United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY
B. Leighton United States District Judge.
MATTER is before the Court on Defendant Kitsap County's
Motion for Summary Judgment [Dkt. #16]. Plaintiff Dennis
Henneman was employed as a Corrections Officer and Background
Investigator by Kitsap County. The job duties caused Henneman
substantial stress and he voluntarily resigned in January
2015. Henneman soon had misgivings about his decision to
resign, but Kitsap County declined to reinstate him. Henneman
filed the present lawsuit alleging Kitsap County
discriminated and retaliated against him in violation of the
Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD) and the
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Dkt. 1-3. Kitsap
County moves for summary judgment on all claims, arguing that
Henneman voluntarily resigned from his position, that the
County did not take any adverse employment action, and that
the County was under no obligation to reinstate Henneman once
his resignation was accepted. Henneman contends that he
tendered his resignation during a depressive episode and that
there are disputed issues of material fact which preclude
summary judgment on his claims. Because the Court would not
be aided by oral argument, it decides the motion on the
parties' written submissions.
Henneman began working as a Corrections Officer for Kitsap
County in 1990. In April 2011, Henneman was selected for a
specialty position as a Background Investigator, performing
background checks on individuals who applied for employment
with the Kitsap County Sheriff's Office. Dkt. 21 at 5.
Henneman struggled with the job for various reasons, and in
October 2014, Henneman indicated to co-worker Shawn Buzzell
that he was experiencing work-related stress and feeling
depressed. While discussing his depression, Henneman made
reference to a colleague who had recently committed suicide.
Dkt. 19 at 7; Dkt. 27 at 2. Buzzell, who was also the Vice
President of the Correctional Officers Guild, was concerned
enough by Henneman's comments that he informed his
supervisor. Lieutenant Roxane Payne followed up with
Henneman, who denied being suicidal, but became emotional
during the conversation. Dkt. 19 at 9.
subsequently met with John Perona, the County's on-duty
mental health professional. Dkt. 29. Henneman indicated that
he was under an intense amount of stress related to both his
work and his personal life. Id. at 3-4. Henneman
told Perona that he was “burned out” and wished
to return to his old job as a “pod officer.”
Id. Perona opined that Henneman was suffering from a
depressive disorder and recommended that Henneman be
transferred off of background investigations. Perona also
recommended that Henneman follow up with his personal
physician to address his depression. Id. at 4.
consulting with Perona and Corrections Chief Ned Newlin, Lt.
Payne informed Henneman that he would be relieved from his
position as a background investigator and would return to a
traditional “operations” assignment. Dkt. 19 at
10; Dkt. 27 at 3. Payne indicated that before Henneman could
resume working, he needed a note from his physician clearing
him to return to work. Id.
subsequently requested and took a leave of absence under the
Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) from October 6, 2014 through
December 24, 2014. Dkt. 20. Henneman and his health care
provider requested an extension of his FMLA leave to January
2, 2015, and that he be assigned to light duty upon his
return. Both requests were approved and Henneman returned to
a light duty assignment in the control room at the Kitsap
County jail on January 2.
worked without incident upon his return to light duty but
continued to struggle emotionally. Dkt. 16 at 4; Dkt. 25 at
7. Henneman drafted a resignation letter at work after his
first week back. Dkt. 17 at 6. Henneman also had a
conversation with a fellow corrections officer about putting
in his retirement notice. Dkt. 18 at 11. On January 13, 2015,
Henneman met with Chief Newlin and Lieutenant Genie Elton at
the start of his shift to inform them of his decision to
retire. Later that afternoon, Henneman met with Kitsap County
Sheriff Gary Simpson and formally submitted his letter of
resignation. Dkt. 27 at 7. The letter is straightforward:
This is my Notice of Resignation (retirement) with my final
day of work being 27, January 2015.
At this time I am retiring from Law Enforcement but will not
be drawing my retirement account. I do plan to continue
working in a different line of work.
I thank you for the opportunity you have given me to be
employed as a Corrections Officer for the people of Kitsap
At this time I wish that my Resignation not be disseminated
to my fellow officers.
Thank you, [signed]
at 8. Sheriff Simpson accepted Henneman's resignation.
Id. at 14.
days later, Correctional Officers Guild President Ken Watkins
emailed Sheriff Simpson indicating that Henneman wished to
rescind his resignation and requested a meeting to discuss
the matter. On January 21, 2015, Henneman followed up with a
letter to Simpson formally requesting to rescind his
resignation. Dkt. 17 at 12. The letter indicated that after
additional consideration and discussion with his family,
Henneman had decided it was imprudent to retire. Id.
Simpson met with Henneman and Watkins the next day. Simpson
memorialized the meeting in a letter and explained that he
would discuss Henneman's request for reinstatement with
Chief Newlin, but clarifying that Henneman should proceed
with the expectation that his last day would be January 27.
On January 26, Henneman sent a letter to Simpson
“request[ing] that you reinstate my employment, as a
reasonable accommodation for my disability.” Dkt. 17 at
17. On February 4, 2015, Chief Newlin sent a letter to
Henneman denying his request for reinstatement. “We
respected your decision to resign, as you presented your
decision as something you had given considerable thought to
and had even developed plans for your future employment. . .
. After careful consideration of your request for
reinstatement, I have determined that this course of action
is not in the best interest of the Sheriff's
Office[.]” Dkt. 21 at 9-10.
filing a grievance, Henneman filed the present lawsuit in
Superior Court. Kitsap County timely removed the case
invoking this Court's federal question jurisdiction. Dkt.
Summary Judgment Standard
judgment is proper “if the pleadings, the discovery and
disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that
there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that
the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). In determining whether an issue of fact
exists, the Court must view all evidence in the light most
favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable
inferences in that party's favor. Anderson v. Liberty
Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-50 (1986); Bagdadi v.
Nazar, 84 F.3d 1194, 1197 (9th Cir. 1996). A genuine
issue of material fact exists where there is sufficient
evidence for a reasonable factfinder to find for the
nonmoving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. The
inquiry is “whether the evidence presents a sufficient
disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is
so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of
law.” Id. at 251-52. The moving party bears
the initial burden of showing that there is no evidence which
supports an element essential to the nonmovant's claim.
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).
Once the movant has met this burden, the nonmoving party then
must show that there is a genuine issue for trial.
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250. If the nonmoving party
fails to establish the existence of a genuine issue of
material fact, “the moving party is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law.” Celotex, 477
U.S. at 323-24. “The mere existence of some alleged
factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an
otherwise properly supported motion for summary
judgment.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48.
alleges that Kitsap County violated the WLAD and the ADA by
discriminating and retaliating against him based on his
mental health issues in 2014 and 2015.Specifically,
Henneman alleges Kitsap County subjected him to disparate
treatment, failed to accommodate his disability or engage in
the interactive process, and ultimately retaliated against
him by terminating his employment. Dkt. 1-3 at 3-6. Kitsap
County argues that it did not take any adverse employment
actions against Henneman and contends that “an employer
does not violate discrimination laws for not reinstating ...