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Fields v. Benningfield

Court of Appeals of Kentucky

May 11, 2018

JERRY FIELDS APPELLANT
v.
RICK BENNINGFIELD, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS TAYLOR COUNTY JAILER; EDDIE "HACK" MARCUM, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS TAYLOR COUNTY JAILER; TAYLOR COUNTY FISCAL COURT; EDDIE ROGERS, TAYLOR COUNTY JUDGE EXECUTIVE; JAMES JONES, MAGISTRATE; JOHN GAINES, MAGISTRATE; TOMMY CORBIN, MAGISTRATE; MATT PENDLETON, MAGISTRATE; ED GORIN, MAGISTRATE; AND RICHARD PHILLIPS, MAGISTRATE APPELLEES

          APPEAL FROM TAYLOR CIRCUIT COURT HONORABLE ALLAN RAY BERTRAM, JUDGE ACTION NO. 13-CI-00144.

          BRIEF FOR APPELLANT: Larry D. Ashlock Bowling Green, Kentucky.

          BRIEF FOR APPELLEES: Winter R. Huff Somerset, Kentucky.

          BEFORE: J. LAMBERT, NICKELL, AND TAYLOR, JUDGES.

          OPINION

          TAYLOR, JUDGE.

         Jerry Fields appeals from a November 24, 2015, order of the Taylor Circuit Court granting summary judgment for Rick Benningfield, individually, and in his official capacity as Taylor County Jailer; Eddie "Hack" Marcum, individually and in his official capacity as Taylor County Jailer; Taylor County Fiscal Court; Eddie Rogers, Taylor County Judge Executive; James Jones, Magistrate; John Gaines, Magistrate; Tommy Corbin, Magistrate; Matt Pendleton, Magistrate; Ed Gorin, Magistrate; and Richard Phillips, Magistrate (collectively referred to as appellants) on Fields' wrongful termination of employment claim as an employee of the Taylor County Jail. For the reasons stated, we reverse and remand.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Fields began his employment with the Taylor County Jail (Jail) effective November 1, 2008. Fields' initial title was deputy jailer; in March 2009, Fields was promoted to sergeant (although he did not receive an increase in pay because of budget constraints). At that time, the Taylor County Jailer was appellee Rick Benningfield and the chief deputy jailer was Kevin Wilson. In early June of 2009, Fields discussed the possibility of decreasing his hours to part-time in order to spend more time on his dairy farm; but, he ultimately decided to remain as a fulltime employee so that he could maintain his health benefits.

         On June 11, 2009, Fields was injured on the job when he assisted in restraining an unruly inmate at the Jail. He filed for and received worker's compensation benefits during his extended medical leave. Fields had surgery to repair the injury (a tear in his rotator cuff) in August 2009. Fields testified that, in follow up visits post-surgery, his doctor informed him that there was a second, deeper tear in that shoulder. Fields never had the recommended additional surgery. He was only released to perform light duty work, with no lifting over 20 pounds, no repetitive or overhead work, and he was to avoid restraint situations (associated with work as a corrections officer).

         Benningfield (Jailer) informed Fields that the Jail had no light duty work and that every deputy was required to be able to subdue a prisoner. Meanwhile, the Jailer had to use two or more part-time employees in lieu of Fields to cover Fields' duties on the duty roster. Fields was required to report his medical status periodically to the Jailer and maintain his medical leave excuses.

         On March 10, 2010, medical leave for Fields expired. According to the depositions of the Jail's witnesses, attempts to reach Fields were unsuccessful. On March 15, 2010, a notice of termination letter signed by chief deputy Wilson was sent to Fields via U.S. mail (first class). The letter, from which we quote, stated five reasons for the termination:

1. Doctors excuse expired as of 03-10-2010.
2. FMLA leave - you are not eligible for this because you had not worked 1 year prior to leave starting.
3. Cervical neck injury you are claiming as your injury at this time is not related to the shoulder injury that workman comp. claim started with.
4. No attempt has been made to contact the Taylor County ...

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