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McElroy v. Casino

United States District Court, Third Circuit

January 9, 2014

DARRYL McELROY, Plaintiff,
SANDS CASINO, Defendant.


JEFFREY L. SCHMEHL, District Judge.

Following his termination as an employee of Defendant Sands Casino, Plaintiff Darryl McElroy filed suit alleging FMLA-related interference and retaliation as well as breach of contract. Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment and then a motion to strike Plaintiff's response for several reasons. The Court will grant both of Defendant's motions, striking Plaintiff's response and entering summary judgment in Defendant's favor.

Factual and Procedural Background

Plaintiff Darryl McElroy worked as a dealer for Defendant Sands Casino from June 28, 2010, until his termination on December 19, 2011. During his employment, Plaintiff had some attendance issues that are ultimately irrelevant to this case, but they may have influenced his decision to inquire about FMLA leave, which may also have been related to head pain or diverticulitis. Regardless of the reason or reasons, sometime in the fall of 2011, Plaintiff contacted Stacey Berasley, an employee in Defendant's human resources department who deals with benefits inquiries. Berasley referred Plaintiff to Las Vegas Sands Corp. Leave Administration, an outside organization that handles leave issues for Sands properties. In accordance with her typical practice, Berasley did not tell anyone about Plaintiff's inquiry. On October 17, 2011, Plaintiff contacted Leave Administration and subsequently received a packet of forms and information. On December 1, 2011, Plaintiff submitted a certification from his doctor to Leave Administration, and on December 15, Leave Administration wrote to Plaintiff, telling him that his form was incomplete and more information was needed. Plaintiff never supplemented the information or completed the leave request.

Plaintiff's termination shortly thereafter, on December 19, 2011, was the culmination of an investigation into an incident involving Plaintiff and another dealer, Paul Lee. On December 10, while entering an elevator with Lee, Plaintiff grabbed his shoulder with one hand and grabbed or prodded him in the waist or lower back with the other hand, basically pushing Lee into the elevator. Lee expressed his anger and told Plaintiff not to touch him again, but Plaintiff touched him again while getting off the elevator. Plaintiff had previously grabbed Lee's nipple while at dealer school in the spring of 2010. Plaintiff had also previously been disciplined for inappropriate comments to a female coworker regarding a massage, for ordering alcohol at the casino while in uniform contrary to policy, and for making rude comments to another dealer who had chips stolen from his table.

Following the elevator incident, Team Member Relations Manager Kathleen Birkbeck and Team Member Relations Representative Rob Beck conducted an investigation, viewing surveillance footage and interviewing witnesses. Birkbeck and Beck took the results of their investigation to Vice President of Human Resources Michelle Trageser, who decided to terminate Plaintiff.

The final point of fact necessary to understand the case is Defendant's issuance of an employee handbook to all of its employees. The handbook's fourth page contains several general statements and disclaimers. Under the heading "ABOUT THIS HANDBOOK, " it states that "the Company reserves the right to change its policies and benefits, as necessary, without prior notices" and that "[f]rom time to time, exceptions to policies may be made when, in the sole discretion of the Company, circumstances warrant." Under the heading "EMPLOYMENT STATUS, " the handbook states:

Nothing in this handbook is intended to create a contract of employment or benefits and no statement made by any officer, director, manager, supervisor or Team Member can be construed as a binding guarantee of employment. In accepting employment at the Company, the Team Member agrees and acknowledges that employment shall continue only so long as it is mutually agreeable to the Team Member and the Company.

One of the many policies contained in the handbook is a peer review procedure for appeal of discipline and termination. Plaintiff requested such a peer review, but Defendant denied it, ostensibly because the termination concerned sexual harassment, which is an express exception to the peer review policy.

Certain aspects of the case's procedural history are also relevant. On June 21, 2013, Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, accompanied by a brief and other supporting materials. Twenty-one days later, on July 12, 2013, Plaintiff filed a brief in opposition and related materials. Defendant then filed a motion to strike Plaintiff's opposition, to which Plaintiff promptly responded. The Court heard oral argument on both motions on September 16, 2013.

One of the bases for Defendant's motion to strike was Plaintiff's failure to attach or produce an unemployment hearing transcript referenced in his brief opposing summary judgment. At argument, Plaintiff asserted that the transcript was delivered to the clerk's office as part of an appendix to his summary judgment opposition, but Defendant noted that it was still not available of record, nor had it been produced to Defendant in accordance with ongoing discovery obligations. Following argument, the clerk's office confirmed that Plaintiff had delivered an appendix on disc that was mistakenly not uploaded to the electronic case filing system; nevertheless, once that error was corrected, the Court's review revealed that although the transcript was listed in the appendix's table of contents, the transcript itself was never actually included. Accordingly, the Court ordered Plaintiff to serve a copy of the transcript upon defense counsel as well as chambers within ten days; the order was signed October 2 but not docketed until October 7. Defense counsel received the transcript October 10. The chambers copy was postmarked October 17 and received in chambers October 21. Plaintiff also electronically filed the transcript on October 18.

Motion to Strike

Defendant presents three grounds for striking Plaintiff's opposition to the motion for summary judgment: failure to attach the unemployment hearing transcript, failure to file the opposition within the time limit, and failure to keep the opposition brief within the permitted page limit. In response, Plaintiff first argues that the motion to strike is a sly attempt to file a reply brief without permission. That contention is baseless, as Defendant's motion to strike squarely addresses the reasons for striking and does not take the opportunity to counter the substance of Plaintiff's opposition.

Plaintiff's brief opposing summary judgment did exceed the Court's twenty-five-page limit, and rather egregiously, at just over thirty-seven pages. Just one day after the motion to strike was filed, Plaintiff filed a response that included a revised brief of twenty-five pages. While on one hand this represents a prompt correction of the ...

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