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Bracy v. Melmark Inc.

United States District Court, Third Circuit

September 25, 2013

ROCHELLE BRACY, Plaintiff,
v.
MELMARK INC. and REGINA MCGOWAN, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Tucker, C. J.

Presently before the Court are cross motions for summary judgment: Plaintiff’s Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Doc. 19); Defendants’ Response in Opposition (Doc. 22); Plaintiff’s Reply (Doc. 29); Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 18); Plaintiff’s Response in Opposition (Doc. 20), Defendants’ Reply (Doc. 23), and Plaintiff’s Sur-Reply (Doc. 30). Upon consideration of the parties’ motions with briefs and exhibits, and for the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff’s motion will be denied and Defendants’ motion is will granted in part and denied in part.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Rochelle Bracy (“Plaintiff”) worked for Defendant Melmark, Inc. (“Melmark”) from January 3, 2011 to March 29, 2012 as a Health Services Manager in Melmark’s Adult Program. Melmark is a comprehensive provider of residential, educational, therapeutic, and recreational services for children and adults with developmental disabilities. During her tenure as a Health Services Manager, Plaintiff was supervised by Defendant Regina McGowan (“McGowan”), Director of Health Services, until Ms. McGowan’s resignation from the company on March 19, 2012. After Ms. McGowan’s resignation, Plaintiff was supervised by Loveinu Simmons (“Simmons”), Interim Director of Health Services, for the remainder of her employment with Melmark.

Plaintiff’s father suffered from dementia. Beginning in October 2011, Plaintiff’s father’s dementia was advancing, which caused her to look into taking FMLA leave. At the time that Plaintiff began pursuing FMLA leave, she felt that her father was going to need more help getting to and from places; additionally, Plaintiff desired to help her father be more cooperative with her mother, who was his primary caretaker. Plaintiff was her father’s primary caretaker in emergency situations. Plaintiff’s father continued to worsen from October to December 2011, which precipitated Plaintiff’s request to take leave on December 1, 2011 to care for her father’s advanced dementia. Plaintiff provided Melmark with a form signed by her father’s physician, which indicated Plaintiff’s father suffered from advanced dementia, that Plaintiff needed to work on an intermittent basis, and that her leave needs would be “episodic.” (hereinafter, “Health Care Provider Certification.”) Plaintiff also completed Melmark’s own FMLA Request Form, indicating that she was seeking “intermittent” time off to care for her father. Ms. McGowan informed Plaintiff, however, that she was not yet eligible to take FMLA leave because she had not been working for Melmark for at least one year. Under the FMLA, Plaintiff would not be eligible for FMLA leave until early January 2012.

On December 24, 2011, Plaintiff’s father suffered a massive stroke and was hospitalized for approximately three weeks. Plaintiff’s father was then transferred to Acadia Nursing and Rehab located in Dover, Delaware, where he remained until he passed away in the summer of 2012. After her father’s stroke, Plaintiff took time off from work on December 26-30, 2011, and January 2-3, 5-13, 2012, using holiday, sick leave, and “prescheduled late ins” approved by Ms. McGowan. These “prescheduled late ins, ” which were taken pursuant to Melmark’s Employee Time Management Policy, permitted Plaintiff to work partial shifts. Under Melmark’s Employee Time Management Policy, these partial shifts were fully paid as if Plaintiff had worked full shifts, and did not count as lateness or absences. Using these “late ins, ” Plaintiff was able to visit her father before she came into work.

Ultimately, Plaintiff was placed on FMLA leave on February 2, 2012. The parties sharply dispute the circumstances surrounding Plaintiff taking FMLA leave. Plaintiff states that on February 2, 2012, Ms. McGowan called her into her office and told her that her schedule was too erratic and that Melmark could no longer accommodate it. Plaintiff alleges Ms. McGowan told her she could either take block FMLA leave or would be terminated that very day. Plaintiff then allegedly told Ms. McGowan that she did not need block leave, but Ms. McGowan again replied that Melmark could no longer accommodate Plaintiff. Plaintiff states she then left Melmark that day with the understanding that she was still employed but that she had to take the block leave.

Conversely, Ms. McGowan avers that when Plaintiff arrived at work on February 2, 2012, she was emotionally incapable of working because of her father’s ongoing health problems. According to Ms. McGowan, Plaintiff explained to her that she was unable to work any hours at all and wanted to resign from her position. Ms. McGowan allegedly persuaded Plaintiff to take time off instead.

It appears that Ms. McGowan, under circumstances that remain in dispute, then communicated Plaintiff’s need for leave to Kelly Herrmann (“Ms. Herrmann”), Melmark’s Human Resources Manager. Ms. Herrmann never had any follow-up discussion with Plaintiff surrounding her need for FMLA leave. Ms. Herrmann only relied on statements made to her by Ms. McGowan in reviewing Plaintiff’s request for leave. Nevertheless, it was Ms. Herrmann that made the decision to grant Plaintiff’s request for FMLA leave on February 2, 2012. Ms. Herrmann did not contact Plaintiff to have her fill out a new FMLA Request Form. Ms. Herrmann instead relied on the previous Health Care Provider Certification and FMLA Request Form provided by Plaintiff in December 2011, because Ms. Herrmann felt that these were sufficient. Both the Health Care Provider Certification and the FMLA Request Form that Ms. Herrmann relied upon clearly indicated that Plaintiff was requesting intermittent leave. Nonetheless, as of February 2, 2012, Plaintiff was placed on block leave that was scheduled to last until April 27, 2012. In granting this leave, however, Melmark never received any documentation from Plaintiff indicating that she wanted or needed to take a block leave. Subsequently, on February 8, 2012, Ms. Herrmann sent Plaintiff a letter stating that she had been placed on a block leave under the FMLA from February 2, 2012 through April 27, 2012.

