Middletown airport employee files federal lawsuit against city

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Aerial scenes of Central Ave business district downtown Middletown

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

A Middletown Regional Airport employee has filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Middletown to collect what she claims are unpaid wages from earlier this year.

Ashley Schulte, who is currently employed by the city at the airport, filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati on Aug. 20 and is seeking a jury trial, according to court records.

Schulte’s lawsuit said she has also filed a charge of discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging that she has complained about inappropriate comments made by her immediate supervisor, former airport manager Dan Dickten, and that she has been retaliated against because of her complaint.

Schulte is seeking back pay, liquidated damages, punitive damages, interest, lost pay and benefits, injunctive relief and attorney fees from the city.

City spokeswoman Shelby Quinlivan declined to comment about the pending litigation against the city. Dickten, who retired as the airport manager last week, could not be reached for comment.

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In Schulte’s allegations, she said she spoke with Dickten in late 2019 about working at the airport, fueling airplanes and doing other related duties because she liked the work and would give her an opportunity to work with her father.

Dickten offered Schulte a position at the airport and asked her to start work on or about Jan. 5, 2020 but said he would not be able to pay her until the city formally approved her hiring, according to the complaint. He allegedly told Schulte if she worked without pay, it would guarantee her the position and he would make it up to her later, she claims.

Schulte claims she worked full-time or nearly full-time hours from Jan. 5 until Feb. 9 and that she was not paid for that work.

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Starting Feb. 9, Schulte went on the city payroll and began punching a time card to record her hours of work. From Feb. 9 and for the following 14 weeks, Schulte’s time cards showed she worked about 35 hours a week.

Schulte alleges that Dickten intentionally under-reported her hours to Middletown’s payroll department, consistently reporting 29 hours or less per week to keep her from being entitled to health insurance benefits. She also alleges the city’s payroll department did not verify Dickten’s report of Schulte’s hours

She did not receive the health insurance benefits to which she was entitled to under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the complaint says.

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In the court documents, Schulte said she also complained to the city about not being paid at least Ohio’s minimum wage of $8.70 an hour for her work in January and comments made by Dickten suggesting that she use her “assets” as a female to maintain and increase business at the airport.

Schulte claims Dickten told Schulte, “It’s on,” after learning that she had retained an attorney, reduced her hours and took other retaliatory actions.

Schulte claimed that she reported Dickten’s actions to city officials and the city has did not protect Schulte from retaliation by Dickten. She also claimed that she has lost, or could lose, pay and benefits and that she has suffered emotional distress.

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Cincinnati attorneys Edward Dorsey and Andrew Kaake, who are representing Schulte, did not return multiple calls for comment for this report.

In 2018, the Journal-News reported about Dickten’s previous experiences as airport manager at Lunken Airport and director of aviation for the Western Reserve Port Authority that operates the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport.

At the time, the Middletown Law Department said all hiring procedures were followed, including a background check, when Dickten was offered the contract.

Dickten was accused of sexual harassment twice by former Western Reserve Port Authority employees, according to reports by The (Youngstown) Vindicator. Both times, the Western Reserve Port Authority had the claims resolved through its insurance company that paid out settlements of $30,000 and $40,000 respectively. In January 2017, Dickten told the Vindicator that he never harassed the two women that were paid the settlements.

He resigned from that position on April 23, 2018, when his two-year contract expired.

Dickten was the center of controversy in 2004, when as airport manager at Lunken Airport in Cincinnati he tried to recruit commercial airlines there, which was a violation of city ordinances, according to media reports.

Dickten was employed by the city of Cincinnati from July 1998 until he resigned as Lunken Airport manager in October 2004 following the controversy, according to a public information officer in the Cincinnati City Manager’s Office.