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Huard v. Kennebec County

United States District Court, D. Maine

March 19, 2019

KENNEBEC COUNTY, et al., Defendants.



         This case is one of three related cases brought by former female corrections officers against Kennebec County and multiple employees of Kennebec County alleging various discriminatory and illegal practices at the Kennebec County Correctional Facility. While this case originally included the claims of all three plaintiffs, the Court ordered the claims of the three plaintiffs severed after the close of discovery. (See Order on Mot. to Sever (ECF No. 56).)

         Now before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings and for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 70). For reasons explained herein, the Court GRANTS IN PART AND DENIES IN PART the Motion.


         Before the Court turns its attention to Defendants' arguments for summary judgment, the Court considers two discrete issues for which Defendants seek judgment on the pleadings in accordance with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). In considering these arguments, the Court has reviewed Plaintiff's Amended Complaint (ECF No. 3) and accepted all of her “well-pleaded factual averments” and drawn “all reasonable inferences in her favor.” Feliciano v. Rhode Island, 160 F.3d 780, 788 (1st Cir. 1998). The Court recognizes at the outset that judgment on the pleadings may be entered where the complaint fails to “contain sufficient factual matter to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Grajales v. Puerto Rico Ports Auth., 682 F.3d 40, 44 (1st Cir. 2012) (internal citations omitted). Indeed, “[t]o cross the plausibility threshold a claim does not need to be probable, but it must give rise to more than a mere possibility of liability.” Id. at 44-45.

         First, the individual Defendants[1] seek judgment on the employment discrimination claims that remain pending against them (Counts I, II, VIII, IX & X)[2] arguing that there is no individual liability under the respective federal and state statutes. On this point, the Court agrees with Defendants. The First Circuit has clearly held that “there is no individual employee liability under Title VII.” Fantini v. Salem State Coll., 557 F.3d 22, 30 (1st Cir. 2009). Likewise, the First Circuit has applied the same holding to the ADA. See Roman-Oliveras v. Puerto Rico Elec. Power Auth., 655 F.3d 43, 52 (1st Cir. 2011) (holding that “Title I of the ADA, like Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, addresses the conduct of employers only and does not impose liability on co-workers”) (internal quotation and citation omitted).

         With respect to Maine's companion state statute, the Maine Human Rights Act (“MHRA”), 5 M.R.S.A. § 4551 et seq., this Court has previously held, “there is no individual liability under the MHRA.” Charette v. St. John Valley Soil & Water Conservation Dist., No. 1:17-CV-35-GZS, 2017 WL 2683951, at *12 (D. Me. June 20, 2017) (discussing Fuhrmann v. Staples Office Superstore East, Inc., 58 A.3d 1083 (Me. 2012)). While Plaintiff has cited a 2013 guidance memorandum from the Maine Human Rights Commission[3] as offering support for individual liability after Fuhrmann, the Court does not believe this memo can override the clear case law that supports judgment as a matter of law in favor of the individual Defendants named in this case. See, e.g., United States ex rel. Worthy v. E. Maine Healthcare Sys., No. 14-cv-00184-JAW, 2017 WL 211609, at *32 (D. Me. Jan. 18, 2017) (concluding that “only an employer can be liable” for employment discrimination and whistleblowing retaliation); Fisk v. Mid Coast Presbyterian Church, No. 16-cv-00490-JDL, 2017 WL 1755950, at *4-5 (D. Me. May 4, 2017).[4] Thus, the Court concludes that each individual Defendant is entitled to judgment on the pleadings as to Plaintiff's statutory employment discrimination claims (Counts I, II, VIII, IX & X).

