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Tina Francis v. Jack Lotwick and

October 4, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: William W. Caldwell United States District Judge


I. Introduction

In this case, Plaintiff Tina Francis brings claims of retaliatory discharge

against Defendants Jack Lotwick and Dauphin County. Presently before the court is Defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint (Doc. 4). Defendants seek to dismiss Counts I and II of the complaint on the basis that they fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Defendants also argue that, if the court dismisses the First Amendment claims in Counts I and II, then we will no longer have jurisdiction over the state law claim set forth in Count III, and we should dismiss Count III without prejudice, permitting Plaintiff to re-file it in state court. Plaintiff has filed a brief in opposition (Doc. 10) to the motion to dismiss, and Defendants have filed a reply brief (Doc. 11). The motion is now ripe for our review.

II. Factual Background and Procedural History The following facts are alleged in Plaintiff's complaint.

Plaintiff was employed by Defendant Dauphin County as an administrative assistant in the Sheriff's Department. In May of 2011, Plaintiff's doctor diagnosed her with carpal tunnel syndrome and advised her to pursue a workers' compensation claim, because the condition was probably caused by her work-related activities.

Shortly thereafter, Plaintiff spoke to her supervisor, Shelley Ruhl, about pursuing a workers' compensation claim. Ruhl opined that Plaintiff was not stating a legitimate claim, but Ruhl also suggested that Plaintiff discuss the situation with Donna Miller, a Dauphin County risk management employee. Plaintiff did so on June 2.

Also on June 2, Plaintiff submitted to a medical evaluation at Worknet, a workers' compensation evaluator. Plaintiff was referred to Dr. Timothy Naidu for an assessment for surgery. On June 15, Dr. Naidu advised Plaintiff to have surgery as soon as possible, and he advised her that she would need to be out of work for six weeks for surgery and recovery.

Plaintiff advised both Ruhl and Defendant Jack Lotwick that she would need to take leave for six weeks for this purpose. Ruhl reacted negatively, calling the news "ridiculous" and stating that Plaintiff could "come back in a few days," not six weeks. Lotwick's reaction was similar. Plaintiff alleges that Lotwick said, "[i]t's not a six-week claim," accused Plaintiff of "milking the time," and directed a subordinate employee to tell Plaintiff that "it's not a claim" and that "we'll see that you can come back." Furthermore, the complaint alleges that when Plaintiff repeated the doctor's instructions, both Ruhl and Lotwick responded, "[w]e'll see about that."

In light of the fact that Plaintiff expected to be out of the office for several weeks, Ruhl requested that Plaintiff give up her log-in information to the computer she used in the office. Plaintiff declined to give up her computer log-in information, because her computer had access to sensitive, non-public information through the JNET criminal information system. Some other employees in the office, including Ruhl, were not authorized to access JNET information at Plaintiff's clearance level. Plaintiff's JNET training had emphasized the importance of never sharing a JNET password with another person. Accordingly, Plaintiff did not give Ruhl her computer password, in order to avoid compromising her computer's exclusive access to JNET or being held responsible for abuse of JNET privileges.

On June 17, 2011, Plaintiff had corrective surgery for carpal tunnel in one of her arms. On or about July 1, 2011, Plaintiff attempted to log in to her work email account from home and discovered that her password had been changed. Plaintiff alleges that Ruhl instructed the IT Department to issue a new password for Plaintiff's account. At Plaintiff's request, her password was later changed back.

On July 5, 2011, while she was still on leave, Plaintiff visited the office to give a birthday gift to a fellow employee and to print out paperwork for a second workers' compensation claim. According to the complaint, Plaintiff was experiencing similar pain in her other hand, and Plaintiff intended to seek a doctor's evaluation. While Plaintiff was in the office, her computer was logged in under her name, but another employee assisted Plaintiff with typing. Plaintiff completed the paperwork, submitted it to Ruhl, and left the office.

Plaintiff returned to work on August 1, 2011. On August 10, she was notified that an administrative investigation had been launched against her for alleged misuse of technical equipment. Specifically, she was accused of looking up private information on JNET without authorization on July 5, 2011. Plaintiff denied the alleged misuse of her JNET clearance.

On November 4, 2011, Plaintiff's employment was terminated. A week later, Plaintiff contacted the JNET administrators, who informed her that no investigation of her JNET account had been done through JNET. Therefore, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants could not have obtained information to substantiate ...

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