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Feagans v. Carnahan

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Terre Haute Division

December 13, 2016

JOYCE E. FEAGANS, Plaintiff,
v.
J. DIRK CARNAHAN Individually and in his official capacity as Knox County Prosecutor, Defendant.

          ORDER

          Hon. Jane Magnus-Stinson, Chief Judge

         This case involves a series of disputes arising in the employment and wage context. Plaintiff Joyce Feagans served as the Title IV-D child support administrator of the Knox County prosecutor's office from 1988 through 2015. After suffering an accidental fall causing severe injuries, Ms. Feagans exercised her right to take leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”). When she returned from leave, newly-elected prosecutor Dirk Carnahan reassigned Ms. Feagans to the position of office receptionist, and ultimately terminated Ms. Feagans' employment. Ms. Feagans alleges that these constituted adverse employment actions, made in violation of her rights under the FMLA. She also alleges that the adverse actions were made on the basis of her age, in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”), 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. She also alleges that Mr. Carnahan failed to pay her for a portion of her hours worked, in violation of the Indiana Wage Claims Act (“IWCA”).

         Presently pending before the Court are cross-motions for summary judgment. Ms. Feagans has moved for summary judgment on her FMLA interference claim and for partial summary judgment (liability only) on her IWCA claim. Mr. Carnahan has cross-moved for summary judgment on all claims. As discussed below, the Court DENIES both parties' motions for summary judgment on the FMLA, ADEA, and Section 1983 claims, GRANTS Ms. Feagans' motion for partial summary judgment as to IWCA liability, and DENIES summary judgment on all other claims.

         I.

         Standard of Review

         A motion for summary judgment asks the Court to find that a trial is unnecessary because there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and, instead, the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). As the current version of Rule 56 makes clear, whether a party asserts that a fact is undisputed or genuinely disputed, the party must support the asserted fact by citing to particular parts of the record, including depositions, documents, or affidavits. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A). A party can also support a fact by showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute or that the adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(B). Affidavits or declarations must be made on personal knowledge, set out facts that would be admissible in evidence, and show that the affiant is competent to testify on matters stated. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(4). Failure to properly support a fact in opposition to a movant's factual assertion can result in the movant's fact being considered undisputed, and potentially in the grant of summary judgment. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e).

         In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the Court need only consider disputed facts that are material to the decision. A disputed fact is material if it might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law. Hampton v. Ford Motor Co., 561 F.3d 709, 713 (7th Cir. 2009). Fact disputes that are irrelevant to the legal question will not be considered. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

         On summary judgment, a party must show the Court what evidence it has that would convince a trier of fact to accept its version of the events. Johnson v. Cambridge Indus., 325 F.3d 892, 901 (7th Cir. 2003). The moving party is entitled to summary judgment if no reasonable fact-finder could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Nelson v. Miller, 570 F.3d 868, 875 (7th Cir. 2009). The Court views the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draws all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Darst v. Interstate Brands Corp., 512 F.3d 903, 907 (7th Cir. 2008). It cannot weigh evidence or make credibility determinations on summary judgment, because those tasks are left to the fact-finder. O'Leary v. Accretive Health, Inc., 657 F.3d 625, 630 (7th Cir. 2011). The Court need only consider the cited materials, Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3), and the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has “repeatedly assured the district courts that they are not required to scour every inch of the record for evidence that is potentially relevant to the summary judgment motion before them, ” Johnson, 325 F.3d at 898. Any doubt as to the existence of a genuine issue for trial is resolved against the moving party. Ponsetti v. GE Pension Plan, 614 F.3d 684, 691 (7th Cir. 2010).

         “The existence of cross-motions for summary judgment does not, however, imply that there are no genuine issues of material fact.” R.J. Corman Derailment Servs., LLC v. Int'l Union of Operating Engineers, 335 F.3d 643, 647 (7th Cir. 2003). Specifically, “[p]arties have different burdens of proof with respect to particular facts; different legal theories will have an effect on which facts are material; and the process of taking the facts in the light most favorable to the non-movant, first for one side and then for the other, may highlight the point that neither side has enough to prevail without a trial.” Id. at 648.

         II.

