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Ortloff v. Trimmer

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

May 29, 2018

THERESA ORTLOFF, Plaintiff,
v.
DAVE TRIMMER, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          Robert S. Lasnik United States District Judge

         This matter comes before the Court on “Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment.” Dkt. # 36. The Court has reviewed the parties' memoranda, declarations, exhibits, and the remainder of the record.[1] For the following reasons, the motion is GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In this civil rights case, plaintiff Theresa Ortloff claims that her constitutional rights were violated when she was terminated from her job as an oiler with the Washington State Ferries (WSF). Plaintiff started with WSF in July 2013, after being hired as an “on call” oiler under a probationary employment arrangement. Probationary employment is a way for employers to evaluate employees during a trial period in order to gauge the employee's job performance before permanent employment is granted. The terms of plaintiff's employment were governed by a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), the relevant portion of which provides:

Newly hired employees shall serve a probationary period of five (5) calendar months. The employee may be terminated during the probationary period or at the end of a probationary period for a bona fide reason(s) relating to the business operation and said employee shall not have recourse through the grievance procedure.

Dkt. # 38-1 at 3.

         Plaintiff claims she was mistreated and eventually terminated because she advocated for probationary employees and because she was dating Floyd McLaughlin, a WSF engineer who previously testified in a widely publicized whistleblower case against the agency. She relies on a number of interactions and email conversations as evidence of mistreatment, abuse, and retaliation.

         In August 2013, plaintiff had a negative interaction with defendant David Trimmer, the Chief Engineer aboard the ferry Chelan. Afterward, Trimmer wrote an email to the oiler dispatcher and to defendant Elizabeth Kosa, the Senior Port Engineer and one of plaintiff's supervisors. In it, he asked that plaintiff not be assigned to the Chelan again because she lacked “a basic level of understanding of ship board systems and operations.” Dkt. # 38-1 at 6. He followed up in that email conversation by listing in detail plaintiff's shortcomings and the reasons he did not want her assigned to his vessel again. Dkt. # 38-1 at 5.

         Plaintiff also had a dispute with Chief Staff Engineer Michael LaCroix, who is not a defendant, over the proper pay code for what appears to be one hour of work in November 2013. See Dkt. # 38-1 at 14-16 (Ortloff-LaCroix email exchange); Dkt. # 49-2 at 12 (timesheet). Days later, plaintiff called and cancelled her shift aboard the ferry Kennewick because LaCroix would also be working aboard. Her last-minute cancellation drew a complaint from the vessel's captain. Dkt. # 38-1 at 8-9.

         Plaintiff had difficulties with other cancellations and unavailabilities, which were of concern because the on-call nature of her position required that she be available in case dispatch needed to bring her in. In particular, the dispatcher discussed with plaintiff that she called in as unavailable because she was driving McLaughlin to the airport. Dkt. # 37-1 at 30.

         Eventually, the complaints about plaintiffs work performance and unavailability during her probationary period led management to decide she should be terminated. Plaintiff was terminated in a letter dated November 22, 2013, and sent by defendant Steven Vonheeder, Director of Vessels. The letter read in relevant part:

I have determined your performance and commitment to Washington State Ferries during your probation period does not meet expectations of an On-Call employee by being available for work at all times. On too many occasions you have been called to be dispatched and assignments have been refused or negotiated for a variety of reasons.

Dkt. # 41-1 at 2.

         In 2014, plaintiff again sought to be hired as an oiler but was unsuccessful. Plaintiff later learned that her name appeared on a “Do Not Hire” list-a list of individuals management had ...


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