Ammons v. Brantley County Board of Commissioners et al

Filing 21

ORDER denying 15 Defendants' Motion to Dismiss 15 Plaintiff's Amended Complaint. Signed by Chief Judge Lisa G. Wood on 2/6/2017. (csr)

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3ifti ?I9[niteb IBiKtrict Conrt for t^e ^otttfiem Btotrttt of 4^eorsta Waptxtasi IBtbtototi BRITTANY AMMONS, Plaintiff, V. BRANTLEY COUNTY COMMISSIONERS MURRELL, 5:16-CV-78 BOARD OF and LINDA in her individual and official capacities as Director of the Brantley County 911 Center; Defendants. ORDER Giving reason a other action. than Thus, Commissioners Brittany {''FMLA") negative reference, retaliation, Defendants can ('"Ammons") be no an motion Family details and no adverse employment County Brantley and Linda Murrell's Ammons with Board to and dismiss Medical of Plaintiff Leave Act claim will be DENIED. BACKGROUND For the purpose of considering this motion, the Court assumes the truth of the facts alleged in Plaintiff Brittany Ammons' also considers earlier A0 72A (Rev. 8/82) {''Ammons") case, complaint. facts because alleged she Fed. in attached R. Civ. Ammons' it, P. 12(b)(6). complaint refers to it, in it It an is central to her claim, See Graveling (11th Cir. v. Castle 2015) F.3d 1125, 1134 and its authenticity is not in dispute. Mortq. (per curiam) (11th Cir. Co., 631 F. App'x 693 Feldt, (citing Horsley v. 690, 304 2002)). Defendants Fired Aznmons after She Made FMLA Requests Ammons worked Commissioners as for a until December 19, supervised her. Id. SISI 41-45. Defendant 911 Daniel, nearly 14 SI 7. surgeon rescheduled to to a bad to Meanwhile, Ammons was denied, That chest day, Daniel. Dkt. No. auto June Savannah on accident. 8, 2012 June 4, Id. SISI while loose, plate causing later needed two more which 27, 29. him surgeries. and Ammons Id. 35. June 12, SI been SISI Id. Id. SI but this SISI 41-43. inserted pain," 44-45. Three Id. 2012, excruciating Id. His Daniel 2012. had 33- needed major Murrell had suspended her without pay. metal 2012, 14-1 SISI 16-17, leaving Daniel with no caregiver. sprung years, Ammons was an excellent employee. requested FMLA leave for ^^the of Defendant Murrell days after the surgery, Ammons went back to work. 39. Board seven a Brantley County sheriff's deputy, due headed No. for County She was granted FMLA leave for June 6-8, surgery were Dkt. SI 6. to care for her husband, 37. dispatcher 2012. Id. Brantley in and his he Ammons did not seek FMLA leave to care for Daniel following these because she had been suspended for doing so before. Id. SISI 46-47. Ammons appealed the suspension. was settled around September 2012. Id. Id. 5 49. The appeal SISI 50-51. Two months later, on December 5, 2012, Murrell moved Ammons to day shift, even had though Ammons childcare duties. Ammons Id. investigated said SISI for this 59-60. a would The security next interfere day, Murrell violation. Id. Ammons was cleared of wrongdoing on July 5, 2013. But 19, 2012. FMLA in September 2013. Dkt. she had already been fired on December with Id. 5 had 53. 5 55. Id. SI 62. Murrell Gives Negative Job References Ammons SI 16. the sued under The case settled on October 9, settlement favorable contract. Defendants 2014. Id. agreed job reference by October 16, to 2014, SI 18. No. 14 Under give Ammons a and to ^'take no action which was intended, or would reasonably be expected, to harm or damage the reputation of the mediation's end, Ammons' hand, Ammons [Ammons]." Id. Id. SI 32. then declined to do so. started looking SISI 30-31. for She has In early 2015, they called Murrell, not hire [Ammons], SISI 27-28. At Murrell asked whether she ^^had to" shake a Id. job applying for two or three positions weekly 2016). Id. SISI 22-23. in October 2014, (except in January only received one callback. two people told Ammons that when she '^stated emphatically that she would nor . . . recommend her for employment." Id. 1 35. Ammons inquiry. Id. had SI 36. Murrell reference-check company Murrell told i t she would not!" recommend Ammons. alleges a ''has Id. SI 37; supplied Dkt. No. similar, make bsolutely 14-2 at 2. or employment references to other employers." an worse, Ammons negative Dkt. No. 14 SI 39. Ammons Brings the Present Suit and Defendants Move to Dismiss Ammons filed the present suit on September 8, No. 1. She contract. alleges Dkt. No. retaliation 14 SISI 55-75. under FMLA 2016. and Dkt. breach of Defendants moved to dismiss, claiming Ammons failed to plead an adverse employment action. Dkt. No. 15 at 2. did not reply. Ammons responded. Dkt. No. 20. Defendants Their motion is ripe for disposition. LEGAL STANDARD A complaint must be "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." R. Civ. from P. 8(a) (2). which elements [the legal theory." F.3d 678, raise a Bell Atl. 684 right Corp. Ashcroft V. It must "contain inferential allegations court] necessary Fed. to can identify sustain a each recovery Roe v. Aware Woman Ctr. (11th Cir. 2001). of under the some for Choice, These "must material be Inc., Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, (2009). 