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Caudill v. Kennebec County

United States District Court, D. Maine

March 19, 2019

CHERI CAUDILL, Plaintiff,
v.
KENNEBEC COUNTY, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER ON PENDING MOTIONS

          GEORGE Z. SINGAL, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         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 originally brought as one case, Huard v. Kennebec County et al., D. Me. Docket No. 1:16-cv-00473-GZS, the Court ordered the claims of the three plaintiffs severed after the close of discovery. Now before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings and for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 11) and Plaintiff's Motion to File Corrected Pleadings (ECF No. 21). For reasons explained herein, the Court GRANTS Defendants' Motion and GRANTS IN PART AND DENIES IN PART Plaintiff's Motion.

         I. MOTION FOR JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS

         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. 1) 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 Plaintiff's employment discrimination claims (Counts VII-X) 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).

         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[2] 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 whistle-blowing retaliation); Fisk v. Mid Coast Presbyterian Church, No. 16-cv-00490-JDL, 2017 WL 1755950, at *4-5 (D. Me. May 4, 2017). Thus, the Court concludes that each individual Defendant is entitled to judgment on the pleadings as to Plaintiff's statutory employment discrimination claims (Counts VII-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, a state statute that defines when an organization may be found guilty of a crime. (First Am. Compl. (ECF No. 1), PageID # 85). 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 that Plaintiff has argued that Count XVI should be read to state a plausible civil RICO claim, the Court notes that Plaintiff's 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 VII-X. The Court next considers Defendants' request for summary judgment on Plaintiff's remaining claims.

         II. MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

         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

         Defendant Kennebec County[3] 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 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. The County Commissioners promulgate and amend the Kennebec County Administrative Regulations, which serve as the internal policies for the county.

         Defendant Kennebec County Sheriff's Office operates as a department within the county government run by an elected Sheriff. During the time period relevant to this case, Defendant Randall Liberty was the Kennebec County Sheriff and Defendant Ryan Reardon served as his Chief Deputy. 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, Laura Briggs, Calista Campbell, and Dan Cyr. During the time period relevant to this case, all KCCF employees were required to follow the rules laid out in the KCCF Policy & Procedures Manual, which was subject to annual review and revision.

         Plaintiff Cheri Caudill was employed at KCCF from March 18, 2013 until September 17, 2014. Caudill was not a member of the union during this term of employment and did not otherwise have a written employment contract with Kennebec County.[4] She was initially hired as a Clerical Specialist for the Corrections Division of the Kennebec County Sheriff's Office. In this position, she served as one of four mail clerks at the KCCF. The other three mail clerks were: Jessica Quinn, Darlene Wallace, and Amanda Morgan. Quinn and Caudill were full-time, and Wallace and Morgan were part-time employees.

         As a Clerical Specialist, Caudill's immediate supervisor was Louis Schimke. Schimke chose Quinn to be Caudill's field training officer because Quinn was the only other full-time mail clerk and she knew the job duties of the position Caudill was filing. Despite her role in training Caudill, Quinn was Caudill's co-worker, not her supervisor.

         When she began working for Kennebec County, Caudill was invited to eat lunch with her co-workers, including Quinn. Quinn maintained friendships with multiple other female employees at the jail, including a longstanding personal friendship with Lieutenant Calista Campbell that predated their working relationship. Campbell and Quinn were also friends with Captain Marsha Alexander and Sergeant Laura Briggs. 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. 13-25), PageID # 398.) According to at least one other employee, “Marsha Alexander was running the show” inside the jail during this time period with “limited supervision.” (Morin Dep. (ECF No. 13-28), PageID # 483.) On several occasions early in Caudill's employment, Briggs, Quinn and Campbell invited Caudill to accompany them on off-duty social gatherings and requested that they exchange cell phone numbers.

         On November 4, 2013, Caudill began training for the corrections officer certification. Caudill's same gendered partner, Heather Roesger, was also enrolled in training for corrections officer certification during this time. Given their relationship, Schimke told Caudill and Roesger to make sure they weren't taking breaks together and they were keeping everything separate. They were also told that any time they were training together or working the same shift, they had to work different floors. Caudill and her partner complied with these directives.

         In early November 2013, Campbell asked the Sheriff's Office of Professional Review (“OPR”) to investigate whether Caudill may have violated certain rules related to the handling of inmate mail. Caudill cooperated with this investigation and answered questions. Ultimately, the allegations were determined to be “unfounded” and the OPR investigation was closed. (Pl. Ex. 4 (ECF No. 13-4), PageID #s 298-303.)

         By December 2013, about a month into her corrections officer training, it became known to various employees, including Quinn, that Caudill was in a relationship with a woman. Prior to that time, Caudill had heard Jessica Quinn make a comment that one lesbian couple was going to make gay babies. In the same timeframe, Caudill heard Quinn make a comment that another lesbian co-worker adopted a crack baby because she couldn't have her own. (See Caudill Dep. (ECF No. 12-9), PageID #s 208-09.) Against this backdrop, Caudill viewed some of her co-workers as homophobic. Caudill was not alone in this view, sometime in 2012 or 2013, another lesbian employee overheard Lieutenant Ryan Reardon say ...


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