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Wooldridge v. Macon Electric Cooperative

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Northern Division

May 15, 2017

KENNETH L. WOOLDRIDGE, Plaintiff,
v.
MACON ELECTRIC COOPERATIVE,, Defendants.

          OPINION, MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          HENRY EDWARD AUTREY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter comes is the Court on Defendants' Partial Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim, [Doc. No. 43]. Plaintiff opposes the Motion. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         Facts and Background

         Plaintiff initiated this lawsuit by filing a complaint on December 1, 2016. Defendants Macon Electric Cooperative, Paul LaRue Baker, Harold Beach, Doug Drake, Richard Kemp, Larry Robuck, Nena Robuck, George Phillip Saunders, Kemper Walker, and Glenda Wood filed their pending Partial Motion to Dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (“FRCP”) 12(b)(6) seeking to dismiss Counts I, II, III, and IV of Plaintiff's Complaint. For purposes of this Motion to Dismiss, the Court accepts as true the following facts alleged in Plaintiff's Complaint. Great Rivers Habitat Alliance v. Fed. Emergency Mgmt. Agency, 615 F.3d 958, 988 (8th Cir.2010).

         Plaintiff is an individual, a United States citizen, a Missouri resident, and a resident of Chariton County, Missouri. Plaintiff was a member of the Board of Directors for Defendant Macon Electric Cooperative from August 1980 to October 2015.

         Defendant Macon Electric Cooperative, (“MEC”) is a rural electric distribution cooperative and a member-owned Missouri non-profit corporation with its principal place of business at 31571 Business Hwy 36, Macon, MO 63552. MEC is operated by a Board of Directors (“Board”), which is composed of nine members elected in staggered three-year terms.

         Defendants Paul LaRue Baker, Harold Beach, Larry Robuck, George Philip Saunders, Kemper Walker and Glenda Wood were Board members at the time Kathryn A. Smith (“Smith”) filed her first complaint with the Missouri Human Rights Commission (“MCHR”) and EEOC.

         Defendants Jay Collins, Harold Eckler, Richard Kemp, Eugenia Rice-Pulliam, Larry Robuck and Glenda Wood were Board members at the time Smith was discharged from employment with MEC.

         Defendant Doug Drake is a Missouri resident and was MEC's General Manager and Smith's supervisor at all times relevant to this Complaint on and before January 7, 2016.

         Defendant Nena Robuck is a United States citizen and Missouri resident and the spouse of defendant Larry Robuck.

         Smith is a United States citizen and Missouri resident, a 57-year-old woman, and at all relevant times a resident of Macon County, Missouri. Smith was employed by Defendant Macon Electric Cooperative (“MEC”) at all relevant times, last holding the position of Office Manager.

         MEC is an “employer” for purposes of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act because MEC is, and all relevant times was, a person engaged in an industry affecting commerce with 20 or more employees for each working day in each of twenty or more calendar weeks in the current or preceding calendar year. See 29 U.S.C. § 630(b).

         MEC is an “employer” for purposes of Title VII because MEC is, and at all relevant times was, a person engaged in an industry affecting commerce with 15 or more employees for each working day in each of twenty or more calendar weeks in the current or preceding calendar year, and is not the United States or any corporation wholly owned by the Government of the United States, an Indian tribe, any department or agency of the District of Columbia, or a bona fide private membership club. See 42 U.S. Code § 2000e(b).

         MEC is an “employer” for purposes of the Missouri Human Rights Act because MEC at all relevant times employed six or more persons within the state and is not a corporation or association owned and operated by any religious or sectarian group.

         Each Board member is an employer for purposes of the Missouri Human Rights Act because MEC is an employer and the Board members at all relevant times directly acted in the interest of MEC.

         Drake is an employer for purposes of the Missouri Human Rights Act because MEC is an employer and Drake at all relevant times directly acted in the interest of MEC.

         In August 1980, plaintiff was elected to MEC's Board of Directors. From then on, plaintiff served continuously on the Board until October 3, 2015. As of the end of his tenure on the Board, plaintiff was compensated at the rate of $100 per Board meeting, $80 per day for any other meetings at which he represented MEC, $500 per day for any time in which he represented the Northeast Missouri Electric Power Cooperative (as MEC's selected representative), and was provided with $400 per month in insurance.

         From November 20, 1989 to January 13, 2016, Smith was employed full time by MEC, last holding the position of Office Manager.

         Around July 2011, plaintiff, a widower, began spending time socially with Smith.

         In October 2011, plaintiff told the rest of the Board members that he was seeing Smith. Initially, no one on the Board expressed any objection to the relationship between plaintiff and defendants' employee Smith. In fact, MEC Board elected plaintiff as MEC representative on the Northeast Power Board.

         However, around that same time Smith began to feel she was being subjected to harassment and a hostile work environment at MEC and by Defendant Drake because of her age and sex.

         At the Board's next meeting, in July 2012, some members of the Board expressed concern over plaintiff's relationship with Smith, alleging a conflict of interest.

         After the Board obtained a legal opinion that there was no violation of bylaw or policy created by the relationship, plaintiff was approved for nomination to the Board of Directors and in August of 2013 and was re-elected for a three year term (2013 to 2016).

         In the fall of 2013, the Board voted to exclude only Smith and one other employee from annual salary increases. After the vote, plaintiff called defendants Drake and other Board members to criticize the decision, stating that in all his time on the Board no employee had been denied an annual raise before.

         In November 2013, the Board voted to find that plaintiff had violated a “board policy” on conflicts of interest by “lobbying” for a pay raise for Smith, voted to reprimand and censure plaintiff, and requested that plaintiff resign as a Board member.

         In August 2014, the Board proposed an amendment to the MEC bylaws that would redefine “conflict of interest” so that the definition would include plaintiff's relationship with Smith.

         On October 11, 2014, Smith sent a letter to defendant Drake informing him that her “workplace environment at Macon Electric Cooperative has become increasingly hostile” in that her duties had been reduced, with some reassigned to younger employees, her access to files and computer drives had been removed, her salary was frozen, and she was being obstructed in the performance of her job duties. In the October 11, 2014 letter, Smith wrote: “I am left to conclude that my gender and/or age have been contributing factors in decisions that ultimately are being designed to eliminate my position, demote me, and/or result in involuntary separation of my employment with Macon Electric Cooperative.”

         Smith had been scheduled to receive an employee performance evaluation around this time. On October 16, 2014, defendant Drake sent an email to Smith stating, “Due to your discrimination allegations your performance evaluation will be postponed until a later date and time.” Smith never received another performance evaluation during her employment at MEC.

         On November 18, 2014, Smith sent defendant Drake a letter explaining that he was not affording her sufficient time to complete a major project, even though other employees had been given more time and more resources to complete similar projects.

         On November 20, 2014, Smith sent a letter to the then-President of the Board, Robert Long, alleging that defendant Drake was subjecting her to a “continuing and increasing hostile work environment” and retaliation for complaining of the ...


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