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Smallcomb v. Geisinger System Services

March 24, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Munley


Before the court for disposition is the motion for summary judgment filed by the defendant in this case that asserts violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act. The motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition.


The general background facts are largely uncontested. Defendant Geisinger System Services or one of its affiliates (hereinafter "defendant") employed Plaintiff Bernardine Smallcomb (hereinafter "plaintiff") for over twenty (20) years.*fn1 In early 2006, plaintiff's adult daughter, Danielle Smallcomb, was scheduled to have surgery after which she would be bedridden for three weeks. The Family and Medical Leave Act (hereinafter "FMLA") entitles an employee to a total of twelve workweeks of leave during any twelve-month period to, inter alia, care for a son or daughter who has a serious health condition. 29 U.S.C. § 2612(a)(1)(C). Plaintiff requested several weeks of leave under the FMLA to care for her daughter after the surgery. The defendant denied the leave, and told the plaintiff that she was ineligible for such leave.

After defendant denied plaintiff's request for FMLA leave, it suggested that plaintiff apply to her supervisor, Kim Raczkowski, for personal leave (plaintiff was entitled to twelve weeks of paid vacation as of March 2006.) Accordingly, plaintiff requested leave from April 10 through April 28, 2006, to care for her daughter. Defendant denied plaintiff's request for leave on two of the days she requested, Friday, April 14, 2006 and April 17, 2006.*fn2 Plaintiff then resigned her position. She asserts that the denial of leave that she needed to care for her daughter amounted to a constructive discharge. Based upon these facts, the plaintiff filed the instant three-count complaint that asserts the following causes of action: Count I, violation of the FMLA, 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq.; Count II, interference and retaliation under the FMLA; and Count III constructive discharge under the FMLA. Plaintiff seeks the following relief: reinstatement to her former employment or employment that is substantially equivalent; an injunction enjoining the defendants from discriminating on the basis of taking medical leave, claiming rights under the FMLA or bringing this action; liquidated damages; reasonable attorney's fees and costs; and such other relief as is just and equitable. Jurisdiction

As this case is brought pursuant to the FMLA, we have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 ("The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.").

Standard of Review

Granting summary judgment is proper if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Knabe v. Boury, 114 F.3d 407, 410 n.4 (3d Cir. 1997) (citing FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c)). "[T]his standard provides that the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986) (emphasis in original).

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 (1986). A fact is material when it might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law. Id. 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 v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Once the moving party satisfies its burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving 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.


Defendant's motion for summary judgment raises several different issues that we will address in turn.

I. Eligibility for FMLA Leave

Defendant first argues that plaintiff was not eligible for FMLA leave and cannot establish a claim for interference with FMLA rights. In support of this contention, defendant makes the following three arguments: 1) plaintiff never indicated that her request for leave was FMLA qualifying; 2) plaintiff's daughter was not incapable of self-care because of a mental or physical disability; and 3) ...

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