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Amy Medley v. County of Montgomery

July 16, 2012

AMY MEDLEY
v.
COUNTY OF MONTGOMERY



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

MEMORANDUM

Plaintiff Amy Medley, a former employee of Defendant County of Montgomery, brings claims under the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq., and a federal common law claim for equitable estoppel, alleging that Defendant told her that she could take leave pursuant to the FMLA, but then fired her for taking the leave. Defendant has moved to dismiss Plaintiff's claims pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the reasons that follow, Defendant's Motion is granted in part and denied in part.

I. BACKGROUND

The Complaint alleges the following facts.Defendant employed Plaintiff as a nursing assistant. Plaintiff's son has serious health conditions, including Asperger's Syndrome, developmental delay, and anxiety disorder, and Plaintiff requested intermittent leave because of her son's conditions. Although Plaintiff had worked less than 1,250 hours during the 12 months preceding the commencement of her leave, a prerequisite to FMLA coverage, she nevertheless was given to believe that she had coverage under the FMLA. Defendant's officials told Plaintiff that she qualified for and was covered by the FMLA and Plaintiff executed various County of Montgomery FMLA forms that confirmed her entitlement to FMLA leave, or would convince a reasonable person of FMLA eligibility. Plaintiff was also given various County of Montgomery forms that stated she was eligible for "family care" leave after three months of continuous employment.

Defendant, however, began to write up Plaintiff for the intermittent leave absences she took to care for her son. On April 19, 2011, Plaintiff spoke to "H.R. official" Beverly Jackson about filing a grievance for being written up for her intermittent absences. (Compl. ¶ 14.) Jackson tried to dissuade Plaintiff from filing a grievance, telling Plaintiff that "nothing was going to be done to her." (Id. ¶ 15.) Plaintiff, however, stated that she wanted to file the grievance and Jackson indicated that they would meet the following week to fill out the paperwork.

The next day, Plaintiff was terminated. Plaintiff was told she was fired because of leave she exercised on April 17, 2011. Plaintiff had never been told that her leave was not covered by the FMLA. Plaintiff would not have taken such leave, and would have modified her conduct with respect to dealing with her son's condition, had she known that her leave was not covered by the FMLA.

The Complaint asserts three claims: 1) interference under the FMLA, 2) discrimination under the FMLA,*fn1 and 3) equitable estoppel. Defendant has moved to dismiss all three claims, arguing that, because Plaintiff admits she did not work enough hours to be an eligible employee under the FMLA, she cannot state claims upon which relief may be granted under the FMLA or equitable estoppel principles.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

When considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), we "consider only the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, [and] matters of public record, as well as undisputedly authentic documents if the complainant's claims are based upon these documents." Mayer v. Belichick, 605 F.3d 223, 230 (3d Cir. 2010) (citing Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993)). We take the factual allegations of the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008) (citing Pinker v. Roche Holdings Ltd., 292 F.3d 361, 374 n.7 (3d Cir. 2002)). Legal conclusions, however, receive no deference, and the court is "not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation." Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986) (cited with approval in Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)).

A plaintiff's pleading obligation is to set forth "a short and plain statement of the claim," Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2), which gives the defendant "'fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (alteration in original) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). The "complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). "The plausibility standard is not akin to a 'probability requirement,' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). In the end, we will dismiss a complaint if the factual allegations in the complaint are not sufficient "to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citing 5 Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1216, at 235-36 (3d ed. 2004)).

III. DISCUSSION

To obtain protection under the FMLA, an employee must, among other prerequisites, work at least 1,250 hours with her employer in the previous 12 months. See 29 U.S.C. § 2611(2)(A). Defendant argues that Plaintiff's claims should be dismissed because it is undisputed that she cannot satisfy this basic prerequisite for an FMLA claim. Plaintiff argues that because Defendant told her that she was eligible for FMLA leave, the doctrine of equitable estoppel should now preclude Defendant from asserting that Plaintiff's FMLA claims fail because she was not eligible.

A. FMLA Discrimination

Plaintiff asserts a discrimination claim under the FMLA because Defendant fired her for taking leave. To assert a discrimination claim under the FMLA, an employee must be eligible for FMLA leave, take such leave, and suffer an adverse employment action as a result of taking that leave. Conoshenti v. Pub. Serv. Elec. & Gas Co., 364 F.3d 135, 146 (3d Cir. 2004) (citing 29 C.F.R. ยง 825.220(c)). Although Plaintiff acknowledges that she cannot satisfy the basic element of ...


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