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Steinhouser v. University of Delaware

Superior Court of Delaware

June 4, 2019

MICHELLE STEINHOUSER, Plaintiff,
v.
UNIVERSITY OF DELAWARE, Defendant.

          Submitted: May 22, 2019

         Upon Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment DENIED.

          Gary W. Aber, Esq. (Argued), Attorney for Plaintiff

          Randall S. MacTough, Esq., James D. Taylor, Jr., Esq., William E. Manning, Esq. (Argued), Saul, Ewing, Arnstein, & Lehr, LLP, Attorneys for Defendant

          The Honorable Mary M. Johnston, Judge.

         PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL CONTEXT

         This action involves an employment dispute between Plaintiff and Defendant. The facts are presumed in favor of Plaintiff for purposes of this motion. Plaintiff was employed by Defendant as a bus driver. On various occasions, Plaintiff reported safety violations or dangerous conditions existing on her bus to her supervisors. Plaintiff alleges that after she brought these issues to her supervisors' attention, they began to harass her. Plaintiff filed a formal, written complaint with University of Delaware's Human Resources Department in January 2016.

         Plaintiff was involved in an accident in April 2016. According to Plaintiff, a rider falsely alleged that Plaintiff closed an automatic door on her improperly. Following the rider's allegations, Plaintiff was arrested, but the charges were dropped. Defendant terminated Plaintiff shortly thereafter. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant caused Plaintiff to be arrested, and that action was wrongful. Plaintiff also alleges that Defendant's termination of Plaintiff violates Delaware's Whistleblower Protection Act. Defendant has moved for summary judgment.

         STANDARDS OF REVIEW

         Summary Judgment

         Summary judgment is granted only if the moving party establishes that there are no genuine issues of material fact in dispute and judgment may be granted as a matter of law.[1] All facts are viewed in a light most favorable to the non-moving party.[2] Summary judgment may not be granted if the record indicates that a material fact is in dispute, or if there is a need to clarify the application of law to the specific circumstances.[3] When the facts permit a reasonable person to draw only one inference, the question becomes one for decision as a matter of law.[4] If the non-moving party bears the burden of proof at trial, yet "fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case," then summary judgment may be granted against that party.[5]

         Delaware's Whistleblower Protection Act

         Count II is brought under the provisions of Delaware's Whistleblower Protection Act ("DWPA"), \9 Del. C. § 1701 et. seq. The statute provides protection to employees pursuant to 19 Del. C. § 1703:

An employer shall not discharge, threaten, or otherwise discriminate against an employee regarding the employee's compensation, terms, conditions, ...

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