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Bernadette Waites v. Kirkbride Center

May 23, 2011

BERNADETTE WAITES,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
KIRKBRIDE CENTER, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sitarski, M. J.

MEMORANDUM

Currently pending before the Court is a motion for summary judgment filed by Defendant Kirkbride Center, Plaintiff's Response, and Plaintiff's Supplemental Responses. For the following reasons, the motion will be GRANTED IN PART, and DENIED IN PART.

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Bernadette Waites ("Plaintiff") initiated this lawsuit against her former employer, Defendant Kirkbride Center ("Defendant"), by filing a Complaint on April 5, 2010. (Doc. No. 1). Plaintiff asserted that Defendant violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. ("ADA"), and the Family Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq. ("FMLA") by terminating Plaintiff. Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss (Doc. No. 3) on June 1, 2010 and Amended Motion to Dismiss (Doc. No. 4) on June 2, 2010, asserting that Plaintiff's ADA claim was time-barred. On June 11, 2010, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint (Doc.

No. 5), to which Defendant filed an Answer (Doc. No. 6) on June 28, 2010.*fn1

This matter was initially assigned to District Court Judge Juan R. Sanchez. On July 16, 2010, the parties consented to the exercise of jurisdiction by a United States Magistrate Judge under 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73, and the matter was referred to me. (Doc. No. 9).

On March 1, 2011, Defendant filed a Motion for Leave to File an Amended Answer, seeking to include the affirmative defense of timeliness. (Doc. No. 18). Plaintiff opposed this motion (Doc. No. 21), to which Defendant filed a Reply (Doc. No. 22). This Court granted Defendant's motion on April 1, 2011, and directed the clerk of the court to separately docket the Amended Answer. (Doc. Nos. 24-25).

On March 2, 2011, Defendant filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. No. 19). On March 3, 2011, Defendant filed the instant Amended Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. No. 20). Defendant moves for summary judgment on the grounds that Plaintiff's ADA claim is time-barred. Defendant also claims that summary judgment on this claim is appropriate because Plaintiff is unable to establish a prima facie case of discrimination because she is not disabled within the meaning of the ADA, was not regarded as disabled by Defendant, and was not terminated because of a disability. See Def.'s Mem. Law Supp. Mot. Summary Judgment, at 4-8.Defendant also moves for summary judgment on the grounds that Plaintiff's FMLA claim is time-barred. See id. at 8.

On March 21, 2011, Plaintiff filed a Response to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. No. 23). After permitting Defendant to file an Amended Answer, this Court granted Plaintiff until April 21, 2011 to file any supplemental response to Defendant's motion. (Doc. No. 30). On April 19, 2011, Plaintiff filed a Supplemental Response to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. No. 31). After this Court conducted oral argument on May13, 2011, Plaintiff filed a Supplemental Response to the Timeliness of Plaintiff's Charge of Disability Discrimination to the EEOC on May 16, 2011. (Doc. No. 36). Accordingly, this matter is now ripe for disposition.

II. BACKGROUND *fn2

Plaintiff began her employment with Defendant as a detox therapist in February 2005.

Am. Compl. ¶ 7. Beginning in September 2007, Plaintiff began experiencing health problems. Am. Compl. ¶ 8. Although initially believed to be Subclavian Steal Syndrome, the doctors ruled out this diagnosis. Waites Dep. at 100-01. In fact, Plaintiff suffered from high blood pressure, a torn ligament in her shoulder, and mental problems including depression and hypoglycemia. Waites Dep. at 101-02, 106-08. Plaintiff's medical problems caused fainting spells, dizziness, fatigue, difficulty in thinking, and difficulty in functioning at work. Waites Dep. at 106.

Citing her doctor's recommendation to avoid strenuous activity, Plaintiff called out of work on September 4 and 5, 2007, and was compensated with paid time off. See Pl.'s Mem. Law, at 4; Connell Dep. at 35. On September 10, 2007, Plaintiff telephoned her supervisor, Mr. Kevin Collier, to inform him that she would miss work because felt ill and needed to visit a doctor. See Pl.'s Mem. Law, at 4. Plaintiff also telephoned on September 11 and 12, 2007 to inform Mr. Collier that her illness was getting worse and she expected to be admitted to the hospital. Am. Compl. ¶ 9; Waites Dep. at 60-61. During these conversations, Mr. Collier informed Plaintiff that a doctor's note was required if she was going to miss three days of work.

Mr. Collier also advised Plaintiff how to obtain FMLA forms. Waites Dep. at 60-61; Pl.'s Mem. Law, Ex. B (letter from Ms. Madeleine Cardona confirming the content of the telephone conversations between Plaintiff and Mr. Collier). Plaintiff testified that she tried - unsuccessfully - to contact Defendant's Human Resources Department and Mr. Collier on September 13, 2007 about delivering the requested doctor's note. Waites Dep. at 61-63.

