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Prigge v. Sears Holding Corp.

July 9, 2010

JOHN C. PRIGGE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
SEARS HOLDING CORP., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Eduardo C. Robreno, J.

MEMORANDUM

Plaintiff John C. Prigge ("Plaintiff" or "Prigge") commenced this suit against his former employer, Sears Holding Corporation ("Defendant" or "Sears"), alleging that Defendant discriminated and retaliated against him in violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (the "FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq., the Americans with Disabilities Act (the "ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (the "PHRA"), 43 P.S. § 951 et seq.

Defendant moves for summary judgment on the grounds that Plaintiff has failed to establish a prima facie case for discrimination and retaliation under the FMLA, the ADA, and the PHRA. In the alternative, Defendant moves for summary judgment on the grounds that Plaintiff has failed to meet his burden of providing sufficient evidence to establish that Defendant's proffered reasons are a pretext under the McDonnell Douglas framework.

For the following reasons, Defendant's motion for summary judgment will be granted.

I. BACKGROUND

A. FACTS*fn1

For purposes of this motion, the relevant facts are separated into three time periods: (1) Pre-Hospitalization Period (from Plaintiff's date-of-hire in April 2007 until his hospitalization on January 24, 2008); (2) Hospitalization Period (from January 24 through January 30, 2008); and (3) Post-Hospitalization Period (from January 31, 2008 until Plaintiff's termination on February 26, 2008).

1. PRE-HOSPITALIZATION PERIOD

Plaintiff was hired as a manager-in-training by Sears in April 2007. (Pl.'s Dep. 17:2-3, 28:19-24, Sept. 24, 2009.) Following his hiring, Plaintiff worked at several Sears department stores in order to learn how to operate and manage a store. (Id. at 28:25-29:20.) In September 2007, Plaintiff was promoted to manage the Sears store at the Granite Run Mall in Media, Pennsylvania (the "Media Sears"). (Id. at 29:16-22, 118:15-18; Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. at 2.) Upon assignment to the Media Sears, Plaintiff was under the direct supervision of David Ikkala ("Ikkala"), a regional manager for Sears. (Pl.'s Dep. 131:6-18.)

Plaintiff claims that he managed the Media Sears without issue from the date of his promotion until the middle of January 2008, at which time he took an approved vacation from January 12 through January 20. (Id. at 124:3-5, 137:16-24, 181:13-183:15, 196:12-197:14.) Plaintiff admits that after returning from vacation, he left work early on January 22, 2008 and that he also left work early once or twice in the preceding weeks. (Id. at 119:2-121:17.)

Defendant, however, alleges that Plaintiff began having frequent, unexcused absences in December 2007 and that those absences continued through January 2008. (Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. at 3-5.) Additionally, Defendant alleges that Plaintiff left work early on numerous occasions from January 6 through January 11, 2008 and each day from January 21 through January 23, 2008. (Id.) Defendant claims that Ikkala met with Plaintiff on January 11, 2008 and addressed his frequent absences and performance.

(Id. at 4.)

2. HOSPITALIZATION PERIOD

Around January 23 or January 24, 2008, Plaintiff experienced a severe mental breakdown due to complications from Bipolar I Disorder.*fn2 (Pl.'s Dep. 89:24-90:14.) On January 24, 2008, Plaintiff was admitted to the Horsham Clinic*fn3 for treatment and observation. (Id. at 158:18-25.) Plaintiff had been scheduled to work on January 24 but was unavailable to work due to his hospitalization. (Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. Ex. C at ¶ 14.)

On the day he was hospitalized, Plaintiff's wife called the Media Sears, where she spoke to a subordinate assistant manager.*fn4 (Pl.'s Dep. 131:14-16.) Plaintiff's wife informed the assistant manager that her husband had been hospitalized and would not be reporting to work that day. (Id. at 136:5-137:8.)

