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Sheaffer v. State ex rel University of Wyoming

February 18, 2009


Appeal from the District Court of Albany County, The Honorable Wade E. Waldrip, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hill, Justice

Before VOIGT, C.J., and GOLDEN, HILL, KITE, and BURKE, JJ.

[¶1] This is an appeal from summary judgment granted against appellant Corrine Sheaffer ("Sheaffer") and for appellees the State of Wyoming ex. rel. the University of Wyoming ("UW") and its employees Richard Johnson, Kevin White, and Bruce Hooper ("Johnson," "White," and "Hooper"). Sheaffer worked for UW for over twenty-five years. After her involvement in an illicit audio tape incident, UW terminated her employment in February of 2004. The termination precipitated this lawsuit and on appeal, we affirm.


[¶2] Sheaffer presents five issues for review:

1. The third reason proffered by [the University of Wyoming] for terminating [Sheaffer] presents a genuine issue of material fact, thereby reversing summary judgment.

2. The district court erred in granting summary judgment against [Sheaffer‟s] claim for retaliatory discharge for protected activity in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a).

3. The district court erred in granting summary judgment against [Sheaffer‟s] claim for gender discrimination in violation of 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e.

4. The district court erred in granting summary judgment against [Sheaffer‟s] claim for wrongful termination/breach of contract in violation of UniReg 5 and/or 174.

5. The district court erred in granting summary judgment against [Sheaffer‟s] claim for interference with contract.


[¶3] UW employed Corrine Sheaffer for more than twenty-five years. However, in February of 2004, UW terminated Sheaffer from her position as Transportation and Parking Services (TransPark) Manager. UW‟s position is that Sheaffer was terminated "for cause" pursuant to UW‟s University Regulation (UniReg) 174 for her role in a secret audio tape recording of a meeting of the UW Traffic Appeals Committee (TAC).

[¶4] In 2002, upon assuming the position of TransPark Manager, Sheaffer became interested in the TAC, which granted or denied appeals regarding campus traffic violations. Her interest apparently stemmed from the fact that granting traffic appeals directly affected TransPark‟s income. As time progressed, Sheaffer expressed periodic dissatisfaction with the TAC to Richard Johnson, her immediate supervisor.

[¶5] Sheaffer‟s main complaints to Johnson centered on the number of appeals that were being granted and a general lack of consistency in the handling of the appeals. There was a generalized perception by Sheaffer that the members of the TAC were biased in favor of faculty, administration, and student athletes. Along with those complaints, Sheaffer‟s employee, Paul Kunkel, added his own concerns. According to Kunkel, TAC appellants who came to the "red house"*fn1 to discuss their appeals were able to overhear portions of the meeting while waiting in the reception area. Along with the appellants, other employees of TransPark could also hear portions of the meeting, and a specific complaint*fn2 by one employee, Angie Bules, prompted a conversation between Sheaffer, Kunkel, and Sheaffer‟s assistant, Fred Lorenz.

[¶6] During that conversation, Sheaffer, Kunkel, and Lorenz agreed that the only way to make the UW administration react to concerns about the inappropriate behavior of the TAC would be if the administration heard exactly what took place during a meeting of the TAC. They discussed the possibility of secretly taping a meeting of the TAC, and Kunkel said that at the end of the conversation, Sheaffer directed him to purchase a tape recorder and to tape a meeting of the TAC, unbeknownst to the members. Sheaffer admits that she authorized the purchase of a tape recorder, but denies that she directed Kunkel to use the recorder to tape a meeting of the TAC.

[¶7] According to Sheaffer‟s direction, Kunkel purchased a tape recorder on November 4, 2003. After making the purchase, he testified that he hid the tape recorder in the TAC meeting room on November 6, 2003, pressed "record," and exited the room before the meeting began. Indeed, most of the meeting was secretly recorded, including a number of minutes of discussion of current events by members of the TAC as they waited for the meeting to begin. Bob Beck, Kevin White, and Bruce Hooper, the three members of the TAC present that day, had no knowledge that the meeting was being taped.

[¶8] After the meeting, Kunkel delivered the tape to Sheaffer. Lorenz and Sheaffer listened to the tape, and when Sheaffer‟s supervisor, Richard Johnson, returned the following Monday, November 10, 2003, Sheaffer and Lorenz met with him to discuss the TAC‟s inappropriate behavior and disclosed that they had a tape recording of a meeting. Johnson was immediately concerned about the propriety of the secret taping, and the next day, he informed UW attorney Rod Lang and the head of Human Resources of the taping. He then initiated his own investigation of how the tape was made. During that meeting, he talked to Kunkel, who relayed the background of how the tape was made.

[¶9] Meanwhile, attorney Lang contacted the Chief of UW Police, Tim Banks, and requested an investigation and that the matter be turned over to the Albany County District Attorney for a determination as to whether or not a crime had been committed. Following the Albany County Attorney‟s decision to not prosecute anyone, the UW disciplinary investigation also concluded.

[¶10] On February 10, 2004, Sheaffer received written notice of UW‟s intent to terminate her. The notice detailed the reasons for termination and notified Sheaffer of her right to a pre-termination hearing. Sheaffer exercised her right to a hearing and asked for clarification of the decision to terminate. Subsequent to the hearing, Sheaffer appealed her termination through the process set out in the UniRegs. However, Sheaffer withdrew her Petition for Review in exchange for UW‟s agreement to not contest her claim for unemployment benefits.

[¶11] Sheaffer then filed claims of sex and age discrimination and retaliatory discharge with the EEOC. Following a receipt of a "right to sue" letter, Sheaffer brought the instant action alleging six claims for relief on October 26, 2006.*fn3 The State filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on August 1, 2007, which the district court granted. This appeal followed.


[¶12] When we review the granting of a summary judgment,

[W]e employ the same standards and use the same materials as were employed and used by the trial court. We examine the record from the vantage point most favorable to the party who opposed the motion, and we give that party the benefit of all favorable inferences that may fairly be drawn from the record. Summary judgment is appropriate only when no genuine issue as to any material fact exists and the prevailing party is entitled to have a judgment as a matter of law. A genuine issue of material fact exists when a disputed fact, if it were proven, would have the effect of establishing or refuting an essential element of the cause of action or defense which the parties have asserted. We review a grant of summaryjudgment deciding a question of law de novo and afford no deference to the trial court‟s ruling.

Platt v. Creighton, 2007 WY 18, ¶ 7, 150 P.3d 1194, 1198 (Wyo. 2007) (quotingBlack v. William Insulation, Co., 2006 WY 106, ¶ 7, 141 P.3d 123, 126-27 (Wyo. 2006)).

[ΒΆ13] We will affirm a grant of summary judgment if it can be sustained on any legal ground appearing in the record. Lever v. Community First Bancshares, Inc., 989 P.2d 634, 637 (Wyo. 1999) (quoting ...

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