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Goss v. Standard Steel, LLC

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

November 26, 2014

PAUL R. GOSS, JR., Plaintiff
v.
STANDARD STEEL, LLC, Defendant

For Paul R. Goss, Jr., Plaintiff: Derrek W. Cummings, Larry A. Weisberg, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Joel Weisberg, McCarthy Weisberg Cummings, P.C., Harrisburg, PA.

For Standard Steel, LLC, Defendant: Jill L. Locnikar, Ryan W. Colombo, PRO HAC VICE, Cohen & Grigsby, P.C., Pittsburgh, PA; Robert B. Cottington, Cohen & Grigsby, Pittsburgh, PA.

MEMORANDUM

Christopher C. Conner, Chief United States District Judge.

Plaintiff Paul R. Goss, Jr. brings the above-captioned action pursuant to the Family and Medical Leave Act (" FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq . Plaintiff alleges that defendant Standard Steel, LLC violated the FMLA by failing to notify plaintiff about his eligibility for FMLA benefits and by unlawfully terminating him during an extended absence from work. Presently before the court are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment (Docs. 30, 36). Also pending are defendant's motions to strike the original (Doc. 39) and supplemental (Doc. 50) reports of plaintiff's expert witness. For the reasons that follow, the court will grant defendant's motion for summary judgment.

I. Factual Background and Procedural History[1]

Plaintiff Paul R. Goss, Jr. (" Goss") was employed by defendant Standard Steel, LLC (" Standard Steel") from 1997 to 2012. (Doc. 35 ¶ 1; Doc. 44 ¶ 1). During the relevant time period, Goss worked in the Advanced Forging and Machining Department. (Doc. 37 ¶ 2; Doc. 47 ¶ 2). In 2011, Goss began to experience a number of health issues. On June 22, 2011, Goss saw his primary care physician, Jennifer Sunderland, PA-C (" Sunderland") of Family Health Associates (" FHA"), for headaches, a white film in his mouth, and sinus-related problems. (Doc. 35 ¶ 6; Doc. 44 ¶ 6). Goss subsequently developed chest pain when swallowing and other digestive issues. (Doc. 35 ¶ 7; Doc. 44 ¶ 7). On August 18, 2011, after an appointment with Sunderland, Goss was diagnosed with unspecified dysphagia, inter alia, and began empiric treatment for thrush and esophageal reflux. (Doc. 35 ¶ 7; Doc. 44 ¶ 7). Sunderland also recommended that Goss undergo an X-ray, ultrasound, and endoscopy. (Doc. 37 ¶ 11; Doc. 47 ¶ 11). On September 22, 2011, Goss received an endoscopy, which indicated mild gastritis and a stricture of the gastroesophageal junction. (Doc. 35 ¶ 9; Doc. 44 ¶ 9). On October 12, 2011, Goss visited FHA for continued epigastric pain and was diagnosed with esophagitis reflux, inter alia . (Doc. 35 ¶ 10; Doc. 44 ¶ 10). FHA provided Goss with work excuses for medical-related absences from August 17 to August 19, 2011[2] and from October 20 to October 21, 2011. (Doc. 35 ¶ ¶ 8, 13; Doc. 44 ¶ ¶ 8, 13). The work excuses stated that Goss was under the professional care of FHA and was unable to work on the dates identified. (Doc. 35 ¶ ¶ 8, 13; Doc. 44 ¶ ¶ 8, 13).

On the morning of December 5, 2011, Goss did not feel well at work. (Doc. 35 ¶ ¶ 14, 47; Doc. 44 ¶ ¶ 14, 47). Goss's supervisor, Ronald Stuter (" Stuter"), found Goss wandering around his machine in a daze with " glassy" eyes and slurred speech. (Doc. 35 ¶ 47; Doc. 44 ¶ 47). Goss told Stuter that he did not know what was wrong. (Doc. 35 ¶ 47; Doc. 44 ¶ 47). Stuter transported Goss to Standard Steel's dispensary to see the company nurse, Christine Erhart (" Erhart"). (Doc. 35 ¶ 14; Doc. 44 ¶ 14). Goss complained to Erhart that he felt tired, shaky, and unsteady on his feet. (Doc. 35 ¶ 14; Doc. 44 ¶ 14). According to Erhart, Goss informed her that he had taken a sleeping pill late the night before and did not receive enough sleep. (Doc. 35-7, Ex. F at 23:12-21). Erhart sent Goss home. (Doc. 31 at 9; Doc. 44 ¶ 14). Goss did not return to Standard Steel after December 5, 2011. (Doc. 35 ¶ 15; Doc. 44 ¶ 15). On December 15, 2011, Goss called Sunderland and informed her that his epigastric pain had not improved. (Doc. 35 ¶ 21; Doc. 44 ¶ 21; Doc. 37 ¶ 18; Doc. 47 ¶ 18). Sunderland purportedly informed Goss that she had done all that she could for him, advised him to modify his medication, and scheduled an appointment with a gastrointestinal specialist for January 31, 2012. (Doc. 35 ¶ 21; Doc. 44 ¶ 21; Doc. 37 ¶ 18; Doc. 47 ¶ 18).

Between December 6 and December 13, 2011, Goss called Standard Steel on multiple occasions either to call off sick or to report back to work. (Doc. 35 ¶ ¶ 17-19; Doc. 44 ¶ ¶ 17-19). In those instances in which Goss called Standard Steel to report back to work on a given day, he subsequently called off sick for that day. (Doc. 35 ¶ 18; Doc. 44 ¶ 18; Doc. 37 ¶ ¶ 28-29; Doc. 47 ¶ ¶ 28-29). On December 13, 2011, Goss spoke with Stuter on the phone and informed him that he would likely not return that week due to how sick he was. (Doc. 37 ¶ 31; Doc. 47 ¶ 31).

