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Harper v. Elder

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Owensboro Division

April 2, 2019



          Joseph H. McKinley Jr., District Judge United States District Court

         This matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment [DN 21] and Plaintiff's Motion to Exceed the Page Limit on her Response to the Motion for Summary Judgment [DN 26]. Fully briefed, these matters are ripe for decision. For the following reasons, Plaintiff's Motion to Exceed the Page Limit is GRANTED and Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.

         I. Background

         According to the Complaint, Ms. Wendy Harper began working at the Webster County Jail (the “Jail”) in October 2013 as a Deputy Jailer. [DN 1 ¶ 10]. Webster County, Kentucky (the “County”) is directly responsible for the policies, customs, and practices implemented at the Jail, as well as the hiring, training, and supervision of Jail employees. [Id. ¶ 2]. Directly following her hiring, Jailer Terry Elder and Chief Deputy Greg Sauls warned Ms. Harper not to let the men on her shift run her off the job. [Id. ¶ 11]. Ms. Harper claims that within her first week on the job, she received additional warnings from coworkers to beware of Deputy Brad Conaway, “who had historically exhibited hostile attitudes toward female employees.” [Id. ¶ 12]. Specifically, Ms. Harper named four individuals-Deputies Dustin Loukota, Troy Sheerer, and Randy Beech and Control Room Operator Layla McNeily-who forewarned her that Mr. Conaway was known to make sexual advances towards female employees and had treated the female employees so badly that one resigned and two recently switched shifts to avoid Mr. Conaway. [Id. ¶ 13-14].

         Ms. Harper alleges that her first interaction with Mr. Conaway was riddled with sexual harassment and that the harassment continued until she made clear to Mr. Conaway that she was unwilling to accompany him on prisoner transports. [Id. ¶¶16-18]. Upon this clarification, Ms. Harper says Mr. Conaway's “behavior toward her changed from flirtation to aggression, ” culminating in his screaming at her in front of coworkers and inmates and making efforts to undermine her authority as a Deputy. [Id. ¶ 18]. Ms. Harper cites as an example an incident in the spring of 2014-Ms. Harper placed a cell on a 24-hour lockdown after inmates' poor behavior, shortly thereafter Mr. Conaway entered the cell block and immediately removed the punishment despite lacking supervisory authority over Ms. Harper. [Id. ¶ 19]. As she was leaving work that day, Ms. Harper alleges Mr. Conaway, in his truck, raced toward her, missing her only by only a few inches as he exited the Jail's parking lot. [Id. ¶ 21]. The next day, Ms. Harper claims she filed a written complaint and submitted it to Mr. Elder, who she says laughed when he received it and sent her back to work. [Id. ¶ 22].

         Ms. Harper alleges that following this incident Mr. Conaway's hostility toward her increased. [Id. ¶ 23]. Mr. Conaway would frequently yell at Ms. Harper and berate her for her workplace performance despite her male counterparts performing their job functions the same way. [Id. ¶¶ 23-24]. In response, Ms. Harper alleges she “filed numerous written complaints against Mr. Conaway's [sic], citing his hostile and abusive conduct.” [Id. ¶ 26]. Instead of any resolution to the situation from Mr. Elder or Mr. Sauls, Mr. Conaway was promoted to Sergeant in the fall of 2015, becoming a direct supervisor to the deputies. [Id.]. Following his promotion, Ms. Harper alleges Mr. Conaway began assigning her menial tasks in an effort to disrupt her work day, leading her to continue filing written complaints about his behavior. [Id. ¶ 27-28].

         Ms. Harper asserts that beginning sometime in 2016 she observed another employee, Deputy Jimmy Hernandez, interacting inappropriately with female inmates-flirting with them and passing them small gifts. [Id. ¶ 30]. Ms. Harper, believing this to be a violation of the Prison Rape Elimination Act (“PREA”) reported the behavior to Mr. Conaway, as he was the direct supervisor on duty. [Id.]. Ms. Harper contends she reported similar behavior to Mr. Conaway on numerous occasions. [Id.]. In late April 2016, Ms. Harper reported the same behavior to Mr. Conaway who allegedly screamed at her to mind her own business and that if she did not drop the matter “all hell would break lose [sic].” [Id.]. In response, Ms. Harper claims she immediately went to Mr. Elder's office and explained the situation, “that she could not be subject to Mr. Conaway's abuse any longer, and that she would have to find another place to work.” [Id. ¶ 31]. Thereafter, Mr. Elder called Mr. Conaway to his office where he told Mr. Conaway to fix the situation with Mr. Hernandez but offered no resolution to Mr. Conaway's continuing abuse. [Id. ¶ 32].

         Ms. Harper alleges she began to experience “extreme anxiety and depression, including bouts of chest pain, migraines, and difficulty breathing.” [Id. ¶ 33]. After seeing a doctor, Ms. Harper claims she was informed that her condition would not improve if she continued working with Mr. Conaway. [Id. ¶ 35]. Ms. Harper, enjoying the other aspects of her job, hoped to find a way to return-she requested that Mr. Elder move Mr. Conaway to the Jail's other daytime shift so she would not have to work with him. [Id.]. Instead, Mr. Elder offered to move Ms. Harper to the night shift-Ms. Harper alleges this offer operated as a demotion. [Id.]. Thereafter, Ms. Harper took leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) to obtain further treatment. [Id. ¶ 35]. Ms. Harper claims she was unable to return to her position due to her working conditions and that Mr. Elder and the County refused to take adequate remedial action against Mr. Conaway's behavior, eventually causing her constructive discharge. [Id.].

         Ms. Harper filed this lawsuit in February 2017 against Mr. Conaway, Mr. Elder, and the County (collectively, the “Defendants”). [DN 1]. She asserts claims for violation of two provisions of the Kentucky Civil Rights Act (“KCRA”), her Equal Protection Clause and Title VII rights pursuant to § 1983, and the Kentucky Whistleblower Act (“KWA”). [Id. ¶¶ 38-72]. Following discovery, the Defendants filed the instant Motion for Summary Judgment claiming that despite the allegations in her Complaint, the evidence submitted by Ms. Harper failed to raise a genuine dispute of material fact on each of her causes of action. [DN 21]. Thereafter, Ms. Harper filed a thirty-seven page Response to the Motion for Summary Judgment, well exceeding the permitted page count. [DN 25]. The next day, Ms. Harper filed a Motion for Leave to File Excess Pages arguing that the Defendants' Motion required a lengthy response. [DN 26]. Defendants did not oppose Ms. Harper's Motion and later filed their Reply for the Motion for Summary Judgment. [DN 30].

         II. Standard of Review and Law

         Before the Court may grant a motion for summary judgment, it must find that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The moving party bears the initial burden of specifying the basis for its motion and identifying the portion of the record that demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Once the moving party satisfies this burden, the non-moving party thereafter must produce specific facts demonstrating a genuine issue of fact for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986).

         Although the Court must review the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, the non-moving party must do more than merely show that there is some “metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). Instead, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require the non-moving party to present specific facts showing that a genuine factual issue exists by “citing to particular parts of materials in the record” or by “showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence . . . of a genuine dispute[.]” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). “The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the [non-moving party's] position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the [non-moving party].” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252.

         III. Discussion

         The Court will address first the Motion to Exceed the Page Limit followed by Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment ...

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