The opinion of the court was delivered by: Donetta W. Ambrose Senior Judge, U.S. District Court
In this civil action, Plaintiff contends that Defendant, her former employer, terminated her employment in retaliation for her taking medical leave, in violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. § 2615(a). Before the Court is Defendant‟s Motion for Summary Judgment. For the following reasons, the Motion will be granted.
I. Applicable Standards Summary judgment shall be granted if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ.
P. 56(c). In considering a motion for summary judgment, the Court must examine the facts in a light most favorable to the party opposing the motion.
International Raw Materials, Ltd. v. Stauffer Chem. Co., 898 F. 2d 946, 949 (3d Cir. 1990). The moving party bears the burden of demonstrating the absence of any genuine issues of material fact. United States v. Omnicare, Inc., 382 F.3d 432 (3d Cir. 2004). Rule 56, however, mandates the entry of judgment against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986).
"If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249-50, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986). "A plaintiff cannot avoid summary judgment with speculation; he or she must provide competent evidence from which a rational trier of fact can find in his or her favor." United States v. 8 Bayview Terrace, No. 10-1546, 2010 U.S. App. LEXIS 17262, at *18 (3d Cir. Aug. 16, 2010).
Unless otherwise indicated, the following facts are undisputed. Plaintiff began working for Defendant as a hospice nurse in 2002. Defendant contends that it fired Plaintiff due to patients‟ allegations of sexually inappropriate conduct that occurred in June, 2009.
Plaintiff went on medical leave from June 24 through August 31, 2009. This was her fifth FMLA leave; she had taken approved medical leave in 2003, 2004, 2006, and 2007. Each time, she returned to her previous position without incident. While Plaintiff was out on her 2009 leave, Defendant received a complaint from patients that Plaintiff had showed them photographs of male genitalia on her cell phone. The patients stated that they did not want Plaintiff to return to their home.*fn1 Defendant investigated the complaint by speaking with the patients. It is Defendant‟s policy not to contact employees while they are on approved medical leave, so Defendant‟s Director and Manager did not meet with Plaintiff until August 31, when she returned to work. At that time, they apprised her of the patients‟ allegations, but not the patients‟ identities. It is disputed whether Plaintiff denied the allegations at the August 31 meeting. The following day, the Director consulted with human resources, and the decision was made to terminate Plaintiff. On September 2, she was discharged. At that time, Defendant contends, Plaintiff denied the allegations against her. Defendant also proffers other witness‟ testimony about Plaintiff‟s sexually inappropriate behavior at work.
"An employer that terminates an employee in retaliation for having taken FMLA leave violates the FMLA itself and its implementing regulations." Constant v. Mellon Fin. Corp., 247 Fed. Appx. 332, 337 (3d Cir. 2007). Such a claim is subject to the burden-shifting paradigm set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S. Ct. 1817, 36 L. Ed. 2d 668 (1973). Thus, Plaintiff must initially establish a prima facie case of retaliation by demonstrating that she took an FMLA leave and suffered an adverse employment decision, and that there is a causal connection between the adverse employment decision and the FMLA leave. Conoshenti v. Public Svc. Electric & Gas Co., 364 F.3d 135, 146 (3d Cir. 2004).
Then, the burden of production shifts to the employer to articulate a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the adverse action. Constant, 247 F. 3d at 339. An employer satisfies its burden of production by introducing evidence that would permit the conclusion that there was a nondiscriminatory reason for its actions. Fuentes, 32 F.3d at 763. The employer need not prove that the tendered reason actually motivated its behavior, and the Court must accept the proffer without measuring its credibility. St. Mary's Honor Ctr. v. Hicks, 509 U.S. 502, 509, ...