As a result of being placed on a block leave, Plaintiff was out of work from February 2, 2012 until March 26, 2012, when she opted to return to work early. Shortly before Plaintiff returned to work, she learned that Ms. McGowan no longer worked at Melmark and that Ms. Simmons had replaced Ms. McGowan. About a week before Plaintiff returned to work, there was a conference call between Plaintiff, Ms. Herrmann, and Ms. Simmons to discuss Plaintiff’s schedule upon her return. Plaintiff stated during this call that she wanted her schedule changed and wanted to have the ability to work from home, if necessary. Ms. Herrmann and Ms. Simmons denied her request. During the conversation, after her schedule request had been denied, Plaintiff allegedly complained that she was being discriminated against because she is African-American. Defendants deny that Plaintiff ever claimed she was being discriminated against.

Plaintiff returned to Melmark on March 26, 2012 on a full-time basis. After Plaintiff had returned, she again had a conversation with Ms. Herrmann wherein she allegedly accused Melmark of denying her a schedule modification because of her race. Plaintiff alleges that Kim Ford, a white employee who held a similar position to Plaintiff, had been permitted to have a modified schedule similar to that which Plaintiff was requesting. Plaintiff allegedly did not receive any response when she made her complaints about discrimination. Ms. Herrmann denies that Plaintiff ever complained about race discrimination.

Plaintiff’s employment with Melmark ended on March 29, 2012, under circumstances that remain in dispute. According to Melmark, on March 28, 2012, Plaintiff emailed her then supervisor, Ms. Simmons, to request that she be permitted to take an extended lunch the following day for a medical appointment with her psychiatrist. Ms. Simmons responded by stating that Melmark could not accommodate her request. Melmark states it declined to grant Plaintiff an extended lunch to attend this appointment because of the short notice. Plaintiff left work that day prior to receiving Ms. Simmons’ response to her request. Plaintiff testified that when she left she was under the impression that she was permitted to take an extended lunch. Plaintiff did not become aware of the fact that her request had been denied until the following day, March 29, 2012. Melmark contends that Plaintiff became upset upon reviewing Ms. Simmons’ response, and then allegedly walked off the job after handing her keys over to Ms. Herrmann.

According to Plaintiff, she arrived at work on March 29, 2012 and went to speak with Ms. Herrmann about taking time off to go to her appointment. Plaintiff claims Ms. Herrmann was not in her office and so she returned to the nursing station to perform her job duties. At approximately 9:30 a.m., Plaintiff claims left her post to deliver some items to the “cottages” on Melmark’s campus, and also to take a break to have a cigarette. Shortly thereafter, Plaintiff received a call from her coworker, Sandra Fellman, informing her that she needed to take her keys to Ms. Herrmann. Plaintiff then proceeded to Ms. Herrmann’s office and gave Ms. Herrmann her keys. Ms. Herrmann allegedly told Plaintiff that she was “sorry it didn’t work out.” In response, Plaintiff avers she stated that she did not know what Ms. Herrmann was talking about and explicitly told Ms. Herrmann that she was not resigning her employment. When Ms. Herrmann allegedly did not respond, Plaintiff left Melmark and went home.

Plaintiff thereafter received a letter from Ms. Simmons stating that she had voluntarily abandoned her position after she had turned her keys in to Ms. Herrmann and then left the campus. Based on her alleged conversation with Ms. Herrmann, however, Plaintiff understood that she had been terminated.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is appropriate where the moving party establishes that “there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that [it] is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Fed R. Civ P. 56(a); see also Levy v. Sterling Holding Co., LLC, 544 F.3d 493, 501 (3d Cir. 2008). A factual dispute between the parties will not defeat a motion for summary judgment unless it is both genuine and material. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986); Dee v. Borough of Dunmore, 549 F.3d 225, 229 (3d Cir. 2008). A factual dispute is genuine if a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-movant, and it is material if, under the substantive law, it would affect the outcome of the suit. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; Fakete v. Aetna, Inc., 308 F.3d 335, 337 (3d Cir. 2002).

The moving party must show that if the evidentiary material of record were reduced to admissible evidence in court, it would be insufficient to permit the non-moving party to carry its burden of proof. See Celotex v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 327 (1986). Once the moving party has carried its burden under Rule 56, “its’ opponent must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007). Under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e), the opposing party must set forth specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial and may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of its pleadings. See Marten v. Godwin, 499 F.3d 290, 295 (3d Cir. 2007).

At the summary judgment stage the court’s function is not to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter, but rather to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249; Jiminez v. All American Rathskeller, Inc., 503 F.3d 247, 253 (3d Cir. 2007). In doing so, the court must construe the facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Horsehead Indus., Inc. v. Paramount Communications, Inc., 258 F.3d 132 (3d Cir. 2001). The court must award summary judgment on all claims unless the non-moving party shows through affidavits or admissible evidence that an issue of material ...


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