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Combs v. Breathitt County Fiscal Court

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Lexington

September 27, 2017

SHARON COMBS, Plaintiff,
v.
BREATHITT COUNTY FISCAL COURT, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Joseph M. Hood, Senior U.S. District Judge

         This matter is before the Court upon Defendants' Motion to Dismiss in Part or in the Alternative for Partial Summary Judgment [DE 3]. Plaintiff has filed a Response [DE 4] stating her objections to the Motion, and Defendants have filed a Reply [DE 5] in further support of their motion. It is now ripe for consideration, and the Court concludes that it shall be granted for the reasons stated in this Memorandum Opinion and Order.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         The complaint alleges that on or about July 21, 2015, long time Breathitt County Clerk Tony Watts informed the Breathitt County Fiscal Court that he would be retiring. At that time, Plaintiff was a Deputy Clerk and had about 10 years of experience in the Clerk's office. Plaintiff alleges Breathitt County Judge Executive John Lester Smith had the sole responsibility to appoint the next County Clerk. Through the “grapevine, ” the Clerk's office employees heard that Judge Smith was going to appoint Mary Lois Stevens as the new County Clerk.[1] Stevens had lost in two prior elections to County Clerk Watts and had never worked in the County Clerk's office. On November 6, 2015, Plaintiff's coworker Mary Rebecca Curtis filed her intention to run for the County Clerk position. On November 13, 2015, the day before the new appointment would be effective, Stevens came into the Clerk's office around noon and informed Plaintiff and two other employees they had until that night to inform her whether they wished to be her Deputy Clerks. Curtis, on the other hand, was told her services were no longer needed. Id. ¶ 16-23. Plaintiff accepted the position of Deputy Clerk that Stevens offered.

         In January of 2016, Stevens, acting Clerk, filed her intention to run for the County Clerk position against Curtis. Id. ¶ 24 - 27. Plaintiff supported her longtime friend, Curtis, during the 2016 election, rather than her current boss, Stevens.

         Plaintiff makes a number of factual allegations regarding her treatment after voicing her public support for Curtis in the election. These allegations are not pertinent to the legal issues in the partial Motion to Dismiss and will be addressed as needed at another junction in this litigation. In May 2016, Curtis won the election over Stevens. Plaintiff worked on election night, and alleges she was pushed down a flight of stairs by a supporter of Stevens. As a result of her fall, Plaintiff used her Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) rights and took one week off work.

         In a recorded conversation, Stevens terminated Plaintiff from the position of Deputy Clerk upon her return from FMLA leave. Stevens opined that Plaintiff was not loyal, among other things. Stevens allegedly stated Plaintiff had asked the doctor to be off and that it had placed her “in a bind, ” implying that she had spoken to Plaintiff's medical providers. Stevens called Plaintiff's week off work a “vacation.” Stevens indicated she would fight Plaintiff's unemployment claim and would not give her a recommendation. Id. ¶ 55 - 66.

         Plaintiff alleges that Stevens' actions against her were political in nature, illegal and resulted in her losing her long term employment, wages and benefits. The Plaintiff alleges Breathitt County Administrative Code applied to her, that it sets forth a procedure for dismissal of an employee, and this process was not followed in regard to the dismissal of Plaintiff. Id. ¶ 68 - 73.

         The Plaintiff alleges the following causes of action based on the factual allegations in the Complaint:

(1) political discrimination in violation KRS 67.710;
(2) violations of Sections 2 and 3 of the Kentucky Constitution;
(3) wrongful discharge pursuant to Kentucky common law;
(4) violations of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution;
(5) violations of her First Amendment rights to free speech, affiliation, ...

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