Former Butler County employee sues over maternity leave firing

Credit: WCPO

Credit: WCPO

More Butler County judges have come under fire in federal court after a former employee sued the Area Court for firing her while she was on maternity leave.

Angela Gabbard filed suit in the U.S. District Court in Cincinnati earlier this month against the three judges on the Butler County Area Court, the county and the commissioners, for an undisclosed amount that includes economic and punitive damages and to get her job back. They include the medical bills for the birth of her baby since her insurance was terminated.

She claims the defendants acted with “malice and a conscious disregard for Plaintiff’s federally protected rights” and she has suffered economic and emotional distress, pain and suffering.

“Defendants’ justification for terminating Gabbard is pretext for illegal discrimination on the basis of her pregnancy and retaliation for taking a leave of absence for her pregnancy,” the lawsuit reads. “Defendants also interfered with Gabbard’s rights under the FMLA by denying her FMLA leave to which she was entitled, and by using her FMLA-protected leave as a negative factor in the decision to terminate her employment.”

Gabbard had her baby May 31, 2022 and she had 30 days from that date to provide the county her Family Medical Leave Act form. She gave the form to her doctor to complete on June 9 and informed her supervisor. After another court employee texted her about her return date on July 13, she said she intended to take the full 12 weeks of leave to which she was entitled, and a week later said she’d return in September.

The lawsuit claims prior to Gabbard’s leave her supervisor was “agitated” that she wanted to take longer than six weeks off and that she asked the county to provide her a place to express breast milk upon her return.

She alleges Court Administrator Linda Lovelace fired her in a letter dated Aug. 2. The lawsuit claims Lovelace cited the following concerns in a termination letter: “1) Gabbard allegedly cleaned out her desk when she took leave; 2) failed to return FMLA paperwork after allegedly being reminded and asked about it on several occasions; and 3) failed to submit a request, in writing, to Lovelace along with a signed physician’s statement stating how long she needed to be off of work.”

Gabbard claims nobody told her she hadn’t provided sufficient paperwork.

Area III Court Judge Courtney Caparella-Kraemer told the Journal-News she could not comment on the lawsuit and in fact knew nothing about it prior to the federal court filing. The other judges couldn’t be reached for comment.

Butler County Prosecutor Mike Gmoser said “at this time” he has no comment.

Another federal employment action against Butler County judges has been going on for six years, and no end appears in sight. Common Pleas Court Judge Greg Stephens has been fighting with his former magistrate Kimberly Edelstein over claims he fired her for being Jewish, and while she won a $1 million verdict in February the battle is ongoing.

The legal bills to defend the case through the end of April totaled $345,650, and continue to mount. Of the current total, county taxpayers have paid the county’s $100,000 insurance deductible.

Edelstein filed the $1 million lawsuit against Stephens, the county, Butler County Prosecutor Mike Gmoser and Chief Assistant Prosecutor Dan Ferguson in 2017, claiming Stephens fired her for wanting to take off eight Jewish high holy days and saying the men bad-mouthed her, destroying her career.

She also claimed the county’s policy of allowing Christians to have Christmas off without taking a vacation day is discriminatory. The federal court dismissed the county, Gmoser and Ferguson from the case in 2020.

Edelstein has appealed to the 6th Circuit Court, claiming among other things the county should still be on hook — and presumably financially responsible — in the lawsuit.

Stephens has asked the judge to rule that the evidence did not support the $1.1 million verdict or grant a new trial. Failing those he is asking the judgement be reduced because punitive damages weren’t warranted and the back-pay amount was erroneous.

The latest dispute is over Stephens asking the court to consider a May 23 administrative law judge ruling in his favor on Edelstein’s EEOC claims.

“The fact-finding and analysis contained in the ALJ Decision, issued after considering the same set of facts and nearly identical legal theories, is relevant to this Court’s consideration of three arguments contained in the Post-Trial Motions,” the motion reads. “Specifically, the ALJ Decision supports Defendant’s position that the verdict of the jury was against the manifest weight of the evidence.”

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