United States District Court, E.D. Washington
JOSEPH B. ONLEY, a married man, Plaintiff,
JOHN J. JORDAN, in his individual capacity; RICHARD LARSON, in his individual and official capacities; DANIEL L. PETERSON, in his individual and official capacities; CURTIS J. KNAPP, in his individual and official capacities; and PEND ORIELLE COUNTY PUBLIC UTILITY DISTRICT, a municipal corporation, Defendants.
ORDER DENYING IN PART AND GRANTING IN PART
DEFENDANTS' SECOND MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
SALVADOR MENDOZA, JR., UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Joseph Onley was demoted from his position as a manager with
the Pend Orielle County Public Utility District in June 2013
and later terminated in June 2016. The Court previously
granted summary judgment in Defendants' (collectively the
PUD) favor on Onley's claims relating to his demotion.
ECF No. 35. Defendants' now move for summary judgment on
Onley's remaining claims relating to his termination. ECF
No. 36. The PUD asserts that Onley's due process and
breach of contract claims fail because he was terminated for
budgetary reasons, as opposed to disciplinary reasons subject
to the PUD's progressive disciplinary process. Because
issues of material fact remain regarding whether Onley was
terminated for disciplinary reasons, the PUD's motion is
denied with respect to the due process and breach of contract
claims. The PUD further argues that Onley fails to state a
prima facie age discrimination claim. Because there is no
evidence in the record from which the Court could conclude
that age discrimination played a role in Onley's
termination, the PUD's Motion for Summary Judgment is
granted with respect to Onley's age discrimination
began work for the PUD as a distribution engineer in June
1986. ECF No. 18 at 2; ECF No. 24 at 2. In 2001, the PUD
promoted Onley to the position of CNS manager. ECF No. 24 at 2. On
June 18, 2013, the PUD demoted Onley by transferring him from
the CNS Manager position to an interim GIS Engineer
position. ECF No. 18 at 2. In January 2014, the PUD
transferred Onley to another temporary GIS Engineer position.
ECF No. 37 at 2. This position involved mapping the location
of fiber optic infrastructure, a project that the PUD asserts
was intended to be completed by July 31, 2014. Id.
2015, the PUD received notice that its largest customer,
Ponderay Newsprint Company (PNC), intended to terminate its
power-supply contracts. ECF No. 37 at 2-3. At the time, PNC
represented 70% of the PUD's electricity load and paid
$30 million for the delivery of power. ECF No. 37 at 3.
Importantly, however, the PUD and PNC are involved in
litigation, and at this time, the PUD still supplies power to
PNC. ECF No. 39 at 2. The PUD asserts that as a result of
this expected loss of business, and related litigation, the
PUD evaluated department projects and associated spending in
an effort to reduce costs, including IT and CNS projects. ECF
No. 37 at 3.
2016, HR and IT manager Lloyd Clark identified Onley's
position as a candidate for elimination because it involved
work on a project that was initially scheduled for completion
in July 2014. ECF No. 37 at 4. Onley disputes that the
project was ever expected to be completed by July 2014 or
that his position was a drain on PUD resources, noting that
the project was federally funded. ECF No. 39 at 2-3. Clark
asked Onley to evaluate where he was at on the project, and
Onley responded in a memo that he expected to need
approximately 18 months to complete the project. ECF No. 37
asserts that it determined the project was unnecessary and
therefore decided to eliminate Onley's position.
Id. PUD General Manager Colin Willenbrock directed
Clark to discuss early retirement with Onley as a possibility
in lieu of termination. Id. Clark had discussions
with Onley about transitioning to retirement on several
occasions in early June 2016. Id. at 6. Onley states
that Clark asked him to “give him a number” that
he would consider to retire. ECF No. 39 at 4. Only told Clark
that he had no interest in retiring. Id. Clark
nevertheless continued to press Onley about retirement, but
stated that the PUD was not trying to push him out.
14, 2016, Clark presented Onley with an early retirement
offer, explaining that downsizing was likely to happen in
several areas at the PUD. ECF No. 39 at 5. Onley told Clark
he would consider the offer and provide his response the
following Monday. Id. On Friday, June 17, Onley went
to the office despite planning to take the day off.
Id. Onley asserts that Clark again confronted him
again about the retirement offer, and that he reaffirmed he
would provide his answer on Monday as planned. Id.
The PUD, by contrast, asserts that Onley rejected the
severance and early retirement offer that day. ECF No. 37 at
6. According to the PUD, Willenbrock then decided to
immediately terminate Onley because he was concerned Onley
might destroy electronic information or remove documents.
Id. at 7. Onley asserts that after he told Clark he
would provide his answer on Monday, Clark presented him with
a written termination agreement and informed him that his
employment was being terminated, effective immediately. ECF
No. 39 at 5-6.
asserts that it ultimately eliminated eight other positions
through attrition. ECF No. 37 at 7. Onley asserts that no
other employee was laid off for budget reasons. ECF No. 39 at
initially filed this action on June 8, 2016, alleging that
his June 2013 demotion was in breach of contract and violated
his constitutional right to due process. ECF No. 1. On
December 9, 2016, Onley filed an amended complaint adding
allegations of breach of contract, violation of due process,
and discrimination under RCW § 49.60.180 relating to the
PUD's termination of Onley's employment in June 2016
after he filed his initial complaint in this case. ECF No.
15. at 8-9. On March 8, 2017, the Court granted summary
judgment in favor of the PUD on Onley's claims relating
to his demotion. ECF No. 35. The PUD now moves for summary
judgment on Onley's remaining claims, which relate to his
termination in June 2016. ECF No. 36.