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Laigon v. Philadelphia Mental Health Care Corp.

United States District Court, Third Circuit

May 1, 2013

EUGENE LAIGON
v.
PHILADELPHIA MENTAL HEALTH CARE CORP., et al.

MEMORANDUM

MARY A. McLAUGHLIN, District Judge.

The plaintiff, Dr. Eugene Laigon, brings this suit against his former employers for alleged violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA"). Laigon argues that his employers violated the FMLA by failing to pay him his full salary following his return from medical leave in 2008, even though he had resumed a full work schedule, and violated the ADA and PHRA by terminating him on the basis of his disability and without a reasonable accommodation. The defendants have moved for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

After holding oral argument, the Court will grant the defendants' motion.

I. Summary Judgment Record[1]

The facts described herein are undisputed unless otherwise noted. Inferences are drawn in the light most favorable to Laigon, the non-moving party. Am. Eagle Outfitters v. Lyle & Scott Ltd. , 584 F.3d 575, 581 (3d Cir. 2009).

A. Laigon's Employment with the Defendants

Defendant Philadelphia Mental Health Care Corporation ("PMHCC") is a non-profit corporation that has a contract with the City of Philadelphia ("City") to provide a variety of support services to the City and its departments.[2] Among other things, PMHCC performs fiscal analysis of City policies and programs. DX C (5/2/12 Borislow Dep.) at 8-9.[3]

PMHCC hired Dr. Laigon as a financial policy advisor on October 29, 2001. DX I (3/9/12 Laigon Dep.) at 21; DX C at 12-14. Although PMHCC performed all human resources ("HR") functions associated with Laigon's job, such as calculating and disbursing pay and benefits, PMHCC staff did not supervise his work. Instead, Laigon reported to two employees of the City in the City Managing Director's Office, Thomas Sheaffer and Ellen Steiker. DX I at 24-27; DX C at 14, 17. Sheaffer remained Laigon's supervisor for the entire duration of his employment at PMHCC. Steiker supervised both Laigon and Sheaffer until leaving her job in the Managing Director's Office on October 6, 2008. DX I at 25. Laigon's position was also funded by the City. Id. at 26; DX C at 17.

B. Laigon's First FMLA Leave

On June 5, 2007, Laigon suffered a fracture to his left hand when a SEPTA bus door closed on his left arm and leg as the bus pulled away, dragging him for some distance. DX I at 28-30, 33-34. Prior to that incident, Laigon had a pre-existing back and neck condition that caused him to walk with a cane. DX E (12/30/09 Laigon Dep.) at 12.

The day after the accident, Laigon called Sheaffer and Karen Holly, an employee in PMHCC's human resources department, to tell them what had happened. As a result of the injuries he had suffered, one week later, on June 14, Laigon submitted to PMHCC a formal Request for Family and Medical Leave for the dates June 6 through August 12, 2007. DX I at 34-35; DX F (6/14/07 PMHCC Request for Family & Medical Leave). Holly assisted Laigon in obtaining the necessary paperwork. DX I at 35.

PMHCC issued a response, approving Laigon's request and explaining his rights and responsibilities under the FMLA. DX G (6/7/07 PMHCC Employer Resp. to Employee). PMHCC's Policy Manual, which Laigon received when he was first hired and which he agreed to read and abide by, also informed him of his FMLA rights. DX I at 41; DX J (10/29/01 Mem.). The manual states that the FMLA entitles an eligible employee to twelve weeks of unpaid medical leave during a twelve-month period and that failure to return to work at the expiration of a FMLA leave of absence "will subject [the leave-taking employee] to immediate termination unless an extension is granted or if compensated by the agencies disability plan." DX H (PMHCC Policy Manual, Policy 608: FMLA) at 3-4. A separate provision within the manual provides that "[a]n unpaid leave of absence of up to one year may be granted to regular full- or part-time employees... upon request to the Program Director and approval by the Executive Director." Per the leave-of-absence policy, at the conclusion of the year-long leave, the employee will be "restored to his or her previous position... unless economic conditions force the Agency to reduce the work force." DX BB (PMHCC Policy Manual, Policy 612: Unpaid Leave of Absence).

