United States District Court, D. Idaho
HEATHER S. TIMOTHY, an individual, Plaintiff,
ONEIDA COUNTY, a political subdivision of the State of Idaho; DUSTIN W. SMITH, individually and in his capacity as Prosecuting Attorney for Oneida County, Idaho; SHELLEE DANIELS, DALE F. TUBBS and MAX C. FIRTH, individually and in their capacities as Oneida County Commissioners, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER
Lynn Winmill Chief Judge United States District Court
the Court are cross-motions for partial summary judgment.
See Dkts. 60, 63. For the reasons explained below,
the Court will grant defendants' motion and dismiss
plaintiff's due process claim. The Court will deny
plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment on the
remaining claims for: (1) retaliatory discharge in violation
of the First Amendment; (2) retaliatory discharge in
violation of Idaho's whistleblower statute; (3) negligent
infliction of emotional distress; and (4) retaliatory
discharge in violation of public policy.
Heather Timothy worked as a legal secretary for Oneida County
from November 2005 through March 2014. See
¶ 1. During her employment, Oneida County promulgated
various employee policy manuals. Id. ¶ 3.
Timothy says that certain provisions in the policy manual, as
well as written communications she received from Defendant
Dustin Smith, will assist her in demonstrating that she was
no longer an at-will employee of the County.
Provisions of Oneida County's Personnel Policy
provisions of the Oneida County Personnel Policy Manual are
relevant here, beginning with this disclaimer, which is
contained on the first substantive page:
THIS PERSONNEL POLICY IS NOT A CONTRACT. ANY AND ALL
EMPLOYMENT WITH ONEIDA COUNTY IS CONSIDERED TO BE “AT
WILL” UNLESS A SIGNED AND WRITTEN CONTRACT INDICATES
OTHERWISE. NO CONTRACT OF EMPLOYMENT WITH ONEIDA COUNTY WILL
BE VALID UNLESS IT IS SIGNED IN ACCORDANCE WITH PROPER
PROCEDURES BY A SPECIFICALLY AUTHORIZED REPRESENTATIVE OF THE
ONEIDA COUNTY COMMISSIONERS AND UNLESS IT IS SIGNED
BY AND CONTAINS THE NAME OF THE EMPLOYEE WHO WOULD BE
BENEFITTED BY THE CONTRACT.
Oneida County Personnel Policy, Dkt. 46-8, at 3.
next sentence, the manual states that the policies may be
changed at any time, without any prior notice:
CHANGES TO THE POLICIES AND BENEFIT OFFERINGS OUTLINED IN
THIS HANDBOOK ARE SUBJECT TO CHANGE AT ANY TIME, WITHOUT
NOTICE. CHANGES MAY BE MADE IN THE SOLE DISCRETION OF THE
later section, the manual states that “new”
employees of Oneida County are subject to a six-month
introductory period, during which time “either the
employee or Oneida County may end the employment relationship
at will, with or without cause or advance notice.”
Id. at 15. Another paragraph, entitled
“Employment Status, ” states that County
employees will not be discharged except for cause:
Except as otherwise provided in this paragraph, employees of
Oneida County will not be suspended without pay,
demoted with an accompanying change in pay, or discharged
from their positions except for cause related to the
performance of their job duties or other violations of this
policy. Cause shall be determined by the employee's
supervisor/elected official and shall be communicated in
writing to the employee when the employee status is changed.
Id. at 22 (emphasis in original). Under this same
section heading, however, the manual states that
“Oneida County retains full authority, without
prior notice, to modify the general terms and conditions of
set of provisions relevant to this lawsuit relates to
discharge, demotion, and appeal hearings. First, within a
section captioned “General Policies, ” the manual
states that department heads and elected officials have the
authority to “suspend, discharge, or take other
disciplinary action against employees for
cause.” Id. at 13. A later section,
captioned “Employee Discipline Procedures and
Principles, ” contains more specific provisions
relevant to discharge, demotion, and appeal hearings.
Id. at 33-34. This section begins with a general
explanation of the “Purpose of [the] Discipline
The purpose underlying the discipline policy of Oneida
County is to establish a consistent procedure for
maintaining suitable behavior and a productive working
environment in the workplace. These procedures are
discretionary in nature and minor variations of the processes
set forth herein shall not affect the validity of any actions
taken pursuant to this policy.
Id. at 33. The manual then adopts a framework for
disciplinary action, including progressive disciplinary steps
that may be taken, along with an appeal process. Id.
at 33-35, ¶¶ C.2 - C.4. Regarding the appeal
hearing, the manual states: “The personnel policy of
Oneida County establishes the right to a hearing in
the event of a discharge or demotion without attendant change
in pay or suspension.” Id. at 35, ¶
V.C.4. The manual then specifies the various procedures
relevant to such a hearing. Id.
employment was terminated in March 2014. The parties dispute
the reasons for the termination. Timothy says she was fired
in retaliation for reporting that her boss, Oneida County
Prosecutor Dustin Smith, had misappropriated County funds.
Smith claims that Timothy was fired for reasons related to
her job performance.
Communications Related to Timothy's Termination
weeks leading to Timothy's March 2014 termination, the
parties exchanged a series of written communications. Smith
began the process on February 4, 2014, by sending Timothy a
Notice of Pending Personnel Action. SOF ¶ 8; Dkt. 63-12.
The notice enumerated various forms of alleged misconduct,
which allegedly resulted in “violations of OCPPM
[Oneida County's Personnel Policy Manual].”
Id. at 1. The notice informed Timothy that Smith
intended “to consider discipline consistent with Oneida
County Personnel Policy.” Id. at 3. Timothy
was further informed that she could respond to the notice in
writing “and/or” meet with Smith on February 10,
2014 to discuss the issues. Id. at 1, 3.
did not respond directly to Smith upon receiving this notice.
Instead, on February 7, 2014, her lawyers sent a letter to
the Oneida County Board of Commissioners, asking them to
assist Timothy by “immediately withdrawing the
[February 4, 2014] Notice . . . .” See Dkt.
63-13, at 2. The Commissioners did not respond to this
letter, but shortly after this letter was sent to the
Commissioners, Smith sent a letter to Timothy, suspending her
without pay and postponing any February 10, 2014 meeting
“until further notice.” Dkt. 63-14, at 1.
later, on March 10, 2014, Smith sent another Notice of
Pending Personnel Action to Timothy. See Dkt. 63-15.
Timothy's lawyers responded in writing on March 13, 2014.
Dkt. 63-16. Among other things, Timothy's lawyers accused
Smith of retaliating against Timothy by sending a Notice of
Pending Personnel Action shortly after Timothy had met with
the Idaho State Police “regarding her knowledge of Mr.
Smith allegedly misappropriating county/public ...