         Statement of Facts

         A. Employment History

         Ms. Feagans began her employment with the Knox County prosecutor's office in 1988 as the Title IV-D child support administrator and served in that position under five elected prosecutors. [Filing No. 52-7 at 1; Filing No. 52-7 at 10; Filing No. 52-7 at 12.] She was still employed as administrator on December 30, 2014, when she suffered an accidental fall. [Filing No. 52-7 at 5.] As a result of that accident, Ms. Feagans sustained serious injuries, including a traumatic head injury and multiple skull fractures. [Filing No. 52-3 at 2.] She applied for and was granted leave under the FMLA and was on leave from December 30, 2014 until March 16, 2015, when she was medically released to return to work. [Filing No. 52-8 at 1; Filing No. 52-3 at 3.] Ms. Feagans was 64 years old at the time that the relevant events took place. [Filing No. 59-7 at 15.] She testified that she was the oldest non-attorney employee of the prosecutor's office. [Filing No. 57-2 at 23.]

         Mr. Carnahan was elected prosecutor of Knox County in November of 2014. [Filing No. 52-9 at 2-3.] That month, before taking office, and before Ms. Feagans went on leave, Mr. Carnahan held a meeting with the prosecutor's office staff. [Filing No. 57-3 at 48; Filing No. 57-2 at 22.] Ms. Feagans attended that meeting, and she asserts that Mr. Carnahan asked her “how long [she] planned on working.” [Filing No. 57-2 at 27.] She responded that she had “no reason to retire.” [Filing No. 57-2 at 27.] Mr. Carnahan then asked if she “was going to retire, ” to which she responded that she was not. [Filing No. 57-2 at 27.] According to Ms. Feagans, Mr. Carnahan did not ask any of the other attendees about their retirement plans. [Filing No. 57-2 at 23.] Mr. Carnahan denies having asked Ms. Feagans about retirement, how long she intended to work, or about her age. [Filing No. 57-3 at 50.]

         Mr. Carnahan took office in January of 2015 and officially became Ms. Feagans' supervisor. [Filing No. 57-2 at 10.] At all relevant times, Mr. Carnahan had the authority to hire, fire, assign, and reassign duties of employees within the prosecutor's office. [Filing No. 57-3 at 23-24.] While Ms. Feagans was on leave, Mr. Carnahan assigned Kaylee Steele, who had previously worked as the child support paralegal, to serve in the role of child support administrator. [Filing No. 57-3 at 90-91.] Samanetha Thomas, who was the office's receptionist, began assisting in some of the child support paralegal responsibilities. [Filing No. 57-3 at 99-100.] According to Mr. Carnahan, he did not intend for Ms. Steele's reassignment of duties to be permanent. [Filing No. 57-3 at 130.]

         During Ms. Feagans' absence, Mr. Carnahan implemented several changes to the manner in which child support cases were managed and processed. [Filing No. 57-3 at 72; Filing No. 57-2 at 24.] As those changes were implemented, and as Ms. Steele and Ms. Thomas continued processing cases previously assigned to Ms. Feagans, they reported that they had discovered numerous errors made by Ms. Feagans in calculating child support obligations. [Filing No. 57-3 at 124-26; Filing No. 57-6.] They reported those errors in emails to Mr. Carnahan and Deputy Prosecutor Monica Gilmore. [Filing No. 57-6.] According to Ms. Feagans, IV-D staff routinely caught mistakes made by one another. [Filing No. 57-2 at 34.] When mistakes were uncovered, they would correct them and move on. [Filing No. 57-2 at 34.]

         On February 24, 2015, Ms. Gilmore sent an email to Mr. Carnahan stating, in relevant part:

I've heard there is a possibility that Joyce will be released this week to return to work. We can only have one CSA in the IV-D office. Joyce was the CSA before her medical leave, and we made Kaylee the CSA in her absence. My preference is to keep Kaylee as CSA.…

[Filing No. 52-5.] Mr. Carnahan responded, “I agree with you. Still not sure if/when or in what position Joyce may return. I want to keep the progress you have started going forward.” [Filing No. 52-5.] Also on February 24, Ms. Thomas sent an email to Mr. Carnahan stating, in relevant part:

Rumor has it that Joyce is coming back in the next week or two as long as the doctor says it is ok. If this is true I was just wanting to know if I was still moving to Child Support and if I needed to continue training or not? Please let me know when u have time.…

[Filing No. 59-1.] Mr. Carnahan responded, “Continue training. When there is any news about Joyce I will let you know immediately.” [Filing No. 59-1.]

         After being cleared by her physician to resume work, Ms. Feagans returned to the prosecutor's office on March 16, 2015. [Filing No. 57-2 at 13]. She arrived at around 7 a.m. and proceeded to her office. [Filing No. 57-2 at 19-21.] She found stacks of files covering her desk, floor, and chairs, and she began sorting the files. [Filing No. 57-2 at 16-17.] At some point during the day, Ms. Feagans was made aware of the changes to the office's case management protocol. [Filing No. 57-3 at 72.]

