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Williams v. McKee

United States District Court, D. Colorado

September 15, 2014

ROBIN L. WILLIAMS, Personal Representative of the Estate of Michael R. Williams, Deceased, Plaintiff,
v.
FRED D. McKEE, DEBBIE GRIFFITH, and DELTA COUNTY, COLORADO, Defendants.

ORDER

PHILIP A. BRIMMER, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss [Docket No. 20] filed by defendants Fred D. McKee, Debbie Griffith, and Delta County, Colorado and on Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to File Second Amended Complaint [Docket No. 31] filed by plaintiff Robin L. Williams, as personal representative of the estate of Michael R. Williams. This matter arises out of Mr. Williams' termination from his positions as a Detention Officer in the Delta County Sheriff's Department and an Appraiser at the Delta County Assessor's Office. The Court has jurisdiction based on 28 U.S.C. § 1331.

I. BACKGROUND

The amended complaint[1] sets forth the following factual allegations. Defendant Fred D. McKee has been the Delta County Sheriff at all times relevant to this case. Docket No. 19 at 1, ¶ 2. Defendant Debbie Griffith has been the Delta County Assessor at all relevant times. Id. at 1, ¶ 3.

In 2010, Mr. Williams was hired into a full-time position as a Detention Officer in the Delta County Sheriff's Department. Id. at 2, ¶ 8. On January 8, 2011, he received a written evaluation stating that he "meets expectations" as to work habits, customer service, team work/relations, job competency/proficiency, use of supervision, and evaluation of performance; that he exceeded expectations in establishing positive relationship; and that he did not meet expectations in problem solving because his computer skills were lacking. Id. at 2, ¶ 9. This is the only written evaluation he received on the job; he did not receive any complaints about his performance. Id. at 2, ¶¶ 9-10.

Mr. Williams had a bumper sticker on his privately-owned pickup truck that said: "Still Voting Democrat? You're Stuck on Stupid." Id. at 3, ¶¶ 12-13. Mr. Williams did not use his truck for work and it was not visibly identified as a county vehicle. Id. at 4, ¶ 23. Mr. Williams parked his pickup truck in front of the Work Release Facility of the Delta County Jail, where he worked. Id. at 3, ¶ 11.

At the end of June 2011, Mr. Williams' immediate supervisor, Karl Martin, told Mr. Williams that defendant McKee had received a complaint about the bumper sticker. Id. Specifically, Mr. McKee had been contacted by a concerned citizen complaining that he found the bumper sticker disconcerting. Id. at 5, ¶ 29. When asked how the citizen knew the truck belonged to a county employee, the citizen said he knew because the truck was parked in front of the building where the employees park. Id. The citizen asked Mr. McKee if he shared Mr. Williams' political views. Id. at 6, ¶ 30. A few days later, Mr. McKee called Mr. Williams and told him that a Delta County resident was offended by the bumper sticker and asked if Mr. Williams could park his truck around the side or back of the building. Id. at 3, ¶ 14.

During the month of August, Mr. Williams drove his pickup truck to work and parked it in front of the building, but with blue tape covering the bumper sticker. Id. at 3, ¶ 17. During the second week of the month, Mr. Williams forgot to put tape over the bumper sticker. Id. at 3, ¶ 18. The same concerned citizen called Mr. McKee to report that the truck with the bumper sticker was in front of the building again. Id. at 5, ¶ 29; see also Docket No. 20-3 at 1. Mr. McKee called Mr. Williams and said, "I need you to help me out here and get it covered." Docket No. 19 at 3, ¶ 18. Mr. Williams did so. Id. A week or two later, Mr. Williams arrived at work with the bumper sticker uncovered. Id. at 3-4, ¶ 19. Mr. McKee told him to "be sure to get that tape on there before you leave the house." Id.

On August 29, 2011, Mr. Williams asked Mr. McKee why he could not park his private vehicle on a city street. Id. at 4, ¶ 20. Mr. McKee raised his voice and said: "That city street improvement is county property and that is my building, end of discussion." Id. This encounter caused Mr. Williams significant stress. Id. at 4, ¶ 21. He wrote Mr. McKee a letter requesting a leave of absence. Id. Mr. McKee found Mr. Williams' letter offensive and spoke to another Sheriff's Office employee, who agreed. Id. at 5-6, ¶ 29. The Undersheriff, M.L. Taylor, advised Mr. McKee that Mr. Williams should be terminated immediately based on the tone of the letter. Id.

After August 29, 2011, Mr. Williams parked his truck, with the bumper sticker uncovered, on the street near the Work Release Facility. Id. at 4, ¶ 24.

On September 20, 2011, Mr. McKee wrote Mr. Williams a letter, stating:

In your letter the manner in which you reply to these issues indicates that you have no intention to comply with [the request to park the truck on the west side or behind the building]. I find that this level of insubordination to be [sic] intolerable and effective immediately, your employment with the Delta County Sheriff's Department Sheriff's office [sic] is terminated.

Id. at 4-5, ¶ 26. The Delta County Sheriff's Office has no stated policy on political bumper stickers. Id. at 5, ¶ 28.

Mr. Williams filed for state unemployment benefits; the Industry Claim Appeals Panel found that his behavior was not rude or offensive within the meaning of Colo. Rev. Stat. §§ 8-73-108(4), (5)(e)(XIV) and awarded him benefits. Id. at 6, ¶ 31. Another Delta County Detention Officer has parked and continues to park a car with a "No Obama" ...


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