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Hernandez-Nolt v. Washington County

Court of Appeals of Oregon

February 8, 2017

Veronica HERNANDEZ-NOLT, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
WASHINGTON COUNTY, Defendant-Respondent.

          Argued and Submitted May 10, 2016, Southridge High School, Beaverton.

         Washington County Circuit Court C108326CV; Gayle Ann Nachtigal, Senior Judge.

          Javier Spyker argued the cause for appellant. On the briefs was Manuel C. Hernandez and Hernandez and Associates, LLC.

          Christopher A. Gilmore argued the cause and fled the brief for respondent.

          Before Sercombe, Presiding Judge, and Tookey, Judge, and DeHoog, Judge. [*]

         Case Summary:

         In this wrongful discharge case, the trial court granted a directed verdict to plaintiff's former employer, Washington County, and plaintiff appeals.

         Held:

         The trial court did not err in directing a verdict for the county. Plaintiff failed to present evidence that the county intentionally created or maintained objectively intolerable work conditions that caused plaintiff to resign from the county at that time.

         Affirmed.

          TOOKEY, J.

         In this wrongful discharge case, plaintiff appeals the trial court's judgment in favor of plaintiff's former employer, defendant Washington County.[1] Plaintiff asserts that the trial court erred when it granted a directed verdict to the county based on its conclusion that plaintiff was not fulfilling an important public duty, which is a required element of a wrongful discharge claim, when she truthfully complied with a federal auditor's request for information about a federal program managed by the county. The county defends the trial court's conclusion, and also proffers an alternative reason for affirming, arguing that we should affirm the court's grant of a directed verdict on the basis that plaintiff failed to present evidence that she was constructively discharged by the county because of her compliance with the federal auditor's requests. We conclude that we should affirm based on the alternative reason advanced by defendant, and do not reach plaintiff's arguments about a public duty.

         Because this case is on appeal from a grant of directed verdict to the county, we view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party-in this case, plaintiff-and give that party the benefit of every reasonable inference that may be drawn from the evidence. Fang v. Li. 203 Or.App. 481, 484, 125 P.3d 832 (2005). In taking that review, we do not weigh conflicting evidence or evaluate credibility. Id. at 185. A directed verdict is appropriate only if the defendant was entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Id. With that standard in mind, we recite the relevant facts as follows.

         In December 1999, the county hired plaintiff as an occupancy specialist and Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) coordinator for its Department of Housing Services (HS). Prior to that time, plaintiff had worked in other departments at the county for several years. Plaintiff's direct supervisor was Adell Potter, and the assistant director of HS was Henry Alvarez. Plaintiff was the only FSS coordinator at HS, but she spent only about 10 percent of her time on FSS matters, working on issues as they came up. Plaintiff ...


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