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Strong v. City of Buckeye

United States District Court, D. Arizona

May 6, 2019

Douglas Strong, Plaintiff,
City of Buckeye, et al., Defendants.


          Dominic W. Lanza, United Slates District Judge

         Pending before the Court is a motion for summary judgment filed by the City of Buckeye (the “City”) and Cheryl Sedig (“Sedig”) (collectively, “Defendants”). (Doc. 26.) The motion is fully briefed and nobody has requested oral argument. For the following reasons, the Court will grant the motion with respect to Plaintiff Douglas Strong's (“Strong”) § 1983 claim and will remand the remaining state-law claims to state court.


         I. Factual History

         The City employed Strong on two separate occasions-the first beginning in December 2005 and ending in September 2008, and the second beginning during the summer of 2012 and ending in September 2016. (Doc. 27 ¶¶ 1, 2, 9, 10, 47.) The second period of employment gives rise to this action.

         In summer 2012, Strong began working as a Recreation Coordinator in the City's Community Services Department (“CSD”). (Id. ¶ 10.) Strong reported to Sedig, the CSD director, during the entirety of his second period of employment. (Id. ¶ 13.) In August 2013, Sedig promoted Strong to Management Assistant and he received a raise of approximately $20, 000. (Id. ¶ 14.)

         During 2014 and 2015, Strong was counseled or warned on several occasions about performance deficiencies. (Id. ¶ 16.) These warnings culminated in Strong being placed on a performance improvement plan (“PIP”) in August 2015. (Id. ¶¶ 17-19.) In October 2015, Sedig notified Strong that he would be fired based on his failure to comply with the PIP, but after Strong challenged this notice, he was allowed to continue working. (Id. ¶¶ 20-24.)

         In February 2016, Strong was summoned to jury service in Maricopa County Superior Court, and he served on a jury from March 8 to April 11, 2016. (Id. 25; Doc. 32 ¶ 28B.) Strong was paid his full salary during his jury service and the City didn't assign Strong any additional work while he was serving. (Doc. 27 ¶¶ 38, 26.)

         Defendants claim there were three assignments Strong was required to complete before he began his jury service: (1) preparing, posting, and distributing the necessary documents for a board meeting by March 6, 2016, (2) preparing the “Eye on Buckeye” community newsletter, and (3) making others aware of a special event application that would require attention while he was serving on the jury. (Id. ¶¶ 27, 28, 31, 36.)

         As to the first assignment-preparing, posting, and distributing the documents for the board meeting-Strong asserts he was unable to post or distribute the agenda for the meeting because he needed Sedig's approval, which she didn't provide. (Doc. 32 ¶ 28G.) Strong points to evidence that he delivered a draft agenda to Sedig before March 3, 2016. (Id. ¶ 28C.) Strong also identifies an email he sent to Sedig on March 6, 2016, in which he sought approval to finalize the draft agenda. (Id.) Strong claims Sedig didn't respond by the deadline. (Id. ¶ 28E.) Because he didn't have Sedig's approval for the draft agenda, Strong argues, he wasn't able to post or distribute the agenda. (Id. ¶ 28G.)

         With respect to the second assignment, Strong argues his failure to complete the community newsletter before his jury service wasn't his fault because he couldn't set the newsletter for design or printing until he received a letter/message from the Mayor of Buckeye, who failed to respond to a request from Strong. (Id. ¶ 31D, E.) Further, Strong notes that he delegated the assignment to another employee with instructions on how to complete it. (Id. ¶ 35A.)

         As for the third assignment, Strong disputes that he didn't make others aware of the special event application. In support of his position, Strong produces an email in which he sent the application to various departments within the City and even copied Sedig. (Id. ¶ 36B.)

         On April 12, 2016, Sedig issued a two-day disciplinary suspension to Strong for failing to complete those three assignments. (Doc. 27 ¶ 39.) Sedig warned Strong that if his performance didn't improve immediately, he would be subject to additional disciplinary action. (Id.)

         Defendants contend that, after Strong served his suspension, his performance issues continued. (Id. ¶ 41.) For example, Defendants cite an email Sedig sent to Strong on May 17, 2016, in which Sedig noted that Strong failed to arrive and leave at his designated times, communicate, complete tasks as assigned, and prioritize his work. (Id. ¶ 41a.) Defendants also present evidence that Strong failed to notify Sedig that he would be out of the office (id. ¶ 41b) and that Strong missed a deadline for an assignment Sedig had given him several months earlier, despite several reminders (Id. ¶ 41c). Finally, Defendants argue Strong engaged in divisive behavior, including by emailing an article to others in CSD entitled “Ten Signs Your Manager Wants You Out.” (Id. ¶ 41d.) Strong acknowledges that Sedig provided him with written reprimands and warnings of alleged performance deficiencies but disputes whether they were valid or justified. (Doc. 32 ¶ 41.)

         On August 23, 2016, Sedig issued a final written reprimand and warning to Strong, identifying three areas of concern: substandard or incomplete work product, lack of collaboration with and support of coworkers, and lack of communication with her. (Doc. 27 ¶ 42.)

         On September 6, 2016, Strong resigned, stating he could no longer ...

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