C. Laigon's Return to Work in August 2007

Laigon wound up remaining on medical leave until August 29, 2007. DX I at 33, 38. According to PMHCC's stated policy, before an employee returning from medical leave can resume his job, the employee must provide PMHCC's human resources department with a physician's Fitness for Duty/Return to Work Certification form, a specific PMHCC form, clearing the employee for work. DX H at 4. On August 23, 2007, Laigon submitted to PMHCC's HR department a Fitness for Duty/Return to Work Certification filled out by his doctor. The form stated that Laigon could resume working with restrictions and should limit himself to two hours of typing per day. DX L (8/23/07 PMHCC Fitness for Duty/Return to Work Certification).

To accommodate the restrictions recommended by Laigon's doctor, Sheaffer and Holly discussed the possibility of Laigon coming back to work on a reduced schedule. Holly also spoke with Laigon about limiting his work schedule based on his doctor's advice. DX CC (8/27/07-8/28/07 E-mails between Sheaffer & Holly). At his deposition, Laigon explained how his schedule was restructured. According to Laigon, "we altered my hours, by me coming in at a later time rather than reporting there before 9:00." Sheaffer and Holly agreed to decrease Laigon's workday from 7.5 hours to 6 hours and his workweek from 37.5 hours to 30 hours. As a result of his shortened work schedule, Laigon's pay was commensurately reduced by 20%. DX I at 40-41; DX M (9/10/07 PMHCC Payroll Change Notification Sheet).

On August 29, Laigon sent Holly an e-mail, confirming that he had returned to work. PX F (8/29/07 E-mail from Laigon to Holly).

D. Laigon's Return to Full-Time Status

On September 20, 2007, less than a month after Laigon returned to work on a reduced schedule, his physician signed a form permitting him to return to work without restrictions beginning on September 26, 2007. PX E (9/20/07 Certification). Within one or two business days of receiving the note from his doctor, Laigon gave the medical release to Sheaffer and Ellen Steiker to let them know that he could return to work full-time. DX I at 58-59. At some point, Laigon also had conversations with Sheaffer and Steiker about resuming a full work schedule. Sheaffer informed Laigon that he and Steiker had determined that they did not need him to return to work full-time given the office's current low workload and the fact that there was not then enough funding in the budget to pay him his full salary. Id. at 43-44, 59.

Laigon continued to work on a reduced schedule throughout the spring, summer, and early fall of 2008. On October 8, 2008, Sheaffer approached Laigon at his desk and requested that he immediately return to work at full capacity. Laigon responded that he had been ready to resume his former work schedule for some time. He also mentioned to Sheaffer that certain forms would need to be filed with PMHCC human resources to return him to full pay. Sheaffer said he would handle submitting the necessary paperwork. The next day, October 9, 2008, Laigon resumed working on a full-time basis. Laigon did not at any time submit directly to PMHCC human resources a Fitness for Duty form or any other note from a medical professional, releasing him for full-time work. He also did not inform the PMHCC employees responsible for payroll or anyone else at PMHCC that he had begun working on a full-time basis. Id. at 46-47, 69.

By the middle or end of November, Laigon noticed that his pay remained at 80% of his former salary, despite his resumption of a full work schedule. After making this realization, Laigon spoke to Sheaffer. He subsequently "kept nudging" Sheaffer to fix the payroll issue throughout November and December 2008 when Laigon's pay did not "catch up" to the hours he was working. Id. at 68-70.

Laigon did not at any time complain to PMHCC about the mismatch between his pay and his hours. According to Laigon, he felt that he had previously been "rebuk[ed]" for contacting PMHCC human resources directly and that he should not communicate with that department about "official" issues. The incident to which Laigon refers occurred in September 2007. That month, Laigon received a copy of his yearly performance review, but it incorrectly listed his supervisor as the CFO of Safe and Sound. Laigon had worked with that organization during the preceding year, but had since moved back to a full-time position with the City. When Laigon contacted PMHCC HR personnel to inform them of this change in supervision, they told him that PMHCC needed to speak to Steiker, his ...


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