         From here, the parties' accounts of the day's events diverge. According to Mr. Carnahan, before he arrived in the office, he received a phone call reporting that Ms. Feagans was cursing at coworkers, yelling, and throwing objects in her office. [Filing No. 57-3 at 67-68.] Ms. Feagans caused the Title IV-D regional director to storm out, in tears, stating that she would never return as long as Ms. Feagans was in the office. [Filing No. 57-3 at 67.] Ms. Steele was also crying and “ready to quit.” [Filing No. 57-3 at 71.] Ms. Feagans also refused to work or to implement the new case management protocol. [Filing No. 57-3 at 67; Filing No. 57-3 at 71.] After arriving at the office, Mr. Carnahan spoke to Ms. Feagans, who stated that she had not engaged in the behavior reported, and that “everyone was making that up.” [Filing No. 57-3 at 71.] According to Mr. Carnahan, Ms. Feagans indicated that she would not implement the case management changes, but that she would “try to get along better or something to that effect.” [Filing No. 57-3 at 71.]

         Ms. Feagans disputes Mr. Carnahan's account. While she acknowledges that she was not happy with the case management changes that had been made, she asserts that she did not raise her voice when speaking about them. [Filing No. 57-2 at 25; Filing No. 57-2 at 51.] She also denies cursing at Ms. Steele, or making her cry. [Filing No. 57-2 at 52-54.] Ms. Feagans asserts that she is not aware of having upset anyone at the prosecutor's office and would be surprised to learn that someone said that she had. [Filing No. 57-2 at 54.] She also states that she was not aware of having had any conflicts with outside state employees with whom she interacted. [Filing No. 57-2 at 36.]

         The parties disagree regarding the timing, but at some point during that afternoon, Mr. Carnahan informed Ms. Feagans that she was being removed from her position as the Title IV-D child support administrator and was being reassigned to a position as the office's receptionist. [Filing No. 57-3 at 66-67; Filing No. 57-2 at 23-24.] According to Mr. Carnahan, he informed Ms. Feagans that “her attitude was not acceptable, that it was not working and that [they] were going to attempt to move her to a different position.” [Filing No. 57-3 at 67-68.] By Ms. Feagans' account, Mr. Carnahan said, “he knew [she] was going to be retiring, and that [she] had permanent brain damage, and he was going to move [her] into the receptionist position starting the next day.” [Filing No. 57-2 at 21.] Ms. Steele was assigned to the child support administrator position. [Filing No. 59-7 at 19.] Ms. Steele is estimated to be approximately 25 to 40 years old. [Filing No. 59-6 at 4.]

         As the Title IV-D administrator, Ms. Feagans sat in a private office with a door. [Filing No. 57-3 at 13.] Her responsibilities included the general preparation of cases, preparation of motions, proposed orders, and affidavits, and the duty to testify in court. [Filing No. 57-2 at 24.] The administrator also had the authority to sign official documents on behalf of the prosecutor's office, and with the approval of an attorney, could negotiate settlements of child support enforcement disputes. [Filing No. 57-3 at 80.] Ms. Feagans also served as the primary point of contact with state Title IV-D officials. [Filing No. 57-3 at 24.] As the office receptionist, her duties included answering phones, greeting visitors, and preparing filings in juvenile cases. [Filing No. 57-3 at 81-83.] She sat at a desk in the reception area, separated from the room by a glass partition. [Filing No. 57-3 at 81.]

         Ms. Feagans worked as the office receptionist from March 17, 2015 through May 1, 2015. [Filing No. 57-2 at 23-24; Filing No. 57-2 at 33.] During that time, she typically arrived at 7 a.m., an hour before the office opened, in order to clean the reception area and kitchen and to make coffee. [Filing No. 57-2 at 25.] She completed and submitted time cards reflecting her hours in the office-typically 7 a.m. through 4 p.m., with a one-hour lunch break. [Filing No. 52-2.] Mr. Carnahan testified that the non-attorney staff members were only authorized to work seven hours per day, not eight as Ms. Feagans did. [Filing No. 57-3 at 128.]

