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Disantis v. Morgan Properties Payroll Services

September 16, 2010

TEENA DISANTIS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MORGAN PROPERTIES PAYROLL SERVICES, INC., ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Robert F. Kelly, Sr. J.

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the Court is the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendants Morgan Properties Payroll Services, Inc. d/b/a Morgan Properties, Mitchell L. Morgan Management, Inc., and Mitchell L. Morgan Properties, Ltd. (collectively "Defendants" or "Morgan Properties"). For the following reasons, Morgan Properties' Motion will be granted.

I. BACKGROUND

Teena DiSantis ("Plaintiff" or "DiSantis") is a former employee of Morgan Properties. She was employed as a leasing consultant for the company from July 2006 until October 2008.*fn1

From early 2007 through late 2008, DiSantis was allegedly suffering from a number of health problems, including but not limited to, bi-polar disorder, severe anxiety, and panic disorder. As a result of her health issues, she took many periods of time off from work while she was employed at Morgan Properties. On October 10, 2008, DiSantis was terminated from her position for poor job performance and failure to follow company policy.

On December 28, 2009, Disantis filed her original Complaint in this Court. On January 13, 2010, she filed a five-count Amended Complaint which set forth claims against Morgan Properties for perceived or actual disability discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") (Count I), retaliation pursuant to the ADA (Count II), perceived or actual disability discrimination under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA") (Count III), violations of the Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA") for interference and retaliation (Count IV), and violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA") based upon unpaid overtime compensation.

At the start of her employment at Morgan Properties, DiSantis worked at a residential apartment complex known as Sherwood Crossing. DiSantis was one of two leasing consultants at this location. In her position, Plaintiff's responsibilities included: 1) performing all activities related to apartment rentals, move-ins, and lease renewals; 2) interacting directly with prospective and current residents to achieve maximum occupancy; 3) generating and handling traffic, leasing apartments, qualifying prospects, preparing lease documentation and completing move-in paperwork and procedures; and 4) assisting residents throughout their tenancies. (Defs.' Mem. Supp. Summ. J. Mot., Ex. B.) Pursuant to Morgan Properties' formal job description for a leasing consultant, competencies such as "organizational support" (i.e. "follows policies and procedures") and "attendance/punctuality" were important for anyone in the position. (Id.)

From July 2006 to March 2007, DiSantis reported to property manager Sabina Chatterjee ("Chatterjee") at the Sherwood Crossing location. On January 26, 2007, DiSantis requested leave due to a medical condition*fn2 unrelated to her alleged mental disorders. Plaintiff did not qualify for FMLA leave because she had not been employed by Morgan Properties for at least twelve months. Nevertheless, Defendants granted Plaintiff's leave request for the period from February 1, 2007 through February 9, 2007.

Although DiSantis's leave was not FMLA-qualifying, Morgan Properties required her to complete FMLA forms -- including a "Certification of Health Care Provider Form" ("Certification") -- to verify her need for a medical absence. DiSantis was provided with FMLA paperwork on January 26, 2007. On February 9, 2007, when DiSantis returned to work, she was given an "Employee Warning Notice" ("First Warning Notice") by Chatterjee for "lack of professionalism" for failing to provide the forms in a timely manner and for recent unprofessional behavior in the office. (Id., Ex. D.) DiSantis signed an acknowledgment at the bottom of this First Warning Notice.

Subsequently, on March 15 and 16, 2007, DiSantis was absent from work. In this instance, her absences were related to her aforementioned mental health issues. On March 16, 2007, DiSantis was once again provided with the relevant FMLA forms. At this point, DiSantis still did not qualify for FMLA leave, but Morgan Properties granted her leave from March 16 through March 30, 2007.*fn3

On March 19, 2007, DiSantis's physician, Dr. Anthony Mannino ("Dr. Mannino") completed the Certification and faxed it to Human Resources at Morgan Properties. On the Certification, Dr. Mannino stated that DiSantis had "severe anxiety" and "panic disorder" to justify her need for leave. Further, on this form he checked the box "acute condition" as opposed to the "chronic/permanent" box. Most importantly, in the section of the form where it asked the health care provider to identify the "probable duration of the condition," Dr. Mannino indicated that the condition would last from March 16 through March 30, 2007. Dr. Mannino also made it clear that any need for continuing treatment would be based on additional medical evaluation. (Id., Ex. F.)*fn4

DiSantis was also apparently absent from April 2 until April 9, 2007.*fn5 On April 10, 2007, after her return to work, DiSantis was once again given an "Employee Warning Notice" ("Second Warning Notice"). The Second Warning Notice stated:

Description of Infraction:

Regular and prompt attendance on each scheduled workday is essential. Teena was a 'no call, no show' to work on Thursday March 15 and the morning of Friday March 16. On Friday afternoon Teena did contact Krista Reynolds, HR Director to discuss her situation. Krista then notified me and Debbie Quigley [Defendant's Regional Property Manager]. Failure to notify us of your absence in a timely fashion results in short staffing on the site which prevents us from meeting our business objectives.

