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Schaar v. Lehigh Valley Health Services

March 11, 2010

MS. RACHAEL SCHAAR, APPELLANT,
v.
LEHIGH VALLEY HEALTH SERVICES, INC.; LEHIGH VALLEY PHYSICIANS BUSINESS SERVICES, INC.



On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (D.C. Number: 07-cv-04135) District Judge: Honorable Henry S. Perkin .

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hardiman, Circuit Judge.

PRECEDENTIAL

Argued December 15, 2009

Before: FISHER, HARDIMAN and VAN ANTWERPEN, Circuit Judges.

OPINION OF THE COURT

Rachael Schaar appeals the District Court's summary judgment in favor of her former employer, Lehigh Valley Physicians Business Services, Inc. (Lehigh Valley). The District Court held that Schaar did not qualify for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) because she did not present evidence of a serious health condition. This appeal raises a question of first impression in this Court: whether a combination of expert and lay testimony can establish that an employee was incapacitated for more than three days as required by the FMLA's implementing regulations.

I.

We exercise plenary review over the District Court's summary judgment, viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Erdman v. Nationwide Ins. Co., 582 F.3d 500, 502 (3d Cir. 2009). "Summary judgment is appropriate only if there are no genuine issues of material fact such that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Id.

A.

Schaar worked as a medical receptionist for Lehigh Valley from December 2002 until her termination on October 3, 2005. Two weeks before she was fired, on September 21, 2005, Schaar was treated for low back pain, fever, nausea and vomiting. Dr. Twaddle, who also worked for Lehigh Valley, diagnosed Schaar with a urinary tract infection, fever and low back pain. His records indicate that Schaar was "comfortable and nontoxic."

Dr. Twaddle placed Schaar on a clear diet and prescribed an anti-inflammatory for her back. He also prescribed an antibiotic for the infection, to be taken once a day for at least three days. During his deposition, Dr. Twaddle testified that the antibiotic should have lowered Schaar's fever and eliminated her symptoms after a day or two. Nevertheless, Dr. Twaddle testified that it was "possible, although very unlikely" that Schaar would not be fully recovered enough to work after three days.

At the end of the visit, Dr. Twaddle wrote a note advising Schaar's supervisor, office manager Patricia Chromczak, that Schaar's illness prevented her from working Wednesday, September 21, and Thursday, September 22. In the note, Dr. Twaddle stated Schaar was under his care "for febrile illness and will be unable to perform duties at work today or tomorrow." Though there is some dispute about what Dr. Twaddle told Schaar, she claims he offered to speak with Chromczak upon her arrival at work. Schaar then taped the note to Chromczak's door and went home. Schaar did not seek any further treatment with Dr. Twaddle.

Consistent with Dr. Twaddle's note, Schaar took paid sick leave on September 21 and 22 and was in bed with pain, fever and vomiting. As chance would have it, Schaar had previously scheduled vacation days on Friday, September 23 and Monday, September 26. Schaar claims she spent Friday, September 23 in bed because she was still vomiting and nauseous. Although she a felt a little better on Saturday, she spent that day in bed as well. By Sunday, Schaar claims she felt well enough to go to the couch, but was still ill. On Monday, Schaar testified she was well enough to do some housework, and she returned to Lehigh Valley the following day, Tuesday, September 27, 2005.

Upon returning to work, Schaar told Chromczak that she had been sick all weekend. Schaar neither requested FMLA leave nor asked Lehigh Valley to convert her two paid vacation days into paid sick days, however. Though their conversation is disputed, Schaar claims Chromczak threatened to fire her for violating the company policy requiring her to call off on her two sick days. When Schaar told Chromczak she thought the policy did not apply because she left a note, Chromczak said she was going to consult with human resources about the ...


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