Plaintiff's wife did not provide further details concerning her husband's hospitalization nor a date on which he would return to work. (Id.) After this initial phone call, the parties did not communicate again during the hospitalization period. (See Def. Mot. Summ. J. at 6-7.) Plaintiff was discharged from the Horsham Clinic on January 30, 2008. (Pl.'s Dep. 170:18-21.)

3. POST-HOSPITALIZATION PERIOD

Following his release from the Horsham Clinic, Plaintiff telephoned Ikkala on January 31, 2008 and stated that he had been hospitalized since January 24, but was discharged and ready to return to work. (Pl.'s Resp. Mot. Summ. J. Ex. A at 2.) Plaintiff claims that during this conversation he informed Ikkala that he suffers from Bipolar I Disorder and that it had caused his mental breakdown. (Pl.'s Dep. 135:3-10.) Plaintiff also states that Ikkala informed him that, upon his return to work, he would need to provide medical documentation explaining his absence and clearing him to return to work. (Id. at 135:11-16.) Plaintiff further alleges that he spoke with Ikkala by telephone again on February 1, 2008 at which time he and Ikkala agreed that February 4, 2008 would be the date he would return to work.*fn5

(Pl.'s Resp. Mot. Summ. J. Ex. A at 2.)

On February 4, 2008, Plaintiff did not report to work. He attributes his failure to return to work to an inability to obtain medical documentation from his urologist, Dr. James Squadrito.*fn6 (Id.) Despite not reporting to work, Plaintiff did not contact Ikkala until February 7. (See Pl.'s Resp. Mot. Summ. J. at 8.) Plaintiff contends that during the February 7 conversation, Ikkala instructed him to report to work on February 11, 2008. (Id.) Although Defendant disputes that any conversation occurred on or around February 7, both parties agree that February 11 was the first day that Plaintiff returned to work since before his hospitalization. (See Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. at 10; Pl.'s Dep. 188:24-25.)

Upon returning to work on February 11, Plaintiff presented Ikkala with a note from Dr. Squadrito, the discharge instructions from the Horsham Clinic, and a note from a social worker at the Horsham Clinic.*fn7 (Pl.'s Resp. Mot. Summ. J. at 8.) Later that day, Ikkala met with Plaintiff and informed him that the medical documentation provided was inadequate because it did not cover all dates of absence and did not clear him to return to work. (Id. at 9.) Ikkala provided Plaintiff with Sears' "Leave Medical Certification Form" documents which Plaintiff was required to have his doctors complete. (Id.; see also Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. Ex. D-8.) Plaintiff was sent home from work and informed that he needed to obtain proper documentation before he could return. (Pl.'s Resp. Mot. Summ. J. Ex. A at 3.)

Plaintiff asserts that he left work and immediately took the forms to his doctors. (Pl.'s Dep. 161:18-22.) Plaintiff further alleges that Dr. Squadrito returned the completed form to Sears by fax on February 15 and the Horsham Clinic returned the completed form to Sears on February 21.*fn8

(Pl.'s Resp. Mot. Summ. J. at 9.)

Approximately one week after Plaintiff was given the Sears forms, Ikkala sent Plaintiff a warning letter which detailed the need to document and substantiate unexcused absences for a range of dates that occurred before, during, and after Plaintiff's hospitalization. (Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. at 13, Ex. D-2.) Also, the letter stated that the documentation provided to date was insufficient and Plaintiff had forty-eight (48) hours to provide adequate documentation or face termination. (Id.) Plaintiff claims that he was confused by the dates contained within the letter; nevertheless, Plaintiff concedes that he did not clarify any confusion over said dates with Ikkala. (See Pl.'s Dep. 169:7-17.)

Plaintiff contends that he was in constant contact with Ikkala throughout this time period and that he provided Ikkala with regular updates. (Pl.'s Resp. Mot. Summ. J. Ex. A-2.) However, Plaintiff did not return to work from the time he was sent home on February 11 and, as of February 26, 2008, Plaintiff had not provided sufficient documentation regarding all of his absences. (Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. at 15.) Accordingly, Plaintiff was ...


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