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Slakis v. County of Luzerne

September 17, 2008

DONNA SLAKIS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
COUNTY OF LUZERNE, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Edwin M. Kosik United States District Judge

(Judge Kosik)

MEMORANDUM

On October 31, 2006, the plaintiff, Donna Slakis (the "Plaintiff" or "Slakis"), brought this action against the defendant, Luzerne County ("Defendant" or the "County"), alleging two federal claims relating to Defendant's termination of Slakis' employment. (Doc. 1.) In count one of the Complaint, Slakis alleges that the County violated her rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 2601--2654, when it terminated her for taking FMLA leave. In count two of the Complaint, Slakis alleges that the County violated her rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 because the County procedurally deprived Slakis of her liberty interest in her reputation pursuant to the Fourteenth Amendment.*fn1

Presently before us is the County's Motion for Summary Judgment against Slakis' due process claim. (Doc. 24.) The County does not move for summary judgment against Slakis' FMLA claim. All the issues have been briefed and are ripe for decision. We have subject-matter jurisdiction over this case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1343, because the claims in the Complaint raise federal questions. For the reasons that follow, we will deny the Defendant's motion.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Defendant provides only five factual paragraphs in its statement of undisputed material facts ("SOF"). (Doc. 25.) We will use Plaintiff's Counterstatement of Material Facts ("COMF") (doc. 28) and Complaint (doc. 1) for background only.

Ms. Slakis first started work with Luzerne County in 1973, for an agency that eventually became the Workforce Investment Office. (SOF ¶ 1.) She held the position of executive secretary. (Slakis Dep. 7:7.) She is not a member of a collective bargaining unit. (SOF ¶ 5.) Around June 2004, Slakis' mother experienced health complications, which stemmed from cataract surgery. (Compl. ¶ 15.) A neurological problem caused Slakis' mother to fall; she fractured ribs and had to be hospitalized. (Compl. ¶ 16.) To care for her mother, Slakis requested by written memorandum FMLA leave from her supervisor, Richard Heffron, which he granted. (Compl. ¶¶ 17--18, 20.) Slakis requested "intermittent leave to provide care for her mother and to take her to therapy." (Compl. ¶ 19.) Prior to this request for leave, Slakis had never requested FMLA leave and she fulfilled all pre-requisites in order to be eligible for the leave. (Compl. ¶¶ 21--23.)

Around December 2004, Slakis learned that Luzerne County would not authorize her yearly raise, despite the raise recommendation by her supervisor, due to excessive absenteeism in 2004. (Compl. ¶¶ 26--28.) Slakis did not receive a raise in 2004, according to the Chief Clerk, Sam Guesto, because she had been excessively absent during the previous year. (Compl. ¶ 28.) Slakis avers that her non-FMLA leave absences did not exceed the absences of other similarly situated employees who did receive raises. (Compl. ¶ 31.)

On January 25, 2005, Slakis wrote a memorandum regarding various concerns with Mr. Guesto, which she submitted to her supervisor, Mr. Heffron. (COMF ¶ 2.) The County Chief of Budget and Finance scheduled a meeting with her and one of the county's attorneys about the memorandum, which was held later that day. (COMF ¶¶ 3--4.) Over a week later, on February 3, 2005, another meeting was held between the same parties. (COMF ¶ 5.) Slakis assumed that the meeting held on February 3, 2005 was to continue to discuss the issues in her January 25 memorandum. (COMF ¶ 5.) In fact, Slakis' January 25 memorandum was discussed at the meeting. (COMF ¶ 7.) Apparently, Slakis was told that Mr. Guesto refuted her allegations, to which Slakis responded that she wished that he were present at the meeting so that they could discuss the matter further. (COMF ¶ 7.) At the February 3 meeting, no one told Slakis that her employment might be terminated or that any adverse employment action might be taken against her. (COMF ¶ 6.)

On February 4, 2005, Luzerne County terminated Slakis' employment. The termination letter provides seven reasons for her termination:

1. You and Mr. Heffron have unilaterally decided to exclude yourself from the Time Traks System without notice to or approval from any other Supervisors.

2. You have directed that you be allowed to utilize sick time during Family Leave, which is contrary to County policy and contrary to your application for Leave, that requires you to utilize other "accrued paid leave" (unused vacation and personal days) during this leave.

3. You have utilized your position as Executive Secretary to receive different treatment and/or benefits than other employees of your office.

3.*fn2 You have improperly utilized an excessive amount of sick time. (This issue is in regard to the excessive sick time taken prior to your ...


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