678 555 (2007); 253 enough to relief above the speculative level . v. viable . . to ." see also DISCUSSION Defendants' Murrell's motion negative (1) suffered she an action was is dismiss will recommendations employment action. ""that: to be denied, can be because an adverse An FMLA-retaliation plaintiff has to show entitled adverse to the employment ^intentional' and claimed action, benefit, and ^motivated' (3) (2) the she adverse by her participation in the protected activity, establishing a causal connection." Bentley v. 445 2011). Orange County, Defendants' second element. be false, simply argument App'x is 306, narrow, 309 going (11th Cir. only to the They claim that "an employment reference must not merely negative, gave F. her honest recommend Ammons. Dkt. to be actionable," and Murrell opinion No. that 15 at she would not hire or 6. This is an incorrect reading of the law. To be sure, the Eleventh Circuit has not specifically analyzed this question. See Mitchell v. 535, 539-40 ruled that only true Mercedes-Benz U.S. (11th Cir. 2015) agree Inc., (per curiam) information, can qualify as 637 F. App'x ("The district court ^a negative employment reference, action. claims Int'l, an even if providing adverse employment Based on our review of [the plaintiff's] concerning with the each district of these court."). prospective But this employers, Court has we held that "^false or negative employment references' may constitute adverse LLC, employment No. 2012), CV 112-144, adopted, by 2d 1274, three of 1310721, Ga., Ga. at Inc., Oct. *7; No. 31, WL 209210 (S.D. Ala. sister Tobar v. Fed. CV 512-416, 2014); Chapman, 671 (9th Cir. (10th Cir. of WL 11290900, 2004); 17, 20, 2013) Inc., 815 Mitchell, Supp. F. 2015 Dist. Middle at *1 WL of n.l 2d at 1283. the rule of the Ninth and Tenth Circuits. 381 F.3d 1028 Dec. This holding is echoed courts. 815 F. Ga. Jan. Express, Defenders 2014 (S.D. Ga. W. 2011)). district McGillicuddy Works, at *3 (S.D. (citing Chapman v. 1283 our Salazar v. 2012 WL 6892720, 2013 (emphasis added) Supp. actions." Hilliq v. Hashimoto v. (M.D. It is Rumsfeld, Dalton, 118 F.3d 1997). Most importantly, it makes sense. Retaliation liability is based on the employer's making the employee's life harder because law. the employee Allegedly, Murrell's defense blatant lie. sought protection just that Murrell did is that If proven, afforded to Ammons. negative confess turn on federal For now, she used loaded silence instead of a such a clever tactical choice cannot be turned into valid legal armor. employers by Besides, had prospective insisted upon Murrell explaining the basis for her recommendations, to unlawful how interrogating she allegedly retaliation. interested employees' FMLA's prospective former bosses. would have had protection employers Thus, a to cannot are in negative recommendation can be actionable, and Ammons has pled an adverse employment action.^ Defendants' argument to rule ^^adverse" means Seventh Circuit's that the of false reference information." 468 F.3d 1027, 1029 (7th Cir. contrary relies the ^^the dissemination Szymanski v. 2006). on But County of Cook, neither Szymanski nor appellate cases citing to it explain why this must be so, and the Court Mascone v. Am. (4th Cir. 2010) Dist., 15, cannot Physical Wood, Inc., & Tinder, reference conduct . . . . " ) . Hamilton can As Sundstrand See 404 F. generally App'x for Corp., JJ.) case, false of (7th Cir. constitute 420 F.3d negatively securing employment." 166, . affected Here, 765 on 178-79 (^'[A] Jute (2d v. Cir. 'Mi]n the context . could find that [the a Feb. retaliatory reliance . . . a reasonable jury . statement 762, (table opinion) Defendants' id.; Indian Prairie Sch. the Second Circuit merely held that of th[at] chances Soc'y, reason. (per curiam); cf. Gatto v. (Posner, negative [a] the 508 F. App'x 554, 2013 WL 563287, at *1 2013) 2005), divine plaintiff's] factfinder could find that Murrell's negative statement did the same to Ammons. ^ Not every negative recommendation will necessarily be actionable. There may be cases requiring a factfinder to weigh the need for employers to get truthful information about job applicants against employees' need for protection from unlawful retaliation. See Knapp v. Gulf Cty. Sch. Bd., No. 5:16CV20, 2017 WL 74988 (N.D. Fla. Jan. 6, 2017). But this is not one of them. Murrell allegedly only said she would " [a]bsolutely not!" recommend Ammons, without communicating any potentially pertinent factual information. Dkt. No. 14 5 37; Dkt. No. 14-2 at 2. Lastly, Defendants claim Murrell merely truthfully gave her own opinion, without intending to injure Ammons. 15 at 7. But actionable, ""very unfavorable" and evidence circumstantial. 859, 1035 863 Castillo v. (llth Cir. (finding employee") . evidence opinion of termination 2012) actionable Here, unfavorable" of and end of mediation. Roche Labs., reference to allegedly reference, intent in Murrell's references retaliatory (per curiam) ; Murrell retaliatory opinion and refusal intent Inc., what F. be App'x as '^shitty a ^^very circumstantial preceded shake can F.3d at Ammons is can be 381 plaintiff gave to 467 Hilliq, there in Dkt. No. her Ammons' hand at the Thus, Defendants' arguments fail. CONCLUSION For the reasons above. Defendants' Plaintiff's Amended Complaint, dkt. no. 15, Motion to Dismiss is DENIED. SO ORDERED, this 6th day of February, 2017. LISA GODBEY WCX)D, CHIEF JUDGE UNITED STATES SOUTHERN DISTRICT COURT DISTRICT OF GEORGIA

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