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Polejewski v. Corecivic of Tennessee, LLC

United States District Court, D. Montana, Great Falls Division

October 17, 2017

PAMELA JO POLEJEWSKI, Plaintiff,
v.
CORECIVIC OF TENNESSEE, LLC, Defendant.

          FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATION AND ORDER

          John Johnston, United States Magistrate Judge

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Pamela Jo Polejewski (“Ms. Polejewski”) worked at Crossroads Correctional Center (“CCC”) in Shelby, Montana from January of 2004 to July of 2004, and was re-hired to work as a registered nurse on August 4, 2014. (Doc. 18 at 2). At all times while Ms. Polejewski was employed to work at CCC, she was an employee of CCA of Tennessee, LLC. (Id. at 5). On April 1, 2016, Ms. Polejewski was called into Warden Douglas Fender's office and informed that her employment was terminated, effective immediately. (Id. at 2). During this meeting, Ms. Polejewski was provided with the employer's grievance process and the appropriate form to fill out should she wish to contest the grounds for her termination. (Id.)

         Ms. Polejewski began the grievance process and submitted a completed grievance form on April 14, 2016. (Id. at 4). She then met with Warden Fender in accordance with the grievance process on June 22, 2016, after which Warden Fender issued a written denial of her grievance. (Id.) On June 28, 2016, the written denial was mailed to Ms. Polejewski, which included information regarding the procedure to appeal Warden Fender's decision and the appropriate forms to fill out if she wished to appeal (called “Step Three” of the grievance procedure). (Id. at 4-5). Ms. Polejewski received the June 28, 2016 letter, and responded on July 3, 2016, with an email stating that she disagreed with Warden Fender's final determination, and that if there were administrators “interested in hearing my grievances at a Step 3 level[, ] that is fine.” (Doc. 23-2 at 1). Ms. Polejewski, however, did not submit the appropriate Step Three form which her employer had provided to her. (Doc. 18 at 5). On November 9, 2016, CCA of Tennessee, LLC changed its name to CoreCivic of Tennessee, LLC (“CoreCivic”). (Id. at 5).

         II. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On September 30, 2016, Ms. Polejewski filed an action pro se, claiming she was wrongfully discharged under the Montana Wrongful Discharge from Employment Act (“WDEA”), and also made a claim of blacklisting.[1] (Doc. 2). CoreCivic seeks partial summary judgment on the wrongful discharge claim, stating that Ms. Polejewski failed to exhaust its grievance policy, which is a complete bar to her claim. (Doc. 14). On June 12, 2016, Ms. Polejewski filed a Motion for Leave to File a Third Amended Complaint, which CoreCivic opposed. (Docs. 24, 28). CoreCivic also moved to strike Ms. Polejewski's Response to its Reply. (Doc. 32). Finally, Ms. Polejewski requested leave of Court to file a Response to Defendant's Reply. (Doc. 37). On October 4, 2017, the Court held a hearing on these motions. (Doc. 50).

         As an initial matter, Ms. Polejewski, a pro se plaintiff, has filed three Complaints to date, none of which name the correct defendant, CoreCivic of Tennessee, LLC. In order to avoid undue confusion, at the hearing, the Court moved sua sponte to amend the caption of this case to name “CoreCivic of Tennessee, LLC” as the proper defendant.

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         “The court shall grant summary judgment 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.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of any genuine issue of material fact. Celotex v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986). If the movant meets this initial burden, the Court must grant summary judgment unless the non-moving party can go beyond the mere pleadings and identify “specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id. at 324. The “mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986) (emphasis in original).

         The Court is required to draw all reasonable inferences in a light most favorable to the non-moving party. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007). Additionally, “in the context of a motion for summary judgment where a litigant is proceeding pro se, the court has an obligation to construe the pleadings liberally and to afford the pro se litigant the benefit of any doubt.” Radi v. MacDonald, 2006 WL 2604680, *2 (D. Mont. Sept. 11, 2006) (citing Baker v. Mc Neil Island Corrections Ctr., 859 F.2d 124, 127 (9th Cir. 1988)).

         IV. ANALYSIS

         A. CoreCivic's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment should be granted because Ms. Polejewski failed to completely exhaust CoreCivic's written internal procedures to appeal her discharge.

         CoreCivic moves for partial summary judgment on Ms. Polejewski's wrongful discharge claim. The WDEA provides the exclusive remedy for a wrongful discharge from employment claim. Mont. Code Ann. § 39-2-902.

         The WDEA provides that if the employer “maintains written internal procedures . . . under which an employee may appeal a discharge within the organizational structure of the employer, ” an employee is required to “exhaust those procedures” before filing an action under the WDEA. Mont. Code Ann. § 39-2-911(2). An employee's failure to exhaust her administrative remedies is a defense to a claim under the WDEA. Id. Subsection (3) requires the employer to notify the discharged employee of “the existence of ...


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