United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma
DEBRA M. COOPER, Plaintiff,
NORTHWEST ROGERS COUNTY FIRE PROTECTION DISTRICT, JAMES MATHEW SHOCKLEY, MEL W. DAINTY, and NORTHWEST PROFESSIONAL FIREFIGHTERS LOCAL No. 4057 Defendants.
OPINION AND ORDER
V. EAGAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
before the Court are defendant Northwest Professional
Firefighters Local No. 4057's (Union) motion for summary
judgment (Dkt. # 44), and defendants Northwest Rogers County
Fire Protection District (District), James Mathew Shockley,
and Mel W. Dainty's joint motion for summary judgment
(Dkt. # 46).
following facts are undisputed for purposes of summary
judgment: the District employed plaintiff, Debra M. Cooper, a
female, as its sole administrative assistant from January
2012 through her termination in February 2017. Dkt. # 3-1, at
8. Plaintiff had a clerical job classification, and the fire
chief supervised her. Id. at 26, 48. When plaintiff
was terminated, Shockley was the District's fire chief.
Id. at 7. At all times relevant to this action,
Dainty was chairman of the District's five-person board
of directors. Id. As fire chief, one of
Shockley's duties is to recommend termination of
employees. Dkt. # 47-1, at 1. And the board approves or
denies the fire chief's recommendations upon majority
vote. Id.; Dkt. # 47-2, at 1.
2015, the District dismissed David Puckett, its former fire
chief, for embezzlement. Dkt. # 47-1, at 2. Puckett had a
firefighter job classification, and the board of directors
supervised him. Id. In February 2017, the District
dismissed Matt Marlin, a firefighter, for destruction of
property. Id. Marlin had a firefighter job
classification, and the shift captain supervised him.
the time plaintiff started working for the District and
October 2016, the District's firefighters received a 3%
pension increase. Dkt. # 47-3, at 41. Plaintiff was the
District employee responsible for submitting retirement
contribution information to the firefighters' pensions.
Dkt. # 47-4, at 3. In October 2016, when she noticed that she
had not received the same increase, she notified Shockley,
who presented the issue to the board. Id. At its
January 2017 meeting, the board approved the increased
retirement benefit plaintiff sought, effective from October
2016. Dkt. # 47-5, at 9.
the course of her employment, plaintiff took over
responsibility for payroll taxes for the District, and
received a raise for taking on this responsibility. Dkt. #
47-3, at 43. In 2015, the District received a report from an
independent auditor, stating that the “District's
payroll tax and payroll liabilities accounts were not
reconciled and required material adjusting journal entries at
year end.” Dkt. # 47-7, at 3. On January 25, 2017, the
District's certified public accountant emailed Shockley
with a draft report for the 2016 audit. Dkt. # 47-6, at 2-3.
The report stated, inter alia,
CONDITION: The District's payroll tax and payroll
liabilities accounts were not reconciled and required
material adjusting journal entries at year end. In addition,
the District has not paid their [sic] Oklahoma withholding
taxes in accordance with State law . . . . [...]
CAUSE OF CONDITION: The District's accounting staff lacks
the necessary skill and knowledge to reconcile the account
RECOMMENDATION: The District should consider outsourcing its
payroll functions to a qualified payroll processor.
Id. at 16. Upon receiving the draft report, in late
January 2017, Shockley told Dainty that he felt it was
“time to make a change and to get a new, more competent
Administrative Assistant.” Dkt. # 47-1, at 2. On
January 31, 2017, after hearing Shockley's
recommendation, Dainty contacted an employment attorney to
“discuss plaintiff's situation.” Dkt. # 47-2,
at 1; Dkt. # 47-8.
February 7, 2017, the Union presented a grievance to
Shockley, asking the District to rescind plaintiff's
pension increase or provide the same increase to all
firefighters. Dkt. # 47-1, at 1; Dkt. # 60-1. According to
Shockley, he never submitted the grievance to the board, as
plaintiff was terminated before the deadline for taking
action on a Union grievance. Dkt. # 47-1, at 1-2.
February 13, 2017, the board met in executive session to
discuss plaintiff's employment. Dkt. # 47-5, at 11. The
board then returned to regular session and voted to terminate
plaintiff “due to audit results.” Id.
April 26, 2017, plaintiff filed her petition in the District
Court of Rogers County, State of Oklahoma, asserting the
following claims: breach of contract against the District
(count one); malicious interference with a contractual
relationship against the Union (count two); a procedural due
process claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (§ 1983)
against the District, Dainty, and Shockley (count three); a
gender discrimination claim under § 1983 against the
District, Dainty, and Shockley (count four); a due process
liberty interest claim under § 1983 against Dainty and
Shockley (count five); malicious interference with a
contractual relationship against Dainty and Shockley (count
six); intentional infliction of emotional distress against
Dainty and Shockley (count seven); and a request for
declaratory relief and permanent injunction against the
District pursuant to the Oklahoma Open Meeting Act, Okla.
Stat. tit. 25, § 301 et seq. (OOMA) (count