         Next, Defendants seek judgment on the pleadings as to Count XVI, which Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint describes as “criminal liability of Kennebec County, Kennebec County Sheriff's Office and its Corrections Division, Kennebec County Correction Facility, Kennebec County Commissioners and Kennebec County Administrator” and cites 17-A M.R.S.A. § 60. (First Am. Compl. (ECF No. 3), PageID # 145). As framed, this Count fails to state a claim upon which Plaintiff could recover any relief in the context of this civil case. See, e.g., Larrabee v. Penobscot Frozen Foods, Inc., 486 A.2d 97, 101 (Me. 1984). To the extent Plaintiff has argued that Count XVI should be read to state a plausible civil RICO claim, the Court notes that Plaintiff's civil RICO claims are captured in Counts XIII-XV.

         Therefore, the Court grants Defendants' request for judgment on the pleadings as to all Defendants on Count XVI and as to the individually named Defendants on Counts I, II, VIII, IX & X. The Court next considers Defendants' request for summary judgment on Plaintiff's remaining claims.


         A. Legal Standard

         Generally, a party is entitled to summary judgment if, on the record before the Court, it appears “that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “[T]he mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). An issue is “genuine” if “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id. at 248. A “material fact” is one that has “the potential to affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable law.” Nereida-Gonzalez v. Tirado-Delgado, 990 F.2d 701, 703 (1st Cir. 1993).

         The party moving for summary judgment must demonstrate an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). In determining whether this burden is met, the Court must view the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences in its favor. See Santoni v. Potter, 369 F.3d 594, 598 (1st Cir. 2004).

         Once the moving party has made this preliminary showing, the nonmoving party must “produce specific facts, in suitable evidentiary form, to establish the presence of a trialworthy issue.” Triangle Trading Co., Inc. v. Robroy Indus., Inc., 200 F.3d 1, 2 (1st Cir. 1999) (quotation marks and internal ellipsis omitted); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e). “Mere allegations, or conjecture unsupported in the record, are insufficient.” Barros-Villahermosa v. United States, 642 F.3d 56, 58 (1st Cir. 2011) (quoting Rivera-Marcano v. Normeat Royal Dane Quality A/S, 998 F.2d 34, 37 (1st Cir. 1993)); see also Wilson v. Moulison N. Corp., 639 F.3d 1, 6 (1st Cir. 2011) (“A properly supported summary judgment motion cannot be defeated by conclusory allegations, improbable inferences, periphrastic circumlocutions, or rank speculation.”). “As to any essential factual element of its claim on which the nonmovant would bear the burden of proof at trial, its failure to come forward with sufficient evidence to generate a trialworthy issue warrants summary judgment for the moving party.” In re Ralar Distribs., Inc., 4 F.3d 62, 67 (1st Cir. 1993). “However, summary judgment is improper when the record is sufficiently open-ended to permit a rational factfinder to resolve a material factual dispute in favor of either side.” Morales-Melecio v. United States (Dep't of Health and Human Servs.), 890 F.3d 361, 368 (1st Cir. 2018) (quotation marks omitted).

         B. Factual Background[5]

         Defendant Kennebec County[6] is ultimately overseen by three elected county commissioners, Patsy Crockett, Nancy Rines, and George Jabar, each of whom is named as a Defendant in this case in both their individual and official capacities. The County Commissioners promulgate and amend the Kennebec County Administrative Regulations, which serve as the internal policies for the county. The day-to-day administration of Kennebec County is handled by County Administrator Bob Devlin and Human Resources Manager Terry York, both of whom are likewise named as individual Defendants in this case.

         Defendant Kennebec County Sheriff's Office operates as a department within the county government run by an elected Sheriff. From January 2007 until September 2015, Defendant Randall Liberty was the Kennebec County Sheriff. Upon Liberty's departure, Defendant Ryan Reardon was promoted to the position of interim sheriff. Prior to that promotion, Reardon, who began working for Kennebec County in January 2007, spent approximately two years as chief deputy and approximately two years as the assistant corrections administrator.