On December 15, 2011, Goss called Standard Steel and spoke with Erhart. (Doc. 35 ¶ 22; Doc. 44 ¶ 22). According to Goss, he notified Erhart that his physician advised him that she did not need to see him and referred him to a specialist. (Doc. 35 ¶ 24). Goss maintains that he informed Erhart that he had an appointment with the specialist and could not return to work before that appointment. (Id.) Goss avers that he inquired about sick and accident (" S& A") benefits and that Erhart told him that she would mail him the relevant forms so that he could begin to receive those benefits. (Id.) According to Erhart, Goss informed her that he wanted to schedule an appointment with Standard Steel's occupational health department to return to work but had not seen his family doctor. (Doc. 35 ¶ 23; Doc. 44 ¶ 23). Erhart testified that she instructed Goss to make an appointment with his physician for an initial work release and to contact the dispensary after that appointment. (Doc. 35 ¶ 23; Doc. 44 ¶ 23). Pursuant to company policy, a Standard Steel employee who is absent for more than six days is required to obtain an initial release from Standard Steel's occupational health department and final approval from Standard Steel's dispensary. (Doc. 37 ¶ 32; Doc. 47 ¶ 32).

Human Resources Manager Charles O'Neill (" O'Neill") was responsible for the overall administration of the FMLA at Standard Steel. (Doc. 35 ¶ 41; Doc. 44 ¶ 41). On or after December 15, 2011, O'Neill directed that Goss receive S& A as well as FMLA paperwork. (Doc. 35 ¶ 27; Doc. 44 ¶ 27). Standard Steel's records indicate that Goss was mailed S& A paperwork but not FMLA paperwork. (Doc. 35 ¶ 29; Doc. 44 ¶ 29). According to Goss, he returned his S& A paperwork to Standard Steel the day that he received it. (Doc. 47 ¶ 42).

Goss evaluated his condition on a day-to-day basis but remained at home through January 9, 2012. (Doc. 35 ¶ 31; Doc. 44 ¶ 31; Doc. 37 ¶ 23; Doc. 47 ¶ 23). During this time, according to Goss, he " sat around being sick" and had difficulty getting out of his recliner. (Doc. 35 ¶ 44; Doc. 37 ¶ 24; Doc. 47 ¶ 24). Goss did not see a health care provider between December 6, 2011 and January 9, 2012. (Doc. 37 ¶ 26; Doc. 47 ¶ 26).

On January 9, 2012, Standard Steel sent Goss a termination letter. (Doc. 35 ¶ 32; Doc. 44 ¶ 32). The letter stated that Goss had been absent from work for more than five working days without justification and was therefore subject to dismissal pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement between Standard Steel and Goss's union, the United Steelworkers. (Doc. 35-15, Ex. N at 1). As Human Resources Manager, O'Neill was responsible for the decision to dismiss Goss. (Doc. 35 ¶ 40; Doc. 44 ¶ 40).

After Standard Steel terminated Goss, union president Jeffrey Wray (" Wray") requested that Goss provide him with documentation about his medical condition to present at a grievance hearing with Standard Steel. (Doc. 37 ¶ 35; Doc. 47 ¶ 35). Goss obtained a letter from FHA, dated January 19, 2012, that stated that Goss had been diagnosed with dysphagia and gastroesophageal reflux disease (" GERD"), that he complained of frequent abdominal pain, and that he was being seen by a gastroenterologist to address these conditions. (Doc. 35 ¶ 38; Doc. 44 ¶ 38; Doc. 37 ¶ 36; Doc. 47 ¶ 36; Doc. 37-1, Tab A at Ex. 15). Goss alleges that he was too ill to keep his appointment with the gastroenterologist on January 31, 2012. (Doc. 35 ¶ 33). Goss's union filed a grievance on his behalf but subsequently withdrew the complaint. (Doc. 37 ¶ 7; Doc. 47 ¶ 7).

On February 3, 2012, Goss fell in his bathroom. (Doc. 35 ¶ 35). Emergency medical workers found Goss minimally responsive with a weak carotid pulse and brought him to a hospital. (Id.) Goss was discharged approximately one week later with a principal diagnosis of human immunodeficiency virus and a secondary diagnosis of adrenal insufficiency. (Doc. 35 ¶ 36; Doc. 44 ¶ 36).

On March 6, 2013, Goss commenced the instant action. (Doc. 1). He brings one claim for interference with his FMLA rights on the grounds that Standard Steel failed to notify him of his FMLA eligibility and unlawfully terminated him during his absence from work due to a " serious health condition." (Id. ¶ ¶ 25-26). Goss moved for summary judgment on April 23, 2014. (Doc. 30). In support of his motion, Goss attached an expert report by Dr. Paul D. Williams, D.O., FAAFP (" Dr. Williams"), dated March 31, 2014, which concluded that Goss had a " serious health condition." On May 2, 2014, Standard Steal filed a motion to strike Dr. Williams's expert report pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 702 and Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 113 S.Ct. 2786, 125 L.Ed.2d 469 (1993), on the grounds that the report impermissibly offers a legal conclusion, that it is not helpful to the factfinder, and that it lacks a reliable methodology. (Doc. 39). In his brief in opposition to Standard Steel's motion to strike, Goss attached a supplemental expert report by Dr. Williams, dated May 13, 2014. (Doc. 45-1). Goss disputes that Dr. Williams's original report is deficient but avers that the supplemental report cures any defects. (Doc. 45 at 3). On June 16, 2014, Standard Steel filed a motion to strike Dr. Williams's supplemental expert report. (Doc. 50). In addition to the arguments ...


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