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WILSON v. LEMINGTON HOME FOR THE AGED

June 25, 2001

MARVA J. WILSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
LEMINGTON HOME FOR THE AGED, A NONPROFIT CORPORATION T/D/B/A LEMINGTON, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ambrose, District Judge.

OPINION and ORDER OF COURT

SYNOPSIS

Pending before the Court is Plaintiff's, Marva J. Wilson, Motion for Partial Summary Judgment as to Plaintiff's Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA") claims, 29 U.S.C. § 2601, et seq., (Docket No. 13) and Defendant's, Lemington Home for the Aged ("Lemington"), Motion for Summary Judgment as to Plaintiff's FMLA and Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") claims, 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq. (Docket No. 15). After careful consideration of the submissions filed by both parties, I grant Plaintiff's Partial Motion and deny Defendant's Motion in its entirety.

OPINION

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Defendant is a nursing home facility that, at all relevant times, employed approximately 145 people. See, Plaintiff's Exhibit 1.*fn1 In November of 1995, Plaintiff began working for Defendant as a clinical manager and in April of 1996, Plaintiff resigned. See, Depo. of Plaintiff, p. 24. Plaintiff was rehired on December 9, 1996, as the assistant director of nursing ("ADON"). See, Plaintiff's Depo., p. 27. On August 19, 1997, Plaintiff became the acting director of nursing. Id., p. 31. In November of 1997, Defendant hired L. Parker Hall as the director of nursing ("DON").

After working a full shift on December 8, 1997, Plaintiff became physically ill with diarrhea. See, Exhibit 3, ¶ 11. Plaintiff's symptoms continued on December 9, 1997. As a result, she called into work and took a personal day. On December 10, 1997, her symptoms persisted and she called into work and spoke to Ms. Hall. She informed Ms. Hall that her condition "had regressed and that [she] was not only suffering from diarrhea, but also from vomiting and chest pain." See, Exhibit 3, ¶ 13. She also informed Ms. Hall that she was going to see her doctor, Dr. Maryellen Schroeder, on December 11, 1997. Id., ¶ 14. Dr. Schroeder diagnosed Plaintiff as suffering from clinical depression and prescribed PROZAC and counseling. See, Plaintiff's Depo., p. 80; see also, Affidavit of Schroeder, Exhibit 8, ¶ 4. In addition, Dr. Schroeder advised Plaintiff to take a medical leave of absence from work until January 11, 1998. See, Exhibit 16.

After her doctor's appointment, Plaintiff called Ms. Hall to inform her that Dr. Schroeder advised her "to stay home from work until at least January 11, 1998." See, Exhibit, 3 ¶ 15. At that time, Plaintiff did not indicate her exact diagnosis to Ms. Hall. During this conversation, Plaintiff did not specifically mention that she was taking this time pursuant to the FMLA or that she was requesting medical leave as a reasonable accommodation pursuant to the ADA. Ms. Hall advised Plaintiff, inter alia, that she required a note from Plaintiff's doctor concerning Plaintiff's condition. Id., ¶ 16; see also, Exhibit 15. Furthermore, it is undisputed that Plaintiff never received any written notice from Defendant regarding her obligations pursuant to the FMLA and Defendant's policies and procedures. See, Exhibit 3, ¶¶ 17-18.

On December 13, 1997, Plaintiff went to her office at Defendant's facility and retrieved personal and work related items out of fear that they may be stolen. See, Plaintiff's Depo., pp. 62-63.

On December 19, 1997, Kevin Jordan, Director of Human Resources for Defendant, called Plaintiff and verbally requested that she provide a medical certificate. See, Exhibit 3, ¶ 19. There is a dispute as to whether he mentioned the FMLA and the consequences of Plaintiff's failure to provide said certificate within a particular time frame. See, id; see also, Defendant's Brief in Support of its Motion, p. 4.

On December 22, 1997, Plaintiff had an appointment with Andrew Kolar, L.S.W., for the counseling prescribed by Dr. Schroeder. See, Exhibit 3, ¶ 21; see also, Exhibit 13. Plaintiff continued her counseling with Kolar until June 13, 1998, and continued with PROZAC beyond then. See, Plaintiff's Depo. pp. 126-29.

On December 25, 1997, Plaintiff suffered a severe panic attack, prompting Ms. Stevenson to call 911. See, Plaintiff's Depo. p. 58; see also, Exhibit 4, ¶ 26. Thereafter, Ms. Stevenson began to look after Plaintiff and organized the aid of other employees of Defendant to assist her in cooking and bathing Plaintiff. See, Exhibit 4, ¶ 29; Affidavit of Lillie Lee, Exhibit 24, ¶ 13.

On December 26, 1997, Jordan called Plaintiff again and informed her that he and not received the medical certificate from her doctor. See, Plaintiff's Depo. p. 66. She explained to him that Dr. Schroeder was out of the office until Monday, December 30, 1997, and she could not get it until then. Id. On December 29, 1997, Plaintiff received a letter of termination from Defendant. See, Exhibit 15; see also, Exhibit 3, ¶ 26. The letter states as follows:

On December 8, 1997, you called off sick. On December 11, 1997, you requested a leave of absence due to an unspecified illness. At that time, MS. L. Parker-Hall (Director of Nursing) informed you that you had to submit your medical certification by no later than the close of business on Friday, December 26, 1997, which you failed to do.
Pursuant to Lemington's FMLA policy, you were given 15 days to provide the requested medical certification in order to be granted a medical leave. Since you have failed to provide the requested medical certification within the 15 day period, your request for medical leave has been denied.
Because of your failure to cooperate by providing the requested medical certification and your removal of both personal and work-related items from your office while off, Lemington has deemed you to have voluntarily quit your employment effective today, Monday, December 29, 1997.
You must therefore, return any keys, badges and any other property belonging to Lemington Center to me immediately. Lemington will send your personal belongings, if any that remain on its premises, to you shortly.

