company of America (“Prudential”), OCSEA's disability insurance provider, informing her that Caimona's short-term disability benefits had ended effective May 1, 2017. (Id. at ¶ 23.) As a result, on June 2, 2017, Brady sent a letter to Caimona via email, as well as certified mail, informing him that he needed to report back to work on Tuesday, June 6, 2017, and that his failure to do so could result in his removal. (Id. at ¶ 24.) Caimona then contacted Prudential, who stated that his claim for short-term disability was not closed, but that it was awaiting further information before his claim could be extended past May 1, 2017 and that his physician's request to extend his leave to July 11, 2017 had been forwarded to OCSEA. (Doc. No. 52-1 at ¶ 19.) Caimona also claims that he left a voicemail for Brady stating he would not be back until July 2017. (Id.; Doc. No. 46 at 218.) Brady disputes this and asserts that Caimona did not respond to Brady's email or have any further communication with anyone at OCSEA about the status of his employment. (Doc. No. 49-1 at ¶ 25.) After Caimona did not report to work on June 6, 2017, Brady met with OCSEA's Chief of Staff, Kelly Phillips, and they recommended that Caimona be terminated due to his failure to report to work as he was directed, as well as his failure to provide any explanation as to why he was not returning. (Id. at ¶¶ 25-26.) Mabe approved their recommendation. (Id. at ¶ 26.) In a letter and email dated June 13, 2017, Brady informed Caimona that his employment with OCSEA had been terminated for those reasons. (Id. at ¶ 27.)

         On June 16, 2017, Caimona requested that a grievance be filed on his behalf, and Freeman assigned PERU Chief Steward Jennie Lewis (“Lewis”) to his grievance. (Doc. No. 48-15 at ¶ 3; Doc. No. 48-17 at ¶¶ 8-9.) A couple days later, on June 19, 2017, Lewis filed a grievance on Caimona's behalf. (Doc. No. 47 at 4; Doc. No. 47-5.) She also contacted Brady and requested all documentation supporting OCSEA's decision to terminate Caimona. (Doc. No. 48-4.) Brady responded on July 5, 2017 with a set of documents, which Lewis reviewed. (Doc. No. 48-5; Doc. No. 48-15 at ¶ 8.) In addition, Freeman requested that Caimona provide Lewis with any evidence he had that would support his “claim of a hostile work place, threats and bullying, ” but Caimona responded to the request by writing “why are you asking me about the harassment, this grievance is about me being removed from my employment for not returning to work on June 5, 2017.” (Doc. No. 47 at 4.) Instead, Caimona's response focused on his argument that OCSEA's Employee Handbook specifies that after being out more than five consecutive days, employees must supply a Return to Work slip from their doctor before they will be permitted to return to work, and Caimona had not been released to return to work by his treating physicians. (Doc. No. 47-1 at 23; Doc. No. 48-6.)

         Pursuant to the CBA, a Step 3 hearing on Caimona's grievance took place on July 17, 2017. (Doc. No. 48-15 at ¶ 10.) At the hearing, Lewis argued on Caimona's behalf that his discharge was without just cause in violation of Article 16 of the CBA, that his disability had been extended to July 11, 2017, and that his doctor had explained that fact to ...

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