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Berrett v. Clark County School District No. 161

United States District Court, D. Idaho

September 30, 2014

RONALD RYAN BERRETT and LANIE BERRETT, husband and wife, Plaintiffs,
v.
CLARK COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 161, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

EDWARD J. LODGE, District Judge.

Pending before the Court in the above-entitled matter is Defendant Clark County School District No. 161's (District) Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. 20). Having fully reviewed the record, the Court finds that the facts and legal arguments are adequately presented in the briefs and record. Accordingly, in the interest of avoiding further delay, and because the Court conclusively finds that the decisional process would not be significantly aided by oral argument, this matter shall be decided on the record before this Court without oral argument.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs Ronald Berrett and Lanie Berrett (Berretts) are husband and wife and were both employed by the District. Mr. Berrett was employed as a part-time maintenance supervisor. It is undisputed Mr. Berrett is disabled and that the District was aware of his disability. Mr. Berrett did not want a full-time position with the District because if he earned too much (an amount over $1, 000 per month) he would lose his disability benefits that he received monthly. The District accepted Mr. Berrett's request for limited part-time hours and was aware that due to his disability the maintenance duties may take a longer amount of time to be completed.

Mr. Berrett asked for additional help in completing all of his maintenance duties. The District offered Mr. Berrett full-time employment, but he declined the offer. The District did agree to hire Ms. Berrett to mow the lawns in order to give Mr. Berrett more time to complete his duties. The District did not hire any other employees to assist Mr. Berrett. Mr. Berrett was never negatively reviewed for the time it took him to complete projects and the District never complained about Mr. Berrett's maintenance work.

In January 2012, there was an issue with a propane leak in the old gymnasium. A number of teachers and others had complained of a propane smell. Mr. Berrett advised Superintendent Kerns of the problem. It took several months to determine the actual problem and then when a repair plan was developed, it had to be modified and the total cost of repairs was approximately $36, 000. Mr. Kerns informed the School Board of the ongoing tests and results. The work was done during the summer of 2012 by an outside contractor.

In April 2012, there were public bids requested for 30, 000 gallons of propane for the District. During the bid process, it was determined that the District did not own the existing tanks or vaporized, the so those pieces of equipment had to be replaced. At the May 17, 2012 School District Meeting, Mr. Berrett reported to the Board there were still propane issues as well as a problem with the systems's vaporizer. An outside contractor also addressed the School Board about the vaporizer issue. The vaporizer problem was resolved when a new tank and vaporizer were installed by an outside contractor in the summer of 2012.

Also at the May 17, 2012, meeting, Superintendent Kerns met with the School Board in executive session and tendered his resignation. The School Board accepted the resignation but continued Mr. Kerns under contract as interim superintendent until a new superintendent was hired or Mr. Kerns left for another position. Mr. Kerns worked as the interim superintendent through July 2012.

In late May or early June 2012, it is undisputed that Mr. Berrett posted a derogatory Facebook post about Mr. Kerns. Several students and parents saw the post and some students commented about the post. Mr. Kerns considered the post inappropriate and in violation of District Policy. Mr. Kerns confronted Mr. Berrett and informed him the post was inappropriate and must be removed. Mr. Berrett responded by calling Mr. Kern as "f**king asshole." The Facebook post was subsequently deleted.

At the next meeting with the School Board, Mr. Kerns discussed the Facebook post and Mr. Berrett's statement to Mr. Kerns. The School Board determined that termination was appropriate and on June 27, 2012 a letter of termination was sent to Mr. Berrett. The letter indicated Mr. Berrett was being terminated due to "insubordination and verbally abusive to the District administrator and having ridiculed personnel through social media on the internet." Dkt. 20-7, Ex. B. The letter also indicated that because he was no longer a District employee, he would have to vacate the district owned housing. Id.

Mr. Berrett maintains his disclosure of the propane problems led to his dismissal. The District claims the propane repairs had nothing to do with the decision to terminate Mr. Berrett. School Board Chair, Erin Haight-Mortensen, filed an affidavit indicating the propane issues had no bearing on the decision to terminate Mr. Berrett and that she was informed of the propane issues beginning in January 2012. Ms. Haight-Mortensen also indicated in her affidavit that Mr. Berrett was asked if he would like to work full-time and he declined to accept full-time employment as he would lose his disability benefits. The District agreed to allow Mr. Berrett to work part-time and Ms. Haight-Mortensen does not remember any request for accommodation by Mr. Berrett other than his request to only work part-time.

Mr. Berrett requested a meeting with the School Board and a meeting was held on or about July 3, 2012. Mr. Berrett testified in his deposition that he wanted to confirm the School Board agreed with Mr. Kerns' termination decision. The School Board members indicated to Mr. Berrett they agreed with the termination decision.

Ms. Berrett started work in the school kitchen in 2007. There is no allegation that Ms. Berrett suffers from any disability. In 2009, she was promoted to Lunchroom Supervisor. Her responsibilities included ensuring the kitchen was run properly, completing state required paperwork, and preparing the annual budget for the kitchen. The District maintains that for three consecutive years Ms. Berrett exceeded her budget. The District indicates it had allowed for $15, 000 in overages but that the actual overages exceeded the budgeted amounts and the District had to transfer money from other departments to pay the overages in the lunchroom. Ms. Berrett was informed each year by the District Business Manager, Ms. Woods, that exceeding her budget was unacceptable.

In June 2012, it was determined that Ms. Berrett had exceeded her budget for the 2011-12 school year by about $63, 000. On June 27, 2012, Ms. Berrett was provided a letter notifying her of her termination. The letter stated "You have consistently overspent the Food Service budget each year, with the amount increasing each time. Your also are not performing satisfactorily in your supervisory duties and you have not followed direction from your own supervisor when called upon to make sure District policies and procedures are followed." Dkt. 20-7, Ex. C. The letter also indicated that because she was no longer a District employee, she would have to vacate the district owned housing. Id.

Originally, the District wanted the Berretts to vacate the District housing by July 9, 2012, but that date was extended to give the Berretts thirty (30) days to vacate the District-owned housing after the Berretts raised the issue that under the Fair Housing Act they were entitled to more time.

On or about September 25, 2012, Mr. Berrett filed a Notice of Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC. The EEOC subsequently issued a "Right to Sue" letter. Ms. Berrett did not file any claim of discrimination with the EEOC or the Idaho Human Rights Commission. The Berretts filed the Complaint on December 20, 2012 (Dkt. 1). The Complaint alleges three causes of action: (1) violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), (2) violation of the Fair Housing Act, and (3) violation of the Idaho Whistleblower Act, Idaho Code ยง 6-2101. The District denies all three claims and moves for summary judgment.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is appropriate where a party can show that, as to any claim or defense, "there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). One of the principal purposes of the summary judgment "is to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims...." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986). It is "not a disfavored procedural shortcut, " but is instead the "principal tool[ ] by which factually insufficient claims or defenses ...


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