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Peterson v. City of Surprise

Court of Appeals of Arizona, First Division

December 3, 2013

ALICIA PETERSON fka ALICIA WRIGHT and PHILLIP PETERSON, husband and wife, Plaintiffs/Appellants,
v.
CITY OF SURPRISE, Defendant/Appellee.

         Not for Publication – Rule 111(c), Rules of the Arizona Supreme Court

Appeal from the Superior Court in Maricopa County No. CV2011-055776 The Honorable Alfred M. Fenzel, Judge

Kelhoffer Manolio & Firestone, PLC, Phoenix By Veronica L. Manolio Counsel for Plaintiffs/Appellants

Littler Mendelson, PC, Phoenix By R. Shawn Oller, Emily M. Craiger Counsel for Defendant/Appellee

Judge Patricia K. Norris delivered the decision of the Court, in which Presiding Judge Peter B. Swann joined.

MEMORANDUM DECISION

NORRIS, Judge

¶1 Alicia Peterson appeals from the superior court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the City of Surprise. On appeal, Peterson argues the superior court should not have found her constructive discharge and breach of contract claims against the City time-barred. Because the record reflects a genuine dispute of material fact as to when her claims accrued, we reverse summary judgment in the City's favor and remand for further proceedings consistent with this decision.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

¶2 The City's police department employed Peterson as a detective. After Peterson learned of a vacant sergeant position within the Department, [1] she tested for it, and her score placed her in first place for what would have been a promotion. According to a declaration Peterson filed with the superior court in opposing the City's summary judgment motion, almost immediately thereafter she began to be harassed by other Department employees. Peterson followed her chain of command and reported the harassment. On August 17, 2010, Peterson submitted a notice to the Department announcing her resignation; the Department accepted her notice the same day. Peterson's notice read as follows:

This memorandum is to notify the command of my resignation. This decision has come after much deliberation. I have appreciated all that I have gained from the Surprise Police Department and its employee's [sic]. My last day will be September 1, 2010. I thank those who have supported me and helped me along the way.

¶3 On August 25, 2010, the interim police chief issued a memorandum to all police employees ("Chiefs memo") and stated he was not going to fill the vacant sergeant position, noting that in the "midst of [the promotional] process . . . such a negative environment had been created . . . that an employee felt ridiculed, felt undermined and felt subjected to personal attack by fellow members of this Department."

¶4 Peterson terminated her employment on September 1, 2010. On November 30, 2010, Peterson filed a notice of claim with the City pursuant to Arizona Revised Statutes ("A.R.S.") section 12-821.01 (Supp. 2012). In her notice of claim, Peterson alleged the Department had constructively discharged her because it had created and failed to rectify a hostile work environment that had forced her to resign. Peterson identified August 25, 2010 -- the date of the Chiefs memo -- as the date her claims accrued.

¶5 On August 25, 2011, Peterson sued the City for constructive discharge and breach of contract. The City moved for summary judgment, arguing her claims were time-barred under A.R.S. § 12-821 (2003), because they had accrued on August 17, 2010 -- the day she submitted her resignation ...


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