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Heidi Godshall v. Independence

November 30, 2011

HEIDI GODSHALL
v.
INDEPENDENCE COMMUNICATIONS, INC., ET AL.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Juan R. Sanchez, J.

MEMORANDUM

Plaintiff Heidi Godshall alleges her former employers, Defendants Independence Communications Inc. (ICI) and Independence Security, LLC (ISL), retaliated against her for taking leave protected by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq., by terminating her employment. Defendants ask this Court to dismiss Godshall's Complaint in its entirety pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) or, in the alternative, to grant summary judgment in their favor pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, asserting Godshall has failed to state a claim for retaliation under the FMLA because Godshall was not eligible for, and did not take, FMLA leave.

For the following reasons, Defendants' motion will be denied without prejudice to reassertion after limited discovery has been conducted.

FACTS*fn1

Godshall was employed by Defendants*fn2 from September 8, 2005, through January 4, 2011, as a Client Service Coordinator. Godshall reported to and worked out of ICI's office located in Audubon, Pennsylvania. Godshall requested a leave of absence from December 7, 2010, through January 6, 2011, to care for her then-fiance who was having major neck surgery.*fn3 On November 1, 2010, Godshall's request for leave was approved by Steven Seiden, President and CEO of both ICI and ISL. As scheduled, Godshall went out on "FMLA" leave on December 7, 2010.*fn4 Although Godshall offered to work from home during her leave (which the Operations Manager and Controller approved), Seiden did not allow this. On December 15, 2010, Defendants advertised Godshall's position online. Godshall returned to work on January 4, 2011, and was terminated that same day. A few weeks later, Godshall learned her position has been filled by someone else.

DISCUSSION

Defendants have filed a motion to dismiss the Complaint in its entirety for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) or, alternatively, for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. In support of their motion for summary judgment, Defendants have submitted declarations and other evidentiary materials outside the pleadings refuting Godshall's claims.

Rule 12(d) provides as follows:

If, on a motion under Rule 12(b)(6) . . . , matters outside the pleadings are presented to and not excluded by the court, the motion must be treated as one for summary judgment under Rule 56. All parties must be given a reasonable opportunity to present all the material that is pertinent to the motion.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(d). Under Rule 12(d), a court properly converts a motion to dismiss to one for summary judgment if: (1) the materials submitted require conversion, and (2) the parties are given adequate notice of the court's intention to convert the motion. Rose v. Bartle, 871 F.2d 331, 340 (3d Cir. 1989). Both requirements are satisfied here. First, Defendants submitted declarations and other evidence outside the pleadings in support of their motion; consideration of these materials requires conversion of the motion to dismiss. As for notice, in the instant case, Defendants styled their motion as a "Motion to Dismiss the Complaint or, in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment." Thus, by virtue of the title alone, Godshall was on notice that this Court might entertain a motion for summary judgment. See Hilfirty v. Shipman, 91 F.3d 573, 578-79 (3d Cir. 1996), disapproved of on other grounds (noting motions for summary judgment presented as motions in the alternative constitute sufficient notice to the non-moving party that court may convert motion to dismiss into motion for summary judgment). Furthermore, in her response to the motion, Godshall addressed Defendants' summary judgment evidence and arguments, thereby removing any doubt that Godshall was aware Defendants had moved for summary judgment. Finally, this Court acknowledged before the parties at oral argument that this motion to dismiss was, in the alternative, a motion for summary judgment.

Having reviewed the parties' submissions, this Court finds conversion is appropriate. Accordingly, Defendants' motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment, shall be treated as seeking summary judgment.

Summary judgment is proper "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 factual dispute is "material" if it might affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A factual dispute is "genuine" only if there is sufficient evidence to allow a reasonable fact-finder to return a verdict for the non-moving party. Id. The court must resolve all doubts as to the existence of a genuine issue of material fact in favor of the non-moving party. Saldana v. Kmart Corp., 260 F.3d 228, 232 (3d Cir. 2001).

To defeat a motion for summary judgment, the opposing party "must come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., 475 U.S. at 587 (citation and internal punctuation omitted); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986) (explaining the non-moving party may not simply sit back and rest on the allegations in its complaint). The non-moving party must "go beyond the pleadings and by her own affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324 (internal quotations omitted); see also Saldana, 260 F.3d at 232 (citations omitted). Summary judgment is warranted where a party "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 at trial." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322.

The Family and Medical Leave Act was enacted to "balance the demands of the workplace with the needs of families" and "to entitle employees to take reasonable leave for medical reasons . . . in a manner that accommodates the legitimate interests of employers." 29 U.S.C. § 2601. The FMLA thus requires covered employers to allow "eligible employees" to take a total of twelve weeks of leave per year "to care for the spouse, or a son, daughter, or parent, of the employee, if such spouse, son, daughter, or parent has a serious health condition." Id. § 2612(a)(1)(C). The FMLA protects an employee's leave for specific purposes only: the birth of, and to care for, a child; the adoption or assumption of foster care of a child; to care for an immediate family member suffering from a serious health condition; or the employee's own serious health condition, which makes it impossible for her to work. Id. § 2612(a)(1). In furtherance of its twin interests, Congress incorporated two exceptions to FMLA's coverage: Congress excluded employers with fewer than 50 employees, see id. § 2611(4)(A)(I), and excluded employees whose employer employs fewer than 50 people within 75 miles of the employee's worksite (the "50/75 provision"), see id. § 2611(2)(B)(ii) (providing that if the 50/75 threshold is not met, an employee is not ...


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