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SOLOVEY v. WYOMING VALLEY HEALTH CARE SYSTEM

October 13, 2005.

SANDRA SOLOVEY, Plaintiff,
v.
WYOMING VALLEY HEALTH CARE SYSTEM — HOSPITAL, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: RICHARD CONABOY, Senior District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Here we consider the parties' cross motions for summary judgment. Plaintiff filed her Complaint in the underlying action on December 13, 2004, alleging that Defendant violated the Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA") when it did not allow her to use vacation pay for days she was absent from work due to her father's illness. (Doc. 1.) The reason given for the denial was that Plaintiff did not comply with the two-week notification policy regarding request for vacation leave. (Id.) In addition to monetary damages, Plaintiff requests that the Court declare Defendant's policy a violation of the FMLA and restrain Defendant from enforcing the two-week notice policy. On August 25, 2005, Plaintiff filed her summary judgment motion, (Doc. 25), and on August 26, 2005, Defendant filed its motion, (Doc. 26). On September 30, 2005, both parties filed their supportive briefs, (Docs. 31-1, 32-1). By agreement of the parties, the summary judgment briefing schedule is now complete. (See Doc. 24.) Therefore these motions are now ripe for disposition.

The only issue presented by these motions is whether Defendant's application of the policy requiring two weeks advance notice of the use of vacation time to the situation where an employee is requesting to be paid for time off taken pursuant to the Family Medical Leave Act violates the FMLA. For the reasons discussed below, we conclude that Defendant's policy conflicts with the FMLA and, therefore, summary judgment is granted in favor of Plaintiff.

  I. Background

  The parties have stated that the facts are not in dispute.*fn1 (Doc. 31-1 at 3; Doc. 32-1 at 1-2.) Sandra Solovey was at all relevant times a nurse employed by Wyoming Valley Health Care System-Hospital ("WVHCS" "Defendant") in the emergency room at Wilkes-Barre General Hospital ("WGBH").

  Plaintiff was a member of a bargaining unit consisting of registered nurses employed by Defendant and represented for purposes of collective bargaining by the Wyoming Valley Nurses Association/PASNAP ("Union"). At all relevant times, Defendant and the Union were parties to a collective bargaining agreement ("CBA") governing the terms and conditions of employment. The CBA contained, inter alia, the vacation policy at issue here and grievance and arbitration procedures.

  Plaintiff's father was placed in hospice care in June 2003. On June 23, 2003, Solovey left work in the middle of her shift after receiving word that her father's condition had worsened. She spent June 24 and 25, 2003, with her father, and returned to work on June 26th. Plaintiff left work early on June 26th when she received word that her father's condition was critical and that he was in extremis. She remained out of work on June 27, 2003, and her father died on June 28th. Defendant deemed the time Plaintiff missed work beginning on June 23, 2004, through June 27, 2004, to constitute leave under the FMLA.

  Plaintiff was paid for the time she was absent from work on June 23rd and June 24th, using available paid time off known as "family ill" days. However, Defendant denied Plaintiff's request to use a portion of her paid vacation allotment to obtain compensation for her partial day absences on June 22nd and June 26th and her full day absence on June 27th. Defendant denied the request on the grounds that Plaintiff had not complied with the CBA requirement that employees provide two weeks advance notice before taking a vacation day in order to qualify for use of paid vacation time. Plaintiff did not learn of her need for the absences from work until June 22, 2003.

  After Defendant denied Plaintiff's request to use paid vacation time, Plaintiff filed a grievance under the CBA to contest Defendant's determination. On August 19, 2003, the Union filed a demand for arbitration under the CBA. On February 13, 2004, an arbitration hearing was held in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. The parties to the proceeding were the Defendant and the Union. Plaintiff attended the hearing. Both parties submitted post-hearing briefs. The Union argued, inter alia, that the CBA incorporated by reference the language of the FMLA and that denial of the vacation time sought by Plaintiff was contrary to the terms of the FMLA and therefore violated the FMLA. In an Opinion and Award issued on June 3, 2004, the arbitrator denied the grievance and rejected the Union's arguments.

  Following this determination, Plaintiff filed the current action on December 13, 2004. On February 11, 2005, Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss, asserting the Court should dismiss this action because the issue raised was decided in arbitration. (Docs. 8, 11, 18.) The issue presented was whether the arbitration decision precluded Plaintiff from pursuing her FMLA claim in this court. We determined the arbitration decision had no preclusive effect and Plaintiff's claim could go forward. (Doc. 20.)

  The parties agree that the issue of the interpretation of FMLA statutory and regulatory provisions is a matter of law, as is the relationship between the relevant provisions and Defendant's policy regarding the application of the vacation time notice provision to FMLA leave. (Docs. 31, 32.) As noted above, the briefing schedule in this matter is complete and the parties' motions are ripe for disposition.

  II. Discussion

  A. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

  A motion for summary judgment should be granted only if the record "show[s] there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). Facts that may alter the outcome of the case are "material facts." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). Disputes are "genuine" if evidence exists from which a rational person could conclude that the position of the party with the burden of proof on the disputed issue is correct. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). A defendant meets this standard when there is an absence of evidence that rationally supports the plaintiff's case. Id. at 325. A plaintiff must point to admissible ...


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