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Crowley v. Burlington Elec. Dep't

United States District Court, D. Vermont

January 22, 2014


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For Patricia Crowley, Plaintiff: Thomas C. Nuovo, Esq., Bauer Gravel Farnham, Burlington, VT.

For Burlington Electric Department, Barbara Grimes, Defendants: Pietro J. Lynn, Esq., Robin A. Freeman, Esq., Lynn, Lynn & Blackman, P.C., Burlington, VT.

For ENE Evaluator, ENE Evaluator: Michael J. Marks, Esq., MarksPowers LLP, Middlebury, VT.

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William K. Sessions III, U.S. District Court Judge.

Plaintiff Patricia Crowley brings this suit against her former employer, Defendant Burlington Electric Department (" BED" ), and her direct supervisor Defendant Barbara Grimes, BED's General Manager, in connection with her termination from her positions as Executive Assistant and Clerk of the Board of Electric Commissioners. Crowley brings claims for breach of contract and violations of the Vermont Fair Employment Practices Act (" VFEPA" ), Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 21, § § 495-496a, public policy, and the Due Process Clause of the United States Constitution.[1] She also seeks punitive damages.

Currently before the Court are cross motions for summary judgment. Defendants have moved for summary judgment on all claims, ECF No. 25, and Crowley has moved for partial summary judgment on her due process claim (Count V), ECF No. 29. Crowley has also moved to exclude two exhibits submitted by Defendants in support of their summary judgment motion, ECF No. 28. For the reasons described below, the Court denies Crowley's motions to exclude and for partial summary judgment; grants Defendants' summary judgment motion as to the public policy claim; and denies Defendants' summary judgment motion for the remaining claims.


I. Crowley's Employment at BED

Crowley began her career at BED as Board Clerk and Executive Assistant to the General Manager, Defendant Grimes, in 1998. As Board Clerk, Crowley prepared information packets for the Board of Electric Commissioners, took minutes at monthly meetings, and attended grievance hearings held before the Board. As Executive Assistant, Crowley performed administrative duties for Grimes.

At the outset of Crowley's employment at BED, Crowley and Grimes had a positive working relationship. However, this relationship worsened over time. During her employment at BED, Crowley experienced problems with her left eye that required extensive medical treatment over the course of several years. As Crowley's eye troubles worsened, so did her relationship with Grimes. Crowley alleges that Grimes subjected her to repeated abuse and bullying with the knowledge that this harassment had a negative impact on her emotional state. For example, Grimes called Crowley " wood eye," occasionally in front of BED management employees, and once left an Easter egg on Crowley's desk labeled " wood eye." In autumn of 2010, Crowley went on leave to have her eye removed. Crowley became increasingly emotionally fragile in the wake of her surgery and ultimately began to see a therapist to address the impact of her eye loss on her emotional health.

After Crowley returned from leave in January 2011, Crowley experienced difficulty arriving at work at her usual start time. Grimes gave Crowley permission to begin working from home for the first two hours of the day with the instruction to call her directly if she was not going to make it to the office; Crowley often failed

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to follow this instruction. Despite Grimes's apparent flexibility with regard to Crowley's needs, the relationship between Crowley and Grimes worsened upon Crowley's return from leave. Grimes grew increasingly impatient with Crowley and had limited tolerance for Crowley's fragile emotional state. In August 2011, a dispute arose between Crowley and Grimes that culminated in a heated argument. During the argument, Crowley took out her prosthetic eye and placed it on Grimes's desk. Grimes responded, " wah, wah, wah," which Crowley interpreted as a derision of her continuing emotional troubles. When Crowley told Grimes that she could not understand whet it was like to lose a body part, Grimes told Crowley that she had lost two knees and a hip and that Crowley's actions were inappropriate.[3] After the argument, Grimes suggested that the two women contact Burlington's Employee Assistance Program (" EAP" )[4] to discuss their working relationship; Crowley declined the invitation.

In October 2011, Crowley's emotional state became so fragile that she began 90 days of medical leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (" FMLA" ) due to post-traumatic stress and depression. Around the same time, Crowley contacted Susan Leonard at Human Resources to discuss Grimes's behavior toward her. When Leonard advised Crowley that she could not guarantee confidentiality because the City might need to investigate Crowley's complaints, Crowley decided not to discuss the issue further with Leonard because she feared that reporting Grimes's behavior would put her job at risk.

Sometime after Crowley began her FMLA leave, Grimes revoked Crowley's work email access. When Crowley objected, Grimes told her to focus on her recovery. After this disagreement, Grimes reviewed Crowley's email records. The emails revealed a romantic relationship between Crowley and a former BED employee, Jon Loller, whom Grimes had dismissed. Crowley had not informed Grimes or BED about the relationship. According to Defendants, Grimes also found two other emails divulging confidential details about Loller's termination to unauthorized individuals. Defs.' Facts ¶ 56. Crowley contends that she did not disclose confidential information because she knew nothing other than what Loller told her personally. Pl.'s Facts ¶ 56.

Before returning from FMLA leave, Crowley underwent an evaluation by Dr. William Nash in accordance with City and BED procedures. Based on the evaluation, Dr. Nash prepared a report recommending that Crowley return to work on a part-time basis. Dr. Nash's report was submitted directly to the City's Human Resources Department. Grimes reviewed Dr. Nash's report but does not recall the exact date that she saw it. Crowley informed Grimes about the evaluation on January 11, 2012, but did not provide details about the results of the examination at that time.

On January 13, 2012, Grimes sent Crowley an email scheduling a meeting for January 17, 2012, the day Crowley's FMLA leave expired. Grimes did not indicate the purpose of the meeting in ...

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