The opinion of the court was delivered by: Katz, Senior District Judge.
Plaintiff Tyra Blain alleges that she was illegally fired by
Bell Atlantic. Before the court is defendant's motion for summary
Ms. Blain worked for Bell as a customer service representative,
beginning in July 1994. While at work on December 29, 1995, she
complained of chest pains and shortness of breath in connection
with having an anxiety attack. She was taken by ambulance from
work to the emergency room, where she was examined, advised to
take Tylenol, and released. Ms. Blain requested disability
benefits (under the Bell Atlantic Sickness and Accident
Disability Benefit Plan, or "SADBP") for the month of January.
That request was granted, and the Health and Safety Management
Center ("HSMC," part of the Human Resources Department) assigned
her a return-to-work date of January 29, 1996.*fn1
The assigned HSMC employee, Teresa Mack, talked to Ms. Blain's
treating psychiatrist, Dr. Edwin Nii Adom, on January 29. Based
on that conversation, in which Dr. Adom indicated a need for
further analysis of Ms. Blain's condition and promised additional
documentation, Ms. Blain's disability certification was extended
from January 28 to February 25, 1996. Ms. Mack informed Ms. Blain
of that decision and the requirement that she submit additional
documentation in a telephone conversation
on January 29. See Ex. 5 ¶ 5; Ex. 5, Att. 1 at 11.
Ms. Blain did not return to work on February 26, and neither
she nor Dr. Adom provided any additional documentation to support
an extension of her disability period. Her benefits were thus
suspended on February 26, effective the same day. Ms. Blain was
informed of the suspension of her benefits in a letter from HSMC
dated February 28. See Ex. 5, Att. 4.
On April 12, Ms. Blain's immediate supervisor, Isabella Coates,
contacted HSMC for an update on Ms. Blain's disability status,
and she was told that Ms. Blain's benefits had been suspended.
See Ex. 10 ¶ 4; Ex. 5, Att. 1 at 9. Satisfied that Ms. Blain's
absence was unexcused, Ms. Coates sent her a letter stating that
unless she returned to work by April 18, she would be terminated.
See Ex. 9 (warning that "you have been absent without leave
from work since your benefits were suspended on February 26").
Ms. Blain received the letter, see Ex. 3 at 65, but she did not
return to work.
HSMC received a letter from Dr. Adom dated April 23 which
The presenting systomatology has eluded all her
physicians including myself. . . . At this time it is
my Medical Professional opinion that Ms. Tyra Blain
is not physically or emotionally stable to resume
full or part time work. . . . I wish to regret that
the delay in furnishing you this medical information.
I was of the opinion that you had heard from one of
her attending physicians already.
Ex. 5, Att. 5. Based on this letter, Bell "conditionally extended
retroactively" Ms. Blain's benefits from February 26 through May
14. Ms. Mack's declaration explains, "This conditionally
certified period of disability could be shortened depending on
the information obtained from Blain's health care providers." Ex.
5 ¶ 7; Ex. 5, Att. 7 (letter sent to Ms. Blain explaining same).
HSMC informed Ms. Blain of this conditional extension on April 24
in a Notice of Reinstatement of Benefits and a Notice of Duration
of Certified Period of Disability. See Ex. 5, Att. 6; Ex. 5,
Because the information provided by Dr. Adom was vague, HSMC
ordered a Psychiatric Medical Consult by Dr. Bruce Smoller to
obtain more information. Ms. Mack's declaration states what
happened next: "Based on a conversation between Dr. Smoller and
Dr. Adom in which Dr. Adom stated that Blain had never had any
disability, on May 6, 1996 HSMC Director Pat Gahl decided to
suspend Blain's disability benefits for the period of February
29, 1996 to May 14, 1996." Ex. 5 ¶ 8. A May 6 entry in the Case
Summary Notifier (a log kept by HSMC recording each action taken
in Ms. Blain's case) reflects the receipt of a report from Dr.
Smoller and quotes him as saying Ms. Blain had no specific
impairment and that she was not disabled according to either Dr.
Adom or Dr. Smoller. Ex. 5, Att. 1 at 7.*fn2 In notifying Ms.
Blain for the reason for the suspension of her benefits, The May
of Denial of Application for Extension of Benefits simply checked
a box next to, "As of the date stated in the attached letter
[February 26], you were not unable to work due to sickness or
injury." Ex. 5, Att. 8.
Also on May 6, Ms. Coates sent Ms. Blain a letter terminating
her as of April 18. See Ex. 11. The stated reason was that "you
did not report to work on April 18, 1996 as required." Id. In a
declaration, Ms. Coates states that before sending the letter,
she checked with HSMC to verify that Ms. Blain's absence was not
certified. See Ex. 10 ¶ 5. The HSMC log reflects that Ms. Mack
called Ms. Coates on May 6 and advised her that Ms. Blain's
benefits had been suspended as of February 26. See Ex. 5, Att.
1 at 6.
HSMC received a letter dated May 6 from a Nurse Practitioner
[W]e have been asked by Ms. Blain to inform you of
the risk of premature labor based on her recent visit
with her gynecologist. Considering the symptoms of
premature contractions, a diagnosis of cervical
thinning, and a risk of premature delivery, we would
support her absence from ...