Plan for Improvement: Per the Morgan Properties Employee Handbook of Company Policies, page 23: 'In the event of an unscheduled absence, such as illness or emergency, employees are required to contact their immediate supervisor at least one hour prior to the start of their shift.... If an employee is unable to reach their immediate supervisor, they should contact the next designated manager until speaking with someone personally. Voicemail messages are not acceptable.

(Id., Ex. G (emphasis added).) DiSantis signed an acknowledgment at the bottom of this Second Warning Notice.

In or around July 2007, Kristin Bozarth ("Bozarth") became the new property manager at Sherwood Crossing after Chatterjee left. On August 28, 2007, DiSantis contacted Human Resources about the possibility of taking additional leave for unknown reasons. In response, a representative from the company sent her both short-term disability and FMLA paperwork.*fn6

Despite receiving the relevant forms, DiSantis never requested leave at this time.

In February 2008, while she remained a Morgan Properties employee, the company permitted DiSantis to transfer to another apartment complex location, Brookmont, to accommodate her child care needs. She was the only leasing consultant at Brookmont. Upon her arrival at this location, DiSantis was supervised by property manager Billie-Jo Sedlacek. At her deposition, DiSantis testified that she did not make Sedlacek aware of her alleged mental illnesses until approximately two weeks before her termination.

Significantly, on June 11, 2008, DiSantis was issued a disciplinary action plan by Sedlacek because of performance and attendance related issues. (Defs.' Mem. Supp. Summ. J. Mot., Ex. I.) Like she did with the First and Second Warning Notices, DiSantis signed an acknowledgment at the bottom of this document. (Id.) DiSantis' attendance and job performance issues continued. As a result, on September 12, 2008, Sedlacek gave DiSantis a written "Final Warning" for continued "attendance and punctuality" issues*fn7, failure to follow supervisory instruction, and unsatisfactory performance. DiSantis signed an acknowledgment at the bottom of this document as well. (Id., Ex. J.)

On October 2, 2008, DiSantis emailed Human Resources Director Krista Reynolds ("Reynolds") and requested FMLA leave paperwork. She wrote:

Hello Krista! I am not sure if you are the one that I have to contact about FMLA.

I needed to know if it ran out yet.... If you can contact me back about the FMLA and even fax me the paperwork I need to provide to my doctor. I'm just taking a precaution, just in case he tells me it's something serious or simple. (Id., Ex. K.) On the same day, Sedlacek sent DiSantis home because she had her head down at her desk -- after she previously requested half a day off from work and was declined. DiSantis then missed work on October 3*fn8 and October 6, 2008 because of alleged sinusitis. On October 6, 2008, Human Resources Assistant Jennifer Carreon ("Carreon") sent DiSantis the FMLA paperwork.

On October 7, 2008, Sedlacek wrote Reynolds the following email: "Hi Krista, Have you heard anything from [DiSantis] today regarding FMLA -- she has not mentioned anything to me and she was 1 hour late this morning due to her alarm not going off!" (Pl.'s Mem. Resp. Summ. J. Mot., Ex. BB.) In subsequent correspondence between Sedlacek and Reynolds, Sedlacek described DiSantis's conduct on October 2, 2008, confirmed that DiSantis was late for work on October 7 because her alarm did not go off, and explained that DiSantis allegedly had a doctor's note for her recent absences. (Id.) On October 9, 2008, Sedlacek wrote:

Hi Krista, Just checking in on this! I was at a manager's meeting yesterday. [DiSantis] still was unable to give me a doctor's note, she said that they were going to fax it yesterday and they did not. This morning she said that they would fax it today. Has she sent any paperwork back for FMLA?*fn9 I am trying to figure out coverage for the upcoming weeks, and for the manager's conference. Please let me know if I am able to terminate her at this point or if we will be extending FMLA to ...


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