         Within the Sheriff's Office, there is a Corrections Division that operates the county jail, also known as the Kennebec County Correctional Facility (“KCCF”). Various KCCF employees make up the remainder of the individually named Defendants in this case, including:

• Marsha Alexander, who began working for Kennebec County in 1998, and worked as the assistant corrections administrator from May 2006 until August 2011, and then the jail administrator from August 2011 until March 2017.
• Laura Briggs, who began working for Kennebec County in September 2003 and was promoted to a corporal in February of 2012, then to a sergeant in November 2013, then a staff sergeant in August 2015, and a lieutenant in October 2016. Briggs left her employment with Kennebec County on January 6, 2017.
• Calista Campbell, who began working for Kennebec County as a clerical specialist in November 2010. Campbell was promoted to staff sergeant in February 2013 and then again promoted to assistant corrections administrator in January 2014.
• Jessica Quinn, who was hired as a clerical specialist at KCCF in July 2011. Quinn then became a part-time corrections officer in November 2012. In March 2016, she became the KCCF programs director.
• Dan Cyr, who was employed as a sergeant at KCCF from July 2011 through August 2016.

         Plaintiff Deborah Huard worked for Defendant Kennebec County for approximately 25 years.[7] She began working in Kennebec County's corrections department in 1989. For approximately twenty years of her tenure, Huard had the rank of a staff sergeant. As Staff Sergeant, Huard had a deep loyalty for Kennebec County and was committed to serving the County, its citizens, and its Sheriff. For the period relevant to this case, Huard was also a member of the union. As a member of the union, Huard was subject to the Collective Bargaining Agreement between Kennebec County and the National Correctional Employees Union (hereinafter, “CBA”), which provides covered employees certain rights regarding discipline and discharge. (See CBA (ECF No. 75-31), PageID #s 754-55.) Under the CBA grievance procedure, aggrieved employees must pursue a grievance first with the correctional facility administrator, and can thereafter bring their grievance to the County Commissioners. If the Union finds the Commissioners' decision unacceptable, it may also seek to arbitrate the grievance before the Maine Board of Arbitration and Conciliation.

         In 2007, Huard moved from the position of training sergeant to compliance manager. In her performance appraisal for the first half of 2008, Alexander favorably highlighted Huard's work as a compliance manager noting that she “designed an efficient ‘tabbing system' for compliance folders.” (Pl. Ex. 14 (ECF No. 75-23), PageID # 699.) It was further noted that the Department of Corrections Monitor had “complimented [Huard] on this efficient process” and “referred other agencies to [her] for guidance.” (Id.)

         Huard again received a strong performance appraisal from Alexander for the period of July 1, 2010 through June 30, 2011. Alexander described Huard as a “steadfast employee” who took “great pride in the thoroughness of the compliance folders, ” made “methodical decisions concerning issues and problems, ” and utilized “effective communication skills when dealing with the public, inmates, or staff.” (Id. at PageID #s 704-05.) Huard's noted performance strengths included “communication skills, ” “team player, ” and “dedicated employee.” (Id. at PageID # 707.) This appraisal also noted that Huard was both the Union Shop Steward and served as a substitute assistant corrections administrator.


         In 2011, there were leadership changes at KCCF. As noted in the Command Staff Meeting Minutes for October 4, 2011, Captain Alexander and Lieutenant Reardon had both been promoted into new roles and were “establishing a ‘new normal' for the jail.” (Pl. Ex. 16 (ECF No. 75-25), PageID # 729.) According to at least one other employee, once Alexander became the jail administrator, she “was running the show” inside KCCF with “limited supervision.” (Morin Dep. (ECF No. 75-7), PageID # 635.) Alexander, in turn, maintained personal friendships with Briggs, Campbell, and Quinn, all of whom were heterosexual. Because of these friendships, other employees viewed all four women (Alexander, Briggs, Campbell & Quinn) as having “certain perks” as well as the ability to influence how the facility was run. (Heavey-Morin Dep. (ECF No. 75-9), PageID # 647.) However, many other KCCF employees were “worried about their jobs” and “the number and the constant investigations that were going on.” (Morin Dep. (ECF No. 75-7), PageID # 634.)


