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William Spring v. Sealed Air Corp. D/B/A Cryovac

September 21, 2011


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


This lawsuit arises from William Spring's employment with Cryovac, Inc. ("Cryovac"). In early December of 2008, the plaintiff missed three days of work following an injury. He was suspended from his job upon his return and then terminated in January of 2009. The plaintiff alleges that these actions by Cryovac were either an interference with or a retaliation for his absence on those three days taken pursuant to the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA").

The defendant moves for summary judgment under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The Court will grant the defendant's motion.

I. Summary Judgment Record

The facts presented here are undisputed unless otherwise noted. Disputed facts are read in a light most favorable to the plaintiff, the nonmoving party. See Sheridan v. NGK Metals Corp., 609 F.3d 239, 251 n.12 (3d Cir. 2010).

A. The Defendant's Discipline and Safety Policy Cryovac is a manufacturer of protective packaging materials, among other things. At the Reading, Pennsylvania plant where the plaintiff worked, the defendant employs a progressive discipline policy. Employees generally receive a written warning, a notice of suspension, and then are terminated. The defendant, however, reserves the right to skip steps if necessary. Def's Stmt. of Undisputed Facts ("Def.'s Stmt.") ¶ 1; Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. ("Pl.'s Resp."), Homa Dep. ("Homa Dep.") 45:11-46:2.

The defendant has written plant safety rules. Rule number three states: "All injuries, no matter how minor must be immediately reported to the Department Supervisor." While employed at Cryovac, the plaintiff was aware of the written rules and had been told orally about the reporting policy. In August of 2008, a Cryovac employee, Hong Nguyen, was terminated for failing to report a workplace injury. Pl.'s Resp., Spring Dep. ("Pl. Dep."), Ex. 6.; Pl. Dep. 101:1-102:13; Pl.'s Resp., Weaver Dep.("Weaver Dep.") 9:11-14, 13:2-21, 18:19-19:2.

B. The Plaintiff's Injury and Absence from Work The plaintiff was employed as a full-time bundler operator by the defendant from November 14, 1988, until his termination on January 2, 2009. The plaintiff's job required him to stack and bundle styrofoam trays. Pl. Dep. 7:24-8:6, 90:23-91:19.

The plaintiff was working at the defendant's plant on Wednesday, November 26, 2008. During that day, he injured his lower back. Nonetheless, the plaintiff worked until the end of his shift. During his shift on November 26, the plaintiff informed two co-workers, Susan Karner and Scott Nguyen, that he was experiencing back pain. At that time, the plaintiff did not inform any other employees that he had injured his back. Pl. Dep. 32:25-33:22, 42:7-12.

The defendant was closed for business on Thursday, November 27, and Friday, November 28, due to the Thanksgiving Holiday. On Friday, November 28, the plaintiff visited his primary care physician, Dr. Ronald Newman. Dr. Newman diagnosed the plaintiff with "acute lower back pain and a muscular strain." Dr. Newman prescribed medications and recommended that the plaintiff stay out of work. Id. 42:16-22, 44:5-12, 47:10-48:17; Def's Stmt. ¶ 18; Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s Stmt. of Undisputed Facts ("Pl.'s Stmt. Resp.") ¶ 18.

On November 30, 2008, the plaintiff was scheduled to work four hours of overtime at Cryovac. The plaintiff went to work and tried, but was unable, to find another employee to cover his shift. The plaintiff spoke with Rick Gruber, a supervisor in charge of scheduling shifts. The plaintiff informed Gruber that his back was injured, but did not tell Gruber that he been injured at Cryovac. The plaintiff worked his scheduled four hours of overtime on November 30. Pl. Dep. 47:7-50:6.

On Monday, December 1, 2008, the plaintiff suffered an adverse reaction to one of the medications prescribed by Dr. Newman. The plaintiff called Dr. Newman's office and was given a new prescription and "pulled" from work by Dr. Newman. Id. 54:15-55:22.

The plaintiff was scheduled to work on December 1, 2, and 3, but did not appear because of his injury. On December 1, the plaintiff called to inform his employer that he would not appear at work. He first spoke with Cryovac employee Hipolito Omedah and then Robert Blackton, the plaintiff's shift supervisor. On December 2, the plaintiff again called the defendant and spoke with Blackton. Pl. Dep. 56:1-57:4.

On the morning of December 3, 2008, the plaintiff was released by Dr. Newman to return to work. The plaintiff called Robin Nagle, an employee in the defendant's human resources department, to inform her that he would be returning to work the next day, December 4. The plaintiff and Nagle discussed the plaintiff's need for paperwork to designate the three day absence he had taken as leave under the FMLA. The plaintiff was planning to return to work and was not seeking any additional leave after December 3. Pl. Dep. 18:6-20:11, 80:3-10, 89:19-23; 90:11-22.

Pl. Dep., Ex. 1.; Nagle Dep. 22:6-23:16.

On the afternoon of December 3, the plaintiff traveled to the defendant's plant to deliver the documentation releasing him to return to work. The note from Dr. Newman originally identified the plaintiff's condition as "not work related." The plaintiff called Dr. Newman's office to request the note be changed and the doctor's office faxed another note to the defendant on December 3 stating the condition was work-related. Nagle Dep., Exs. 2, 6.; Pl. Dep. 65:4-66:3.

At Cryovac, the plaintiff met first with Nagle. After speaking with the plaintiff, Nagle contacted Robert Weaver, the plant training and safety supervisor, because the plaintiff had suggested that he may have been injured at work. Weaver then investigated whether the plaintiff had reported a workplace injury in accordance with company policy. He spoke with Hipolito Olmeda and Jim Zaorski, who logbooks indicated had spoken with the plaintiff on December 1 and 2, respectively. Both reported to Weaver that the plaintiff had not told them of a workplace injury. Weaver Dep. 34:10-13, 37:4-38:16, 40:20-42:15; Nagle Dep. 40:12-44:10; Pl. Dep. 26:22-27:6.

The plaintiff then met with Weaver, Blackton, and George Homa, the plant's production manager. During the meeting, Weaver asked the plaintiff if he had reported the injury on November 26 to anyone. The plaintiff responded that he had not reported the injury to a supervisor. In his handwritten chronology of the events made for his own records, the plaintiff states: "One of his questions was did I report my injury to anyone. I told him that I said something [to] Susan and that was it. He asked me if reported it to anyone else and I said no." Nagle Dep. 84:1-13; Pl. Dep. 78:23-80:18; Pl. Dep., Ex. 4 at 3; Weaver Dep. 50:4-14, 74:13-75:5; Homa Dep. 12:15-21, 32:6-18, 107:20-108:7.

The plaintiff now contends that he informed the defendant when he called on December 1 and 2 that he had suffered a workplace injury. The plaintiff testified during his deposition that on December 1 he informed Omedah and Blackton, as well as Robin Nagle, an employee in the defendant's human resources department that he was injured at work on November 26. Id. 55:23-57:4, 58:8-60:19, 64:6-8. The defendant argues that none of these employees were made ...

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