Id.

On December 30, 1997, Plaintiff was seen by Dr. Schroeder. Dr. Schroeder wrote a letter to Jordan informing him that she advised Plaintiff to take a medical leave of absence until January 11, 1998, at which time she would need to be reevaluated. See, Exhibit 16. At that time, Plaintiff was only slightly better, so Dr. Schroeder continued to prescribe the Prozac and counseling. See, Affidavit of Dr. Schroeder, ¶ 5. Plaintiff was reevaluated by Dr. Schroeder on January 20, 1998. See, Affidavit of Dr. Schroeder, ¶ 6. Plaintiff was doing better, but Dr. Schroeder recommended that she remain off work for at least another eight weeks and continued treating her with Prozac for at least the next six months. Id. Plaintiff's Prozac was increased to 30 mg on March 2, 1998. Id., ¶ 7. As of February 2, 2001, Plaintiff has continued to take Prozac and her depression is ongoing. See, Affidavit of Dr. Lawrence Glanz, Exhibit 21.

On November 22, 1999, Plaintiff filed a three count Complaint against Defendant. See, Complaint. The first two counts are brought pursuant to the FMLA. Count I asserts a cause of action for violation of the FMLA for denying her medical leave. Count II asserts a cause of action for retaliation for taking the medical leave she requested. The third count asserts a cause of action pursuant to the ADA.

Initially, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Partial Summary Judgment as to her two FMLA counts. See, Docket No. 13. Defendant has cross filed a Motion for Summary Judgment as to Plaintiff's FMLA counts and has further filed a Motion for Summary Judgment as to Plaintiff's ADA claim. See, Docket No. 15. Plaintiff opposes Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment.*fn2 See, Docket No. 20. Thereafter, Defendant sought leave of court to file a reply brief on the issue of damages. I granted leave of court on February 13, 2001, and on February 16, 2001, Defendant filed its Reply Brief. See, Docket No. 23.

II. LEGAL ANALYSIS

A. Standard of Review

Summary judgment may only be granted if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories and admissions on file, together with any affidavits, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material facts and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. FedR.Civ.P. 56(c). A fact is material when it might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). Rule 56 mandates the entry of judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against the party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986).

In considering a motion for summary judgment, the Court must examine the facts in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. International Raw Materials, Ltd. v. Stauffer Chemical Co., 898 F.2d 946, 949 (3d Cir. 1990). The burden is on the moving party to demonstrate that the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could not return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505. Where the non-moving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the party moving for summary judgment may meet its burden by showing that the evidentiary materials of record, if reduced to admissible evidence, would be insufficient to carry the non-movant's burden of proof at trial. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548. Once the moving party satisfies its burden, the burden shifts to the non-moving party, who must go beyond its pleadings, and designate specific facts by the use of affidavits, depositions, admissions, or answers to interrogatories showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. at 324, 106 S.Ct. 2548. Summary judgment must therefore be granted "against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." White v. Westinghouse Electric Co., 862 F.2d 56, 59 (3d Cir. 1988), quoting Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548.

B. FMLA

In 1993, Congress enacted the FMLA "to balance the demands of the workplace with the needs of families, . . . [and] to entitle [eligible] employees to take reasonable leave for [certain] medical reasons." 29 U.S.C. § 2601. For example, the FMLA provides, inter alia, that "an eligible employee shall be entitled to a total of 12 work weeks of leave during any 12 month period . . . (D) [b]ecause of a serious health condition. . . ." 29 U.S.C. § 2612(a)(1)(D). A "serious health condition" is defined as an "illness, injury, impairment, or physical or mental condition" that involves: either (1) inpatient care; or (2) continuing treatment by a healthcare provider. 29 C.F.R. § 825.114(a). The parties do not dispute that Plaintiff is an "eligible employee" that worked for Defendant, a qualifying employer. See, id; see also, 29 U.S.C. § 2611(4).

When leave is required for the serious health condition of the employee, the employee may take intermittent or reduced leave. 29 U.S.C. § 2612(b). After a period of qualified leave, an employee is entitled to reinstatement to the former position or an equivalent one with the same benefits and terms. 29 U.S.C. § 2614(a). The FMLA declares it "unlawful for any employer to interfere with, restrain, or deny the exercise of or the attempt to exercise, any right provided" in the FMLA. 29 U.S.C. § 2615(a)(1). The FMLA similarly declares it "unlawful for any employer to discharge or in any other manner discriminate against any individual for opposing any practice made unlawful" under the FMLA. 29 U.S.C. § 2615(a)(2). Thus, an employer who interferes with an employee's exercise of rights, or retaliates for the exercise of the same, is in violation of the FMLA and the employee may bring a civil action against the employer for said violations. 29 U.S.C. § 2615(a), 2617(a). Plaintiff asserts that Defendant violated both sections of the FMLA.

1. Violation of FMLA — Count I

Count I of Plaintiff's Complaint alleges that Defendant improperly interfered with her right to take medical leave pursuant to 29 U.S.C. ยง 2615(a)(1). ...


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