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Erdman v. Nationwide Insurance Co.

January 15, 2010

BRENDA L. ERDMAN, PLAINTIFF
v.
NATIONWIDE INSURANCE COMPANY, DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Conner

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the court is a motion by defendant Nationwide Insurance Company ("Nationwide") for summary judgment in its favor on claims asserted by plaintiff Brenda L. Erdman ("Erdman") under the Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 2601-2654, and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA"), 42 Pa. Con. Stat. Ann. 951 et seq. This motion comes to the court on remand from the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. For the reasons that follow, the court will deny Nationwide's motion.

I. Statement of Facts*fn1 and Procedural History

Erdman began working for Nationwide in 1980. (Doc. 15 ¶ 6; Doc. 18 ¶ 7). During the course of her employment with Nationwide, Erdman gave birth to a disabled daughter. (Doc. 15 ¶ 7; Doc. 18 ¶ 8). On two occasions, Nationwide granted modifications to Erdman's work schedule, per her request, "due to the needs of her disabled child." (Doc. 15 ¶¶ 8-9; Doc. 18 ¶¶ 9-10). In March of 2003, Nationwide revoked Erdman's modified work schedule, and Erdman's supervisors notified her that Nationwide would eliminate her job, purportedly due to business needs, unless she accepted a full-time position with a standard work schedule. (Doc. 15 ¶ 13; Doc. 18 ¶ 14). Later that month, Erdman agreed to work on a standard full-time schedule, but she "sought confirmation that she would be able to use her previously scheduled vacation in August 2003, to care [for] and supervise her 10-year-old daughter." (Doc. 44 ¶¶ 7, 10; Doc. 60 ¶¶ 7, 10). One of Erdman's supervisors told her that it was "unlikely" that Nationwide would approve her requested vacation. (Doc. 44 ¶ 8; Doc. 60 ¶ 8). Erdman stated that she would seek leave under the FMLA if her request was not approved as vacation. (Doc. 44 ¶ 9; Doc. 60 ¶ 9). Accordingly, on April 22, 2003, Erdman submitted FMLA paperwork to Nationwide in which she sought a period of leave commencing on July 7, 2003. (Doc. 15 ¶ 14; Doc. 18 ¶ 15; Doc. 44 ¶ 30; Doc. 60 ¶ 30). Erdman later asked to be notified of Nationwide's decision regarding her FMLA leave by May 9, 2003. (Doc. 15 ¶ 15; Doc. 18 ¶ 16).

Nationwide fired Erdman on May 9, 2003. (Doc. 15 ¶ 16; Doc. 18 ¶ 17). Nationwide contends that it terminated Erdman's employment because of "multiple incidents of inappropriate workplace behavior." (Doc. 43 at 6). Erdman denies engaging in inappropriate behavior and argues that her termination was the culmination of "a focused and insidious campaign by her supervisor and other Nationwide managers... to develop pre-textual bases upon which to fire her to prevent her from taking FMLA leave." (Doc. 61 at 6; Doc. 60 ¶¶ 11, 23, 26). Erdman filed the instant action on May 9, 2005, asserting claims pursuant to the FMLA, the ADA, and the PHRA, as well as a claim of breach of an employment contract. (See Docs. 1, 15). The court granted summary judgment on Erdman's FMLA, ADA, and contract claims.*fn2 (See Docs. 85, 100). The court concluded, in pertinent part, that Erdman did not work a sufficient number of hours to qualify as an eligible employee under the FMLA. On appeal, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals vacated summary judgment on the FMLA claim; it found that a reasonable jury could conclude that Erdman had accumulated sufficient hours to qualify for FMLA leave. See Erdman v. Nationwide Ins. Co., 582 F.3d 500, 506 (3d Cir. 2009). The court now reconsiders whether defendants are entitled to summary judgment. The parties have fully briefed the issues, which are ripe for decision.

II. Standard of Review

Through summary adjudication the court may dispose of those claims that do not present a "genuine issue as to any material fact," and for which a jury trial would be an empty and unnecessary formality. See FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c). It places the burden on the non-moving party to come forth with "affirmative evidence, beyond the allegations of the pleadings," in support of its right to relief. Pappas v. City of Lebanon, 331 F. Supp. 2d 311, 315 (M.D. Pa. 2004); FED. R. CIV. P. 56(e); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). This evidence must be adequate, as a matter of law, to sustain a judgment in favor of the non-moving party on the claims. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250-57 (1986); Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587-89 (1986); see also FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c), (e). Only if this threshold is met may the cause of action proceed. Pappas, 331 F. Supp. 2d at 315.

III. Discussion

Erdman's remaining claims arise under the FMLA and the PHRA. The court will address these claims seriatim.

A. FMLA

The FMLA was enacted to "balance the demands of the workplace with the needs of families." 29 U.S.C. § 2601(b)(1). It provides that certain employees may take "reasonable leave for medical reasons," 29 U.S.C. § 2601(b)(2), and for "the care of a child... who has a serious health condition." 29 U.S.C. §§ 2601(b)(2), 2612(a)(1)(C). In order to be eligible for leave under the FMLA, an employee must have been employed for at least twelve months by the employer from whom she requests leave, and she must have worked "at least 1,250 hours" for her employer in the twelve-month period preceding her requested leave.*fn3 29 U.S.C. § 2611(2)(A); Erdman, 582 F.3d at 504. In the matter sub judice, Erdman's years of employment with Nationwide clearly establish that the first requirement is satisfied. With respect to the second requirement, there is a factual question regarding whether Erdman worked a sufficient number of hours to qualify for FMLA leave.*fn4 Thus, Nationwide cannot establish, as a matter of law, that the FMLA does not cover Erdman. Accordingly, the court will turn to the merits of Erdman's FMLA claim.

Two causes of action may arise from a violation of the FMLA: an "interference" claim, alleging that the employer interfered with a FMLA right, and a "retaliation" claim, alleging that the employer took an adverse employment action against the employee in retaliation for taking FMLA leave. See Erdman, 582 F.3d at 508-09; Bearley v. Friendly, 322 F. Supp. 2d 563, 570-71 (M.D. Pa. 2004); Parker v. Hahnemann Univ. Hosp., 234 F. Supp. 2d 478, 485-89 (D.N.J. 2002).

1. Interference*fn5

To succeed on a FMLA interference claim, a plaintiff must demonstrate that he or she was entitled to and denied some benefit under the FMLA. See Sarnowski v. Air Brooke Limousine, Inc., 510 F.3d 398, 401 (3d Cir. 2007). In the instant case, as explained supra, there is a question of fact as to whether Erdman was entitled to FMLA leave. Furthermore, the evidence, viewed in the ...


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