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Grubbs v. Thermo Fisher Scientific

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Northern Division, Covington

April 23, 2014

CHARLOTTE GRUBBS, Plaintiff,
v.
THERMO FISHER SCIENTIFIC, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM ORDER AND OPINION

DAVID L. BUNNING, District Judge.

In this removed action, Plaintiff Charlotte Grubbs has sued her former employer, Thermo Fisher Scientific, for violations of both Kentucky statutory and common law. She alleges that Defendant's agents and employees subjected her to a sexually-charged and hostile work environment, and that Defendant retaliated against her, all in violation of the Kentucky Civil Rights Act. She also alleges that Defendant negligently supervised and retained the perpetrator of the sexual harassment. Finally, she brings a separate cause of action for punitive damages.

Defendant has moved for partial judgment on the pleadings (Doc. # 9). Defendant argues that Kentucky law does not allow an employee to recover against her employer for negligent supervision/retention. Additionally, Defendant contends that it is entitled to judgment on the punitive damages claim because it is not a stand-alone claim under Kentucky law, and punitive damages are not otherwise recoverable for Plaintiff's substantive claims. Defendant's motion has been fully briefed (Docs. # 11, 14), and is ripe for review. As explained more fully herein, the Court agrees with both of Defendant's arguments and will, therefore, grant Defendant's motion.

I. Standard of Review

"For purposes of a motion for judgment on the pleadings, all well-pled material allegations of the pleadings of the opposing party must be taken as true, and the motion may be granted only if the moving party is nevertheless entitled to judgment." JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A. v. Winget, 510 F.3d 577, 581 (6th Cir. 2007) (internal citation and quotation marks omitted). A motion brought pursuant to Rule 12(c) is appropriately granted "when no material issue of fact exists and the party making the motion is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Id. at 582.

II. Factual and Procedural Background

Plaintiff began working for Defendant in June 2001 as a picker and chemical packer. She was directly supervised by Daniel Mockbee. During the course of her employment, Mockbee allegedly made sexually degrading comments about Plaintiff and other females during work hours at Defendant's Florence, Kentucky work site.[1] Plaintiff made repeated complaints to Human Resources about Mockbee's behavior, but nothing was done. Instead, Mockbee's conduct only intensified and became more frequent.

In February 2012, Mockbee gave Plaintiff the first negative performance review she had received in her 12 years with the company. Mockbee also awarded Plaintiff "only" a two (2) percent raise. However, Mockbee awarded each of Plaintiff's male co-workers a more substantial raise.

In March 2012, Plaintiff made a last-ditch effot to have Defendant take action. She informed Defendant's corporate Human Resources department that she could not return to work if the company did not put an end to Mockbee's harassment. Plaintiff was assured that the company would address her concerns if she came back to work. Plaintiff agreed and returned to work on March 12, 2012. A few days later, Plaintiff informed the plant manager that she would like to submit her resignation because she felt the company failed to take corrective action as she had been promised. Thereafter, she submitted a letter of resignation giving Defendant two weeks notice. The plant manager accepted the letter and told her to leave immediately.

As a result of the foregoing, Plaintiff filed suit in Kenton Circuit Court alleging violations of Kentucky's Civil Rights Act and negligent supervision/retention. She seeks compensatory damages for "loss of income, benefits and other valuable job rights, as well as emotional distress and mental anxiety" (Doc. # 1-1 at 7), as well as punitive damages for grossly negligent, intentional, wanton or reckless behavior. This suit was removed to Federal District Court on October 7, 2013.

III. Analysis

A. Negligent Supervision/Retention

Plaintiff claims that Defendant negligently supervised and retained Mockbee as a supervisor. The parties dispute whether this tort is recognized by Kentucky law and, more importantly, whether the tort applies to the facts of this case. Although Kentucky does recognize negligent supervision and retention as a tort, it is not applicable to the facts of this case.

In Turner v. Pendennis Club, the Kentucky Court of Appeals held that "Kentucky has indeed recognized and acknowledged the existence of claims of negligent training and supervision." 19 S.W.3d 117, 121 (Ky. App. 2000). The tort imposes liability on an employer who negligently supervises its employee. See Smith v. Isaacs, 777 S.W.2d 912, 914-15 Ky. 1989); McDonald's Corp. v. Ogburn, 309 S.W.d 274, 291 (Ky. App. 2009). To succeed on a negligent supervision/retention claim, the plaintiff must establish that (1) the employer knew or had reason to know of the risk that the employee created, (2) the employee injured the plaintiff, and (3) the supervision and/or retention of the employee proximately caused the injury. Grand Aerie Fraternal Order of Eagles v. Carneyhan, 169 S.W.3d 840, 844 (Ky. 2005); Ogborn, 309 S.W.3d at 291(citing Booker v. GTE.net LLC, 350 F.3d 515, 517 (6th Cir. 2003) ...


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