Appeals court dismisses 2 lawsuits filed against county

Frenchko’s suits against fellow commissioners may move forward in court

WARREN — The appeal of a lawsuit filed by a former Trumbull County commissioners administrative secretary against her bosses was dismissed on Monday by the 11th District Court of Appeals.

Former Trumbull County employee Christine Glenn filed a lawsuit against the commissioners in December 2021 alleging the board created a hostile working environment and discriminated against her because of her age. Glenn, of Niles, claimed physical and emotional damages because of the way Commissioner Niki Frenchko treated her and spoke about people with her ethnicity, according to the lawsuit that was filed in the U.S. Northern Ohio District Court.

Judge Charles E. Fleming ruled in favor of the defendants in the lawsuit filed by Glenn. The judge stated the attorneys for Glenn did not bring supportable evidence to her claims.

“The court finds — without facts supporting an injury that is compensable under the ADEA (Age Discrimination Employment Act) — plaintiff’s proposed amended complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted,” the judge wrote in his nine-page decision.

The 11th District Court of Appeals this week affirmed the earlier court’s decision.

The court noted that Glenn failed to exhaust administrative remedies for her claim of age discrimination. It noted that she failed to file complaints with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission prior to filing suit in either state or federal courts. It also noted Glenn could not file against Frenchko individually, and she did not exhaust administrative remedies for her claim of ethnic discrimination.

The court also noted that Glenn failed to show any economic loss that she suffered because of her claims of discrimination.

In February, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s ruling dismissing a lawsuit filed by Lisa DeNunzio Blair against the Trumbull Commissioners that also alleged Frenchko had made comments to the effect that county employees are “henchmen,” “minions” and “hacks.”

The lawsuit also stated that Frenchko repeatedly referred to the county government as a swamp and referred to her staff as “flying monkeys” and other derogatory comments.

The commissioner also was alleged to have used derogatory and derisive terms when referring to Italian-American county workers, calling them “greasy,” “sausage makers” and referring to some office workers as being akin to the Corleones of “The Godfather” movie fame, according to the court filing.

The lawsuit claimed three counts — discrimination based on national origin / ancestry, defamation, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Judge John R. Adams, U.S. District Court Northern District of Ohio, in Akron, in July dismissed Blair’s lawsuit against the commissioners. Adams wrote that the claim against the commissioners is legally insufficient. He stated Frenchko does not have supervisory authority over the plaintiff because she is one of three commissioners who vote on Blair’s employment status.

While the board generically qualifies as an employer, Frenchko’s alleged actions were not the actions of the board as a body, which may only act with a majority vote.

“The plaintiff has not alleged that she has suffered any discrimination as a result of an act of the board as a whole, nor has she alleged any conduct of Frenchko that has sufficiently influenced the board in any meaningful manner,” Adams wrote in his dismissal.

Blair now works as the interim county clerk in the commissioner’s office.

Frenchko states the successful appellate rulings in these two cases demonstrate the CORSA determinations to settle other lawsuits before going to trial likely were incorrect. Frenchko would have preferred to have gone to trial in each of the cases. CORSA provides the county its insurance policy.

“We would have prevailed on the cases the board settled, if we took them to trial like I wanted,” Frenchko said. “Instead, they played politics to advance a political agenda and cost the county money.”

Frenchko has filed her own lawsuits against current and former Trumbull County commissioners.

In one lawsuit, U.S. District Judge Philip Calabrese in January wrote an opinion that stated Trumbull County Commissioner Mauro Cantalamessa, former Commissioner Frank Fuda and members of the Trumbull County Sheriff’s Office could be found individually liable for punitive damages if a lawsuit filed by Frenchko moves to trial.

The ruling came in a federal civil rights lawsuit filed last year on Frenchko’s behalf by attorneys David Betras and Matt Miller-Novak following her 2022 arrest during a commissioner’s meeting and a separate event in March 2023, when Sheriff Paul Monroe knocked over Frenchko’s cellphone while she recorded a commissioners meeting.

Frenchko claims her fellow commissioners, Monroe and sheriff’s office Sgts. Harold Wix and Robert Ross conspired to have her falsely arrested during a July 2022 meeting.

Some charges filed by Frenchko’s legal team were dismissed.

On Feb. 9, the defendants filed a joint motion to appeal the judge’s ruling.

In a separate civil lawsuit filed in March 2023, Frenchko and an organization called Open Government Advocates, claims that current commissioners Denny Malloy and Cantalamessa had improperly conducted round robin communications through phone calls and emails that led, on Feb. 28, 2023, to county employees being sent home to deescalate a situation in which Frenchko was demanding documents.

Frenchko and OGA claim that this action and others violate the state’s open meeting act.

After all Trumbull County judges recused themselves from this case, the Ohio Supreme Court assigned retired Judge W Wyatt McKay to it.



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