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 APPELLANTS
JERRY FIELDS APPELLEE
REVIEW FROM COURT OF APPEALS CASE NO. 2015-CA-001975 TAYLOR
CIRCUIT COURT NO. 13-CI-00144
COUNSEL FOR APPELLANTS: Arden Winter Robertson Huff Attorneys
Services of Kentucky, PLLC.
COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE: Larry Duane Ashlock Ashlock Law Group.
wrongful termination case, the Taylor Circuit Court granted
summary judgment in favor of 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. The Court of Appeals
reversed, holding that KRS 342.197 constitutes a waiver of
sovereign immunity against a governmental employer and that
genuine issues of material fact existed, thereby precluding
summary judgment. Having reviewed the record and the
applicable law, we now affirm in part and reverse in part.
October 23, 2008, Jerry Fields was hired as a deputy jailer
with the Taylor County Detention Center (hereinafter, the
"Jail"). His effective date of employment was
November 1, 2008. At that time, Rick Benningfield served as
the Taylor County Jailer.
11, 2009, Fields tore the rotator cuff of his right shoulder
while attempting to restrain an inmate. Surgery to repair the
tear took place in August 2009. Several months later,
Fields's doctor informed him that there was a second
deeper tear in the same shoulder and recommended a second
surgery. After consulting with specialists and determining
that his chance of improvement was slight, Fields declined to
undergo this additional surgery. His doctor released him to
perform only light duty work and restricted his lifting to
twenty pounds or less, with no repetitive or overhead work
and no use of power tools that vibrated. He was also directed
to avoid those combat or restraint situations typically
associated with the work of a corrections officer. Chief
Deputy Jailer Kevin Wilson informed Fields that no such light
duty work was available. Fields was never released to return
to regular work and his restrictions are permanent.
Fields's medical leave, he was required to regularly
update his employer on his medical status. Wilson testified
at his deposition that he believed Fields came to the Jail on
a couple of occasions after his injury, but Wilson could not
recall speaking with Fields. Benningfield testified at his
deposition that he could recall Fields visiting the Jail
"a couple times" after his injury. He testified
that he would contact Sherry Kerr, an employee with the
county judge's office who typically handled the medical
excuses, on a monthly basis to check on Fields's status.
on the other hand, testified at his deposition that he
visited the Jail after every doctor's visit and informed
Benningfield and Wilson of his status. According to Fields,
during the last two or three visits prior to his termination,
he felt he was not welcome at the Jail. For example, he
recalled one conversation in which Benningfield informed
Fields that he would love to fire him but he could not do so
because Fields was receiving workers' compensation.
During that conversation, Benningfield noted that he was
forced to fill Fields's position with part-time
employees. Fields also referenced an earlier conversation
with Wilson about Fields's demotion from sergeant to
deputy. Fields had been promoted to sergeant in April 2009
for a probationary period and with a deputy's pay rate.
After his injury, he was informed by Wilson that the Jail had
decided to keep him as a deputy, rather than a sergeant.
According to Fields, Wilson explained that he could do this
because "I'm sitting here and you're sitting
over there. I can do this." Fields also testified that
the Jail stopped calling to check on him once it became known
that he required surgery.
medical leave expired on March 10, 2010. Chief Deputy Wilson
testified at his deposition that he was contacted on that
date by Kerr, the employee who typically handled the medical
excuses. Kerr notified Wilson of Fields's expired medical
excuse and her unsuccessful attempts to contact Fields. She
asked if Wilson had attempted to contact Fields, and Wilson
replied that it was not his job to track down Fields and he
was ready to terminate him. The Jail then sent a notice of
termination letter to Fields, dated March 15, 2010 and signed
by Wilson. The letter was sent via U.S. Mail (first class).
The body of the letter stated, in full:
of Termination effective as of 3/10/2010
1. Doctors excuse expired as of 03-10-2010
2. FMLA leave[:] you are not eligible for this because You
[sic] had not worked 1 year prior to leave starting.
3. Cervical neck injury you are claiming as your injury At
[sic] this time is not related to the shoulder Injury [sic]
that workman comp. claim started with
4. No attempt has been made to contact the Taylor County
5. Failure to contact employer on status of injury
This letter is also to inform you that your health insurance,
Dental and life insurance will ...