CVG board chair's federal lawsuit against airport employee dismissed

Judge throws out suit against airport secretary

COVINGTON, Ky. – A federal judge ruled in favor of the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport CEO’s secretary Friday afternoon, in a suit alleging she illegally recorded a phone call from the board chair.

Judge David L. Bunning handed down his decision in the case, in which Kenton County Airport Board Chairman James Huff and his wife Bertha Huff claimed Carol Spaw, administrative assistant to CVG CEO Candace McGraw, violated federal wiretap laws.

The Huffs claimed Spaw recorded a 91-minute call he mistakenly made with his cell phone to the CVG’s administrative offices while on a board-related trip to Italy on Oct. 24.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Kentucky in December, alleged Spaw violated federal wiretap laws when she recorded the call, then transcribed the tape and disseminated the transcript — which included not only a conversation between Huff and his wife, but also Huff and fellow board member, Vice Chairman Larry Savage.

Spaw's attorney Randy Freking said Spaw was adhering to the board's rules and regulations and the lawsuit is 'ridiculous' and no more than retaliation for whistleblowing — which is illegal to sue over in Kentucky.

"They called her and she wasn't sure what to do... she overheard two board members' plans to try and oust Mrs. McGraw," Freking said.

DOCUMENTS DETAIL PLAN TO OUST CEO

During the conversation, Huff and Savage reportedly talked about demoting McGraw and replacing her with Savage as CEO.

“[The call] indicated inappropriate conduct of board members and she reported it to her boss immediately," Freking said of Spaw, who reported the phone call to McGraw.

In a statement released by his lawyer in December, Huff said: "Most disturbing is the fact that my private conversations with my wife in our hotel bedroom were also listened to and recorded by airport staff. My wife and I have filed suit to protect our rights."

"...Spaw answered the accidental phone call... and eavesdropped on the private, face-to-face conversations,'' the suit alleged. Further, it stated that Spaw acted “in concert with others, transcribed select portions of the private, face-to-face conversations.”

After the 'private' phone call, Huff called Spaw from his cell phone, who at no time, according to the lawsuit, informed Huff that she had eavesdropped on or recorded the prior phone call.

But just after 3 p.m. Friday, the judge’s order was delivered in favor of Spaw, detailing:

1) Plaintiff's motion for a temporary restraining order and for preliminary injunction is denied.

2) Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(f), summary judgment is hereby entered in favor of defendant on counts 1, 2, 3 and 4.

  • Count I- Unlawful interception of a wire, oral or electronic communication in violation of the Federal Wiretap Act
  • Count II- Unlawful use of the contents of a wire, oral or electronic communication in violation of the Federal Wiretap Act
  • Count III- Unlawful disclosure of a wire, oral or electronic communication in violation of the Federal Wiretap Act
  • Count IV- Plaintiffs are entitled to a declaratory judgment

3) Pursuant to 28 USC §1367(c), the state-law claims raised in Counts 5,6,7 and 8 are dismissed without prejudice which means the claim can be pursued further.

  • Count V- Unlawful eavesdropping in violation of Kentucky law
  • Count VI- Unlawful disclosure of information obtained through eavesdropping in violation of Kentucky law
  • Count VII- Unreasonable intrusion upon the seclusion of plaintiffs
  • Count VIII- Injunctive relief

4) Plaintiffs' motion to file transcripts under seal is hereby denied.

5) Clerk shall unseal any sealed document filed in case.

6) Plaintiff's motion for extension of time to file answers to counterclaims is denied.

READ THE RULING

READ THE LAWSUIT

Freking said it’s a win for his client and the public.

“It’s a victory for all cell phone users,” Freking said. “They can answer their phone without the fear of being sued by someone who calls them.”

Jon Allison, co-counsel for Spaw, said the judge didn’t just rule against the Huffs in his decision, but he dismissed the claims, ruling in her favor.

“We think it’s a great result and a fair result,” said Allison. “[Carol] is relieved. It is very stressful to be sued as an individual, and particularly to be sued by your boss.”

It was a lawsuit, he said, should’ve never been filed to begin with.

“Spaw was a party on the phone line—if you’re a party, by law, everything else she did is permissible. She stayed on the call to fulfill her duties to the airport board,” said Allison.

“We thought the lawsuit was retaliatory in the first place—it was against an individual who thought she was doing her duties… then was sued by those who have the resources to really make her suffer,” Allison continued.

In the end, he said, the judge’s decision is “a win for the little guys.”

The Huffs’ attorney Mark Guilfoyle said in a statement Friday that he is disappointed in the ruling.

“Ms. Spaw listened in on private, confidential conversations for 91 minutes knowing that she had no business listening in,” argued Guilfoyle. “She tape-recorded the last four and a half minutes of the call when Mr. Huff and his wife were lying on the bed in their hotel room.”

The Huffs may appeal the judge’s decision.

“The case has far reaching ramifications regarding the privacy of everyone who carries a cell phone on their person. We have to consider filing an appeal,” said Guilfoyle. 

“We stand by our claim that Ms. Spaw invaded the Huffs’ privacy.”

Per Kentucky's Freedom of Information Act, WCPO has filed requests with the airport for the recordings and transcripts detailed in the lawsuit.

For more stories by Jessica Noll, go to www.wcpo.com/noll. Follow her on Twitter @JessicaWCPO.

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