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Cunningham v. Fulton County

United States District Court, N.D. Georgia, Atlanta Division

January 10, 2019

TRACEY CUNNINGHAM, Plaintiff,
v.
FULTON COUNTY, THEODORE JACKSON, and JIMMY CARTER, Defendants.

          ORDER

          RICHARD W. STORY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This case comes before the Court on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss [11]. After reviewing the record, the Court enters the following Order.

         Factual Background[1]

         Plaintiff, Tracey Cunningham, worked for the Fulton County Sheriff's Department as a custodial officer for approximately 16 years.[2] In essence, Plaintiff claims she was the victim of retaliatory harassment by her employer for speaking out on various perceived wrongs. The Court attempts to organize Plaintiff's factual allegations into three general incidents.

         The FLSA Lawsuit

         On February 19, 2016, Plaintiff, along with other Fulton County Sheriff's Department employees, filed a putative class action under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) against Fulton County and various public officials. Tracey Cunningham, et al. v. Fulton County, Georgia, et al., Civil Action File No. 1:16-CV-00533-MLB. The case is currently pending in the Northern District of Georgia. Plaintiff alleges “Defendants”[3] labeled her as a disgruntled employee and began a pattern of retaliation and harassment against her. Any specifics regarding the individual parties and type of harassment is unclear from Plaintiff's Amended Complaint [3]. It is possible she alleges she received unfair employee evaluations as a result of her participation in the lawsuit.

         Plaintiff's Internal Complaints

         At some point, Plaintiff was assigned as a supervisor over the Fulton County Jail's food services and kitchen. The jail contracted with an independent vendor to provide the food and service staff for the kitchen. Plaintiff felt that the independent vendor was inadequate. Specifically, she noticed that the food was molded and out of date. Further, she alleges the kitchen used prisoner labor instead of the paid-for outside service staff and that “Defendants” knew about this arrangement.

         As supervisor, Plaintiff refused to allow prisoner kitchen labor. In response, Plaintiff alleges the vendor complained to “Defendants” and that Plaintiff was subjected to disciplinary actions as a result. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges she was bared from entry into the kitchen. Generally, Plaintiff alleges she was bullied. Otherwise, Plaintiff does not provide more details on the alleged disciplinary actions. Though unclear, it appears from the Amended Complaint, Plaintiff continued in her role as a supervisor. It is also unclear if Plaintiff complained to any Defendants directly and if so, the details of that complaint.

         The Press Conference

         At some unspecified time, but after Plaintiff complained internally about the vendor, Plaintiff voiced her concerns about the kitchen services at a press conference. She called the vendor's practices “fraudulent” and accused them of “public abuse.” (Am. Compl., Dkt. [3] ¶42.) Subsequently, “Defendants” held their own press conference where they stated Plaintiff's claims were false, called her a “disgruntled employee, ” and claimed that the prisoners in the kitchen were enrolled in a cooking class, not working for the vendor. It is unclear if Plaintiff's employment was affected in response to her press conference.

         Ultimately, Plaintiff took Family Medical Leave sometime in the fall of 2017 for emotional stress, which ultimately led to her retirement in November 2017. She then filed this suit on December 28, 2017, alleging various constitutional violations, as well as violation of Georgia's Whistleblower Act. Soon there after, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint [3] on January 4, 2018, making no apparent changes to the original Complaint [1], but adding a supplemental jury demand [3-1]. Defendants now jointly move to dismiss [11-1] Plaintiff's Amended Complaint [3].

         Discussion

         I.Legal ...


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