         The change in KCCF leadership was reflected in Huard's January 17, 2012 Performance Appraisal, which covered the period of July 1, 2011 through December 31, 2011. For this appraisal, Huard's performance was rated by Reardon and then reviewed by Alexander. This Appraisal described Huard as a “dedicated employee.” However, the Appraisal also noted that some of Huard's compliance work was deemed “unorganized” and in need of attention during a recent inspection by Maine Department of Corrections (“MDOC”). (Pl. Ex. 14 (ECF No. 75-23), PageID #s 711-12.)

         The compliance inspection referenced in this performance appraisal was Huard's second inspection and Reardon's first inspection. In fact, Reardon had no knowledge of the inspection process prior to his promotion to Lieutenant in September 2011. To prepare for her second inspection, Huard had placed the previously reviewed documents from the first inspection behind the new documents. Huard had been advised to organize the documents in this order by Tim Piekart of MDOC.[8] Ultimately, the consequence of this placement was that it took approximately five minutes for the compliance inspector to review the files instead of the traditional two minutes. Huard contacted Piekart again after the inspection and inquired again about the documentation for the first inspection. Piekart again stated that in accordance with the training he had received, the older documents should be placed in the back of the subsequent inspection documents.

         Huard advised Reardon of her conversation with Piekart. However, Reardon maintained that the documents were organized improperly. He stated to Huard on multiple occasions that because these folders needed attention, there was a risk of the jail losing its license. Based on her five years of experience as Compliance Manager, Huard disagreed with Reardon's statement regarding this risk.

         As noted in the minutes of the January 24, 2012 Command Staff meeting, Reardon did not “have confidence in assigning the ACA accreditation compliance responsibility to SSgt. Huard.” (Pl. Ex. 16 (ECF No. 75-25), PageID # 731.) Rather, the Command Staff discussed “reassignment options for SSgt. Huard, ” including “having [Huard] work . . . to process and organize the evidence room, having full responsibility, without the support of clerical or other staff to assist in paperwork or computer tasks . . . Lt. Reardon would also have her responsible for shift schedules . . . and remove her from the Chain of Command during after-hours.” (Id.) The minutes of the next Command Staff meeting on February 7, 2012 reflect continuing concerns about Huard's performance with Sheriff Liberty acknowledging that “SSgt. Huard is failing in her position but would like to make an honorable offer to step down . . . relinquish the staff sergeant responsibilities.” (Id. at PageID # 733.) At the April 24, 2012 Command Staff Meeting, the issue of moving Huard to a training position was discussed. Because the position did not require a staff sergeant (Huard's current rank), Sheriff Liberty expressed his preference that Huard be voluntarily demoted before any move into a training position, but he ultimately suggested that “more discussion is required about the SSgt and Training positions.” (Id. at PageID # 735.)

         Huard had no idea that beginning January 2012 the command staff was discussing that she was failing in her position as Staff Sergeant. However, by early 2012, Huard learned of bible study meetings being held on County property during the noon hour. Huard complained to Alexander that this was inappropriate and that it did not belong in the workplace and made her uncomfortable.

         In September 2012, Reardon told another KCCF employee that that he just needed to get Huard through the next two years until she retires.[9] Huard had no plan to retire when the conversation took place. Also, some time in 2012 or 2013, another lesbian employee overheard Lieutenant Ryan Reardon say he was “going to get rid of all lesbians.”[10] (Dumas. Dep. (ECF No. 75-4), PageID # 616.)

         On October 10, 2012, Huard was terminated for “failing to effectively implement a directive.” But, she then returned to work in December 2012 after the union negotiated a resolution to her disputed termination that recharacterized the time off as a “suspension” with “all lost wages restored.” (Def. SMF (ECF No. 71), Page ID # 464.) As part of that resolution, Huard resigned her staff sergeant position effective December 7, 2012. Huard was no longer the compliance manager and returned to work “as a corrections officer with the seniority ...

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