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Earles v. Cleveland

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

September 23, 2019

ROD CLEVELAND, individually acting as an Elected Member of the Board of County Commissioners for Cleveland County, et al., Defendants.



         Before the Court is Defendants’ Renewed Joint Motion to Dismiss [Doc. No. 24]. Plaintiff has responded in opposition [Doc. No. 28], and Defendants have replied [Doc. No. 33]. The matter is fully briefed and at issue.


         Plaintiff, formerly an administrative assistant to the Cleveland County Fair Board (“Fair Board”), asserts claims arising out of Defendants’ termination of her employment. Defendants, who are being sued in their individual capacities[1], are Cleveland County Commissioners Rod Cleveland and Dary Stacy; Stephan Koranda, former Executive Director of the Fair Board; and Harlen Fipps and Jimmy Young, members of the Fair Board.

         To summarize, the First Amended Complaint [Doc. No. 22] alleges:

• In 2010, Plaintiff was hired as an administrative assistant to the Fair Board, pursuant to an oral agreement approved by the nine Fair Board members, unanimously, at an open meeting.
• During her tenure, Plaintiff had no disciplinary problems or write-ups and was well liked by the Fair Board members.
• In November 2013, Koranda was hired as the Executive Director of the Fair Board. Plaintiff, who applied for and was interviewed for the position, asserts that she “was summarily rejected … as she was a younger female and therefore presumably less qualified” than Koranda, the male applicant. [Doc. No. 22 at ¶ 22]
• Stacy was the chairman of the search committee for the Fair Board, and Koranda listed him as a reference on his application. Stacy used his and Cleveland’s influence to get Koranda hired.
• Upon assuming the position, Koranda immediately created a hostile and verbally and emotionally abusive environment toward the younger female employees.
• Koranda directed Plaintiff not to have any contact with the Fair Board members as that was now his function. This was a demotion of Plaintiff s previous position and a change in working conditions.
• Koranda was not cordial toward Plaintiff and would regularly stand or take a threatening position around her.
• Koranda falsely accused Plaintiff of having anger issues and conducting personal business on her work computer. When Plaintiff attempted to communicate her complaints with the purported human resources director for Cleveland County (“the County”), Plaintiff was informed that Stacy and Cleveland would support Koranda. Further, the County’s HR director refused to assist Plaintiff, asserting that Plaintiff was an employee of the Fair Board and not under the County’s jurisdiction.
• When Plaintiff attempted to address her complaints about Koranda to the Fair Board, Plaintiff learned that Fipps and Young had an “understanding” with Stacy and Cleveland not to interfere with Koranda’s actions. Id. at ¶ 30.
• After Plaintiff attempted to voice her complaints, Koranda became more hostile and Plaintiff became increasingly more isolated at work.
• In January 2014, Plaintiff and Koranda attended a conference together. Koranda drove. Although their rooms at the hotel were close in proximity and Koranda’s vehicle was parked directly outside the rooms, Koranda moved the vehicle around to the front of the hotel after he loaded his luggage. As a result, Plaintiff was forced to carry her luggage to the front lobby.
• In April 2014, Plaintiff was directed to appear before Koranda and the County’s HR director. At the meeting, Plaintiff was belittled by Koranda and falsely accused of misconduct. Plaintiff was again directed not to have any contact with the Fair Board members because it made Koranda “look bad.” Id. at ¶ 32.
• When Koranda forgot to post the agenda for the April 21, 2014 Fair Board meeting, the Fair Board meeting had to be canceled. Koranda blamed Plaintiff for his mishap and bad-mouthed Plaintiff to the Fair Board members.
• Koranda required Plaintiff to attend an employment function that, unbeknownst to Plaintiff, was a speed dating event. The event was “demeaning and degrading to Plaintiff especially as she was engaged to be married.” Id. at ¶ 36 Koranda watched the event and made jokes and other derogatory comments. He did not require any of the male employees to participate.
• Previously, Plaintiff had been approved by the Fair Board members or Koranda for vacation starting May 9, 2014 until May 16, 2014, for her scheduled wedding and honeymoon. “In an effort to cause Plaintiff additional harm and emotional distress in retaliation for her complaints against Koranda, ” Cleveland and Stacy directed Assistant District Attorney Jim Robertson to inform Plaintiff that Stacy and Cleveland did not want her around and she had 10 minutes to gather her personal items. Id. at ¶ 39. Plaintiff alleges that this event took place on May 5, 2014, and was intentionally designed by Cleveland and Stacy to disrupt her upcoming wedding. ADA Robertson refused to discuss Plaintiffs termination with her asserting that she was an at will employee and could be let go at any time.
• At the direction of Koranda, Cleveland, and Stacy, a sheriffs deputy was waiting outside to escort Plaintiff from the public property
• Plaintiff was not terminated by the Fair Board, no meeting was called, and the Fair Board members were purportedly unaware of the personnel action taken by ADA Robertson at the direction of Cleveland, Stacy, and/or Koranda. Fipps and Young knew or had reason to know of the actions by Cleveland, Stacy, and/or Koranda, but did nothing to intervene, even though they were aware that Plaintiff could only be terminated by the Fair Board.
• Plaintiff was denied due process and any form of appeal. No. individual county commissioner or individual Fair Board member had any authority to terminate Plaintiffs employment. No. open meeting was conducted where Plaintiffs employment or termination was an agenda item. Defendants, acting in concert, intentionally denied Plaintiff due process by circumventing the established procedures for employees hired by the Fair Board.
• Defendants knew of Plaintiffs closely approaching wedding and scheduled vacation. Acting in concert, they “sought to punish and intentionally cause Plaintiff emotional distress by creating the termination the few days before her wedding plans.” Id. at ¶ 45.
• When the Fair Board members attempted to discuss Plaintiffs termination at an open meeting, Cleveland, Stacy, Fipps, and Young falsely advised that the Fair Board had no authority. Fipps and Young, pursuant to their agreement with Stacy and Cleveland, did not put the termination matter on the agenda and allowed Plaintiffs termination to become effective. The other Fair Board members were intentionally misled by Fipps and Young.
• On May 28, 2014, Koranda was asked to resign because of the hostility created during his short term of employment and the manner in which Plaintiff was terminated.
• Plaintiff could only be terminated by the Fair Board pursuant to the Oklahoma Open Meeting Act (“OMA”).
• Plaintiff asserts that Koranda was investigated for similar harassing conduct with younger female employees at his previous employment with the Norman Convention and Visitors Bureau. Stacy and Cleveland were aware of Koranda’s history before he was hired.
• Plaintiff asserts that her employment was terminated by Koranda, Stacy, and Cleveland because of her gender and in retaliation. Plaintiff told Stacy, the Fair Board, and Koranda that there was not a proper fairgrounds inventory, which was Koranda’s responsibility. Plaintiff provided Koranda with a list of things he was doing wrong, including taking people out to eat using Fair Board funds, transporting his children in a county vehicle, and allowing a friend to have a free booth at the Norman Farmers Market absent approval from the Fair Board.

         Plaintiff asserts federal claims against Defendants under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of her substantive and procedural due process rights under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, her right to associate with members of the Fair Board under the First Amendment, gender and sexual discrimination under Title VII, and violations of her Oklahoma constitutional rights. Plaintiff also asserts state law claims against Defendants for conspiracy to commit intentional torts, tortious interference with prospective economic advantage, and ...

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