         The parties dispute the facts surrounding Ms. Feagans' tenure as receptionist. According to Mr. Carnahan, Ms. Feagans could not avoid conflict with her coworkers and was convinced that they were seeking to upset her. [Filing No. 57-2 at 30.] Mr. Carnahan received reports of at least one instance in which Ms. Feagans lied to a caller or office visitor, saying that the child support staff were gone for the day, when they were actually in their offices. [Filing No. 57-3 at 117.] She then failed to relay the individual's message to the appropriate staff. [Filing No. 57-3 at 117.] Mr. Carnahan believed that Ms. Feagans on one occasion turned off the central office phone in order to take a personal call on her cell phone. [Filing No. 57-3 at 117.] Mr. Carnahan also asserts that Ms. Feagans ordered office supplies without authorization. [Filing No. 57-3 at 134.]

         In an attempt to smooth over the conflict between Ms. Feagans and her coworkers, and as a “last-ditch effort to save her job, ” Mr. Carnahan instructed Ms. Feagans to go out for lunch with several coworkers to talk through their issues. [Filing No. 57-3 at 116.] Those coworkers reported to Mr. Carnahan that Ms. Feagans became angry during the lunch and pointed and yelled inside the restaurant. [Filing No. 57-3 at 116.] Mr. Carnahan states that Ms. Feagans was repeatedly warned about her behavior, but he knew of no written or disciplinary record that had been kept reflecting these behavioral issues. [Filing No. 57-3 at 69-70.]

         Ms. Feagans denies several of the specific incidents described by Mr. Carnahan. She generally asserts that Ms. Steele had an incentive to blame Ms. Feagans for any conflict or tension in the workplace, because Ms. Steele wanted to remain the child support administrator-the position that Ms. Feagans previously held. [Filing No. 57-2 at 67.] Ms. Feagans also disputes Mr. Carnahan's account of the lunch attended by her and several coworkers. [Filing No. 57-2 at 43-44.] She asserts that her coworkers “instantly…jumped all over [her], accusing [her] of different things…in the office.” [Filing No. 57-2 at 43-44.] Ms. Feagans states that she raised her voice during the conversation, but it was her coworkers who yelled inside the restaurant. [Filing No. 57-2 at 71-72.] She is also unaware of any behavioral issues being reported to Mr. Carnahan. [Filing No. 57-2 at 51.] Ms. Feagans testified that she had never been cited for any disciplinary issues or write-ups during her career at the prosecutor's office. [Filing No. 57-2 at 36.]

         On May 1, 2015, Mr. Carnahan states that he called Ms. Feagans into his office and stated, “it just hasn't worked out. We've tried. It hasn't worked out. This is your last day.” [Filing No. 57-3 at 118.] Mr. Carnahan attests that his decision to terminate Ms. Feagans' employment was based on the performance and behavioral issues that he had witnessed and that had been reported to him. [Filing No. 57-3 at 117-18.] Ms. Feagans disputes Mr. Carnahan's factual account of her termination. According to her, Mr. Carnahan told her he was aware that she had permanent brain damage and that she was “getting meaner by the day.” [Filing No. 57-2 at 46.] He then suggested that Ms. Feagans retire. [Filing No. 57-2 at 46.] When she refused to retire, he told her to clean out her desk. [Filing No. 57-2 at 46.] After doing so, she was escorted out of the building. [Filing No. 57-2 at 46.]

         On May 20, 2015, Mr. Carnahan sent a letter to the Knox County Council describing the circumstances of Ms. Feagans' departure. [Filing No. 59-3.] In relevant part, Mr. Carnahan stated:

It was apparent at that time that [Ms. Feagans] would be unable to continue her employment in this office beyond that day. Ms. Feagans decided that she would retire. I later received a phone call from her indicating that she had decided not to retire or quit. Later, I received a text message telling me to disregard the phone call and that she would be retiring. A few hours later I received another text message that told me to disregard the previous text message and that she would not be retiring. It is my belief that Ms. Feagans retired. However, if she did not retire then her employment here would have been terminated. She has not returned or attempted to return to work here.

[Filing No. 59-3.]

         B. Compensation

         During her time as receptionist, Ms. Feagans completed and submitted weekly time sheets indicating her hours worked. [Filing No. 52-2.] Her pay stubs during that period consistently reflected payment for fewer hours than she indicated on her time sheets. [Filing No. 52-2; Filing No. 52-1.] Ms. Feagans typically submitted time sheets documenting 36-40 hours of work per week, while her pay stubs reflect payment for only 35 hours of work per week. [Filing No. 52-2; Filing No. 52-1.] Mr. Carnahan asserts that Ms. Feagans was only authorized to work seven hours per day, or 35 hours per week. [Filing No. 57-3 at 128-29.]

         III.

         Cross-Motions for ...


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