On September 14, 2007, Ms. Cardona, a manager in Defendant's Human Resources Department, telephoned Plaintiff to inform her that she was taken off the schedule for failing to deliver a doctor's note. See Pl.'s Mem. Law, at 4; Cardona Dep. at 31. After Plaintiff explained that she had tried in vain to contact the Human Resources Department the day before, Ms. Cardona advised Plaintiff to deliver a doctor's note to security. See Pl.'s Mem. Law, at 4-5. On September 15, 2007, Plaintiff attempted to deliver a doctor's note to Defendant, but left the note with security because she was denied access to the building based upon the Human Resources Department's request. Am. Compl. ¶ 10; Waites Dep. at 108.

On September 17, 2007, Plaintiff was admitted to Hahnemann University Hospital. Am. Compl. ¶ 11; Waites Dep. at 63. Plaintiff testified that the delay in being admitted was caused by a shortage of available beds. Waites Dep. at 104. Plaintiff remained in the hospital until September 20, 2007, when she was discharged. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 11-12. Plaintiff was not medically authorized to return to work until September 25, 2007. Am. Compl. ¶ 12.

On September 18, 2007, while Plaintiff was in the hospital, Defendant's agent spoke with Plaintiff's primary care physician, Dr. Joanne Connell, who confirmed that Plaintiff was hospitalized. See Pl.'s Mem. Law, at 5. Also, on that same day, Defendant sent Plaintiff a certified letter confirming Plaintiff's recent conversations with Mr. Collier, requesting proof of her condition, advising her of the duty to inform Defendant of any subsequent missed days from work, and informed her that her continued employment was being examined in light of Plaintiff's violation of attendance policies. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 13-14; Pl.'s Resp., Ex. B. Plaintiff testified that she did not receive this letter until September 24, 2007. Am. Compl. ¶ 13; Waites Dep. at 109. In response to this letter, Plaintiff testified, she delivered the requested documentation to Defendant. Waites Dep. at 109. While at the location, Plaintiff spoke with executive director Scott Weinberg and Ms. Cardona. See Pl.'s Mem. Law, at 5-6. Ms. Cardona reviewed the doctor's notes, including an additional doctor's note that Dr. Connell faxed to Defendant, stating that Plaintiff could return to full duty. See Pl.'s Mem. Law, at 6. Ms. Cardona also informed Plaintiff that Plaintiff was currently not on the schedule and should receive a telephone call regarding her work status. See Pl.'s Mem. Law, at 6. Having received no communication for several days, Plaintiff left multiple telephone messages that were not returned. See Pl.'s Mem. Law, at 6. On October 1, 2007, Plaintiff received a letter from Defendant, advising that she was terminated for violating Defendant's attendance policy. Am. Compl. ¶ 15; Pl.'s Resp., Ex. C.

On July 15, 2008, Plaintiff submitted a preliminary EEOC questionnaire and scheduled an intake appointment with the EEOC for August 6, 2008, which concerned "the possible filing of a charge of employment discrimination." Am. Compl. ¶ 16, Ex. A. The EEOC formulated a formal Charge of Discrimination on August 20, 2008. Am. Compl. ¶ 18.

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment shall be granted "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). A fact is "material" if it "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). An issue is "genuine" if there is sufficient evidence from which a jury could find in favor of the non-moving party. Id. It is not the court's role to weigh the disputed evidence and decide which is more probative, or to make credibility determinations. Rather, the court must consider the evidence, and all reasonable inferences which may be drawn from it, in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587-88 (1986) (citing United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962)); Tigg Corp. v. Dow Corning Corp., 822 F.2d 358, 361 (3d Cir. 1987). If a conflict arises between the evidence presented by both sides, the court must accept as true the allegations of the non-moving party, and "all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255.

The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating that there is no genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-24 (1986). Once the moving party carries this initial burden, the non-moving party must "come forward with specific facts showing there is a genuine issue for trial." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., 475 U.S. at 587. The non-moving party must present something more than mere allegations, general denials, vague statements, or suspicions. Trap Rock Indus., Inc. v. Local 825, Int'l Union of Operating Eng'rs,982 F.2d 884, 890 (3d Cir. 1992); Fireman's Ins. Co. of Newark v. DuFresne, 676 F.2d 965, 969 (3d Cir. 1982). Instead, the non-moving party must present specific facts and "affirmative evidence in order to defeat a properly supported motion for summary judgment." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 257. "If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, ...


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