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Seibert v. Lutron Electronics

November 30, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Stengel, J.


Before the Court is a motion for summary judgment filed by Defendant, Lutron Electronics ("Lutron"), the defendant in this case. Plaintiff Heather Seibert, a former employee of Lutron, has filed a claim alleging disability, gender, and pregnancy discrimination in connection with her termination in March of 2007.Upon careful consideration of the parties' arguments, I will grant Lutron's motion as to all claims.


Lutron is a privately owned company that specializes in the manufacture oflighting controls. Wagner Aff. ¶ 3. It has a corporate headquarters in Coopersburg, Pennsylvania and two manufacturing and distribution centers in Brookdale and Allentown, Pennsylvania. Id. Ms. Seibert began working for Lutron in 1996 as a part-time summer employee, and became a regular full-time employee in June of 1997. Defendant's Statement of Undisputed Material Facts ("SUF"), ¶¶ 4, 5. When she began as a full-time employee, Ms. Seibert was an Associate Technical Assistant ("ATA"). Id. ¶ 5. ATA positions are entry level positions in Lutron's Technical Assistance Development Program, which is part of the larger Employee Development Program. Id. ¶¶ 6, 7. Participants in the Employee Development Program engage in "cross-training", a process of rotating in and out of various positions within Lutron, which allows them to learn and experience different aspects of Lutron's business. Id. ¶ 8.

A. Leave Granted for Depression

Ms. Seibert generally performed well at Lutron and received promotions and raises; however, as early as 1999 and at other times during her first few years of employment, she received warnings about her failure to attend work on a regular basis. SUF, ¶¶ 9, 10; Wagner Affidavit, ¶ 11; Seibert Dep. 53:17--20. Beginning in 2005, Ms. Seibert began to experience symptoms of depression. Seibert Dep. 90:16--20, 91:4--11. She began to miss work more frequently, with four absences in January of 2005 and eleven in April of 2005. Wagner Affidavit, ¶ 14. In May of 2005, Ms. Seibert requested a leave of absence for her depression, which Lutron granted. SUF ¶ 17, Seibert Dep. at 90:21--25.

Ms. Seibert's depression was caused by, among other things, her fiance's alcohol consumption, the stress of planning her wedding, financial problems, and her grandfather's illness. Seibert Dep. at 99:2--12. To treat her depression, Ms. Seibert attended counseling with Kim Bonner, a social worker, and began taking Zoloft and Ambien. Id. at 91:16--21; 101:21--25. She returned to work on October 6, 2005. Id. 98:17--19. After her return, Ms. Seibert reported to her therapist that she was adjusting well to work and was not experiencing continued symptoms of depression. Id. 99:13--22. On the ADA questionnaire she submitted in connection with her discrimination claim, Ms. Seibert described her depression symptoms as "temporary." Def.'s Mot. For Summ. J., Ex K.

Ms. Seibert continued to miss work following her return to Lutron in October of 2005. Seibert Dep. 103:22--25. Some of these absences were unrelated to her depression. Id. 105:2--8. In January of 2006, Ms. Seibert's physician, Dr. Liaw, submitted FMLA-mandated notice to Lutron that Ms. Seibert continued to suffer from episodes of depression and that the probable duration of her symptoms was "unknown." Def.'s Mot. For Summ. J, Ex. C. Dr. Liaw stated that Ms. Seibert could be absent "2 or 3 days once a month" due to her periodic symptoms. Id. He also represented that she was receiving medication and undergoing counseling and that she would "intermittently" require medical leave because of her condition. Id. During the seven month period from January of 2006 until July of 2006, Ms. Seibert missed 70 days of work, an average of ten days per month. Wagner Aff. ¶ 18; Seibert Dep. 123:12--15.

B. Maternity Leave Granted

In July of 2006, Ms. Seibert requested and was granted a maternity leave of absence. Seibert Dep. 123: 16--18. She began maternity leave on July 25, 2006 and, after delivering twins, returned to work on October 2, 2006 without any restrictions. Id. 123:22--25; 124:2--4, 24--25. While she was on maternity leave, Ms. Seibert was informed by Richard Wagner, a Human Resources representative at Lutron, that she had exhausted her Family and Medical Leave Act leave time and would not be eligible for more until she had worked the requisite number of hours. Wagner Dep. ¶ 20. When Ms. Seibert returned to Lutron on October 2, she had a meeting with Mr. Wagner where they discussed the importance of her regular attendance and where Ms. Seibert expressed that she "appreciated how Lutron had accommodated her frequent absences." Id. ¶ 20. At that meeting, Ms. Seibert signed a document entitled "Conditions of Heather Seibert's Return to Work-October 2, 2006" that reiterated the importance of her regular attendance and stated specifically:

"Now that you have been released to return to work you must understand that the company can no longer accept the past situation of poor attendance. We need you to be working in your position on every scheduled workday. If you are not able to be here on your scheduled workdays, and meet the expected level of performance for your position, then we will need to terminate your employment."

Def.'s Mot. For Summ. J., Ex. F.

C. Work Record Upon Return

Prior to her maternity leave, Ms. Seibert was a documentation specialist. SUF ¶ 29. Upon her return from leave, she rotated into a position as an inventory control specialist at Lutron's facility in Brookdale and was asked to train Matt Hoffman, another participant in the Employee Development Program, in the documentation specialist position. Id. ¶ 31. There was no change in Ms. Seibert's title or compensation as a result of her rotation. Id. ¶¶ 29--30. Mr. Hoffman was later asked to train another Program participant in the documentation specialist position before he moved on to a different position. Id. ¶ 32.

Following her return, Ms. Seibert continued her string of absences, missing half or full days on October 18, November 15, November 20, November 27, and December 19, 2006. See SUF ¶¶ 47--49. Between January and March of 2007, she missed seven full days and three half days of work. Id. ¶ 50. According to Ms. Seibert, all of these absences, with the exception of three, were needed to take her children to appointments or to provide them childcare. Seibert Dep. 137:14--25. These absences were unrelated to her depression. Id. 138:8--16. When she was absent during this period, she marked the missed days as "vacation days." She explained that "I was told I needed to use my vacation time if I was going to be out." Id. 166:1--8. Ms. Seibert did not provide advance notice of her absence on these missed days. Wager Aff. ¶¶ 26, 36, 37.

On March 23, 2007, Ms. Seibert met with her immediate supervisor, Scott Reinert and Mr. Wagner to discuss her most recent performance review, which indicated that Ms. Seibert's absences had caused a strain on her department and had prevented her from gaining the necessary training and experience in her position. Wagner Aff. ¶¶ 38--39. They informed Ms. Seibert that, as a result of her absences, she would be terminated or given an opportunity to resign from her position. Id. ¶ 39. Ms. Seibert chose to resign. Id.

D. The Current Action

Ms. Seibert sent a Charge of Discrimination to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") on July 24, 2007, dual filing with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission ("PHRC") on July 26, 2007. In her charge, she alleged discrimination based on sex and disability. Def.'s Mot. For Summ. J., Ex K. Her ADA intake questionnaire describes her disabilities as follows: "I experienced depression. I was unable to get out of bed and do anything. I would not leave the house. I was in a high risk pregnancy. I had morning sickness throughout the entire pregnancy. I delivered twins two months early." Id. Ex. L. She also described her disabilities as "temporary." Id. Ms. Seibert received a Notice of Right to Sue on March 31, 2008. Id. She filed a Complaint in the Court of Common Pleas of Lehigh County on October 8, 2008, and Lutron removed to this Court on October 28, 2008. In her complaint, Ms. Seibert alleges that Lutron violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 ...

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