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Sullivan v. Town of Southampton

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

July 17, 2018




         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff, Regina Shea-Sullivan, filed an eleven count complaint in state court against Defendants-Town of Southampton (“Town”), the Town Select Board (“Board”), and Edward Cauley (“Cauley”)-raising claims related to mistreatment she allegedly suffered while employed by the Town. The case was removed to this court by Defendants based on the existence of two claims brought under federal law. The court now considers Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgement (Dkt. No. 22).

         II. Jurisdiction

         Plaintiff's complaint includes two counts based on federal law: Count VII brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and alleging deprivations of Plaintiff's First Amendment free speech rights, equal protection rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment, and rights to due process under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments; and Count X alleging a conspiracy to interfere with her civil rights in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1985. Nine other counts assert claims solely under Massachusetts law. With respect to the claims based on federal law, this court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331. As to the state law claims, because they arise out of the same facts relevant to the federal claims, this court has discretion as to whether to exercise supplemental jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367. See Rodriguez v. Doral Mortg. Corp., 57 F.3d 1168, 1175 (1st Cir. 1995).

         III. Summary Judgment Standard

         “Summary judgment is appropriate ‘if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.'” Bellone v. Southwick-Tolland Regional School Dist., 748 F.3d 418, 422 (1st Cir. 2014) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a)). “[A] nonmovant can forestall summary judgment by ‘present[ing] definite, competent evidence' demonstrating the existence of a genuine dispute about a material fact.” Murray v. Kindred Nursing Centers W. LLC, 789 F.3d 20, 25 (1st Cir. 2015) (quoting Mesnick v. Gen. Elec. Co., 950 F.2d 816, 822 (1st Cir. 1991)). “‘A dispute is genuine if the evidence about the fact is such that a reasonable jury could resolve the point in the favor of the non-moving party.' . . . ‘A fact is material if it has the potential of determining the outcome of the litigation.'” Patco Constr. Co. v. People's United Bank, 684 F.3d 197, 206-07 (1st Cir. 2012) (quoting Rodríguez-Rivera v. Federico Trilla Reg'l Hosp. of Carolina, 532 F.3d 28, 30 (1st Cir. 2008)).

         IV. Material Facts

         Consistent with the summary judgment standard, the court summarizes the relevant facts presented by Plaintiff and supported by citations to the record.

         A. Events Prior to August 18, 2013

         In 2006, Plaintiff, Regina Shea-Sullivan, began working for the Town as an administrative assistant. Four days per week Plaintiff worked for the Board and one day per week she worked for the Town Highway Department. The individual defendant, Edward Cauley, was the Highway Superintendent and Plaintiff's supervisor when she performed work for the Town Highway Department. He was a Town employee for approximately thirty years. On four occasions between 2008 and 2010, Cauley subjected Plaintiff to unwanted sexual advances. At some point following the last incident, Plaintiff verbally reported Cauley's conduct to David Silvernail, the chief of police for the Town, and Jacquie Sears, then a member of the Board. Silvernail, in turn, told Michael Phelan, then chair of the Board, about the report. Sears also shared the allegations with Phelan and another member of the Board, Ann Roy. These conversations most likely occurred during 2011, but some may have happened as late as 2012 or 2013. Despite several town officials having knowledge of Plaintiff's allegations, no action was taken against Cauley and he continued to be Plaintiff's supervisor. Plaintiff has not alleged Cauley made any other unwanted sexual advances toward her. The evidence in the record indicates Cauley did not learn of Plaintiff's complaints regarding his conduct until, at the earliest, 2012 and possibly not not until after Plaintiff filed a written complaint with the Board in September of 2013. After learning of Plaintiff's complaint, Cauley called Plaintiff a “liar” when speaking to others about her allegations of unwanted sexual advances towards her.

         The position of Town Administrator (“TA”) became vacant in 2011. The Board appointed Plaintiff to the position of Interim TA for a period of twelve weeks. Subsequently the Select Board approved additional twelve-week periods, the last of which ended in early 2014. As Interim TA, Plaintiff received no additional pay, performed new TA duties, and continued to perform her administrative duties, except that she ceased doing work for the Highway Department. Initially, the job description for the permanent TA position stated a college degree was required. In April of 2012, the Board voted to change the job description for the TA position to make a college degree suggested rather than mandatory. This change allowed Plaintiff, who does not have a college degree, to be considered for the permanent TA position.

         In May of 2012, Cauley was elected to the Select Board, the five-member voting body that presides over Southampton. Shortly after being elected to the Board, Cauley voted to renew Plaintiff's appointment as Interim TA for an additional twelve weeks. In September and December of 2012, the Board voted for additional twelve week renewals of Plaintiff's interim position. Cauley voted against both of these extensions. Cauley also voted against giving Plaintiff a raise or providing her an administrative assistant to assist with her workload, and led an unsuccessful attempt to change the job description for the permanent TA position to again require a college degree.

         During the spring of 2013, a screening committee considered applicants for the permanent TA position. Cauley was one of five members of the screening committee. The other four members of the committee included Silvernail and Sears and two other members who had previously been friendly with Cauley. On April 16, 2013, the Screening Committee announced five finalists. Plaintiff was not among the finalists, but, after a complaint from Sears, Plaintiff was interviewed for the TA position on May 5, 2013. A different candidate was offered the position. That candidate had both a Juris Doctor and Master of Business ...

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