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Reagan v. Centre Lifelink Emergency Medical Services, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

August 22, 2017

TRACY A. REAGAN, Plaintiff,
v.
CENTRE LIFELINK EMERGENCY MEDICAL SERVICES, INC. Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Matthew W. Brann United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Tracy Reagan and Defendant Center LifeLink (“LifeLink”) filed cross-motions for summary judgment on Count I of Ms. Reagan's complaint. For the reasons discussed below, LifeLink's motion is granted, and Ms. Reagan's motion is denied.

         I.BACKGROUND[1]

         A. Ms. Reagan's Employment with LifeLink

         LifeLink provides emergency medical services in Centre County, with its main office located in State College.[2] During the events of this case, Scott Rawson served as LifeLink's executive director, and Ms. Reagan was employed as LifeLink's training director.[3] Ms. Reagan's employment with LifeLink was not governed by any employment contract.[4]

         In November 2011, Ms. Reagan created a side business - Red Diamond Safety (“Red Diamond”) - that offered services similar to those offered by LifeLink, including CPR certification classes.[5] In May 2012, after Mr. Rawson learned about Red Diamond, [6] LifeLink and Ms. Reagan entered into a noncompetition agreement which prohibited Ms. Reagan from “offer[ing] products or services” to LifeLink customers.[7] According to Ms. Reagan, Mr. Rawson required her to sign the agreement in order to keep her job at LifeLink.[8] Ms. Reagan, however, did not believe the agreement was valid, and admitted to several violations of its terms.[9] Ms. Reagan also admits that she took 15 CPR certification cards from LifeLink to use for Red Diamond, and that she had Eliza Shaw - an employee of LifeLink - assist her in this task.[10]

         During March of 2012, a flood occurred at LifeLink.[11] Numerous pieces of property were damaged in the flood, including several CPR training manikins.[12]LifeLink submitted a claim to its insurance carrier for this damaged property, and received compensation.[13] Although LifeLink apparently did not have to produce the damaged property to its insurance carrier at the time LifeLink submitted its claim, its insurance carrier did indicate that LifeLink should retain the damaged property and verify that it was no longer used.[14] As part of this process, Ms. Reagan sent a letter to Mr. Rawson on May 10, 2012, indicating that the damaged manikins “were given to an individual for target practice at his shooting range and have since been consequently destroyed.”[15]

         On June 9, 2013, Ms. Reagan was injured in a bike accident while on vacation.[16] As a result, Ms. Reagan requested - and was granted - leave from her job under the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”).[17] Her leave was scheduled to run from June 12, 2013, through July 29, 2013.[18]

         On July 3, 2013, while Ms. Reagan was out on leave, Mr. Rawson was contacted by Ms. Shaw.[19] Ms. Shaw told Mr. Rawson that she overheard Ms. Reagan indicate her intention to use the damaged manikins for her side business, Red Diamond.[20] Mr. Rawson also claimed that, on this date, Ms. Shaw informed him that Ms. Reagan was violating the terms of the non-competition agreement.[21]

         As a result, on July 9, 2013, Mr. Rawson held a meeting with Rodney Beard, an attorney for LifeLink, and Jeff Krauss, LifeLink's human resources consultant, [22] where the three discussed what Mr. Rawson had learned from Ms. Shaw.[23] The next day, July 10, 2013, Mr. Beard sent a letter to Ms. Reagan via certified mail, asking Ms. Reagan (1) to “explain[] how and where [the damaged manikins] were disposed of, and any witnesses to the disposition of the items, ” and (2) to “inform [him] as to whether Red Diamond conducted a CPR training program at Penn State University in or about February 2013 [in violation of the non-competition agreement], and, if so, [to] please explain how the issuance of CPR certification cards was handled in regard to that training program.”[24] The letter requested a response within 10 days “from the date of this letter” - i.e., by July 20, 2013.[25]

         Ms. Reagan replied to the letter via email on July 21, 2013 - one day after the deadline set in the July 10, 2013 letter.[26] In her email, Ms. Reagan stated that “prior to answering, [she would] be seeking legal assistance, ” and that “[e]ither [her] or [her] attorney w[ould] be in contact . . . as soon as [she could] make such arrangements.”[27] Two days later, on July 23, 2013, Mr. Beard replied to Ms. Reagan via email, noting that her July 21, 2013 email was “not responsive to the requests made in [the July 10, 2013] letter.”[28] The same day Mr. Beard sent this email, Mr. Rawson sent a letter to Ms. Reagan via certified mail, noting the email exchange between her and Mr. Beard and stating that, “[a]s a result of your failure to respond to [the July 10, 2013] letter . . . effective this date, your employment at Centre LifeLink is terminated.”[29] At that point, there were only six days remaining of Ms. Reagan's FMLA leave.

         In his deposition testimony, Mr. Rawson claims that he made the decision to terminate Ms. Reagan based on the advice of Mr. Krauss.[30] He stated that Mr. Krauss, in turn, was concerned about the “potential for [insurance] fraud” related to the manikins, about Ms. Reagan's alleged violation of the non-competition agreement, and about Ms. Reagan's failure to respond to those issues as they were addressed in the July 10, 2013 letter.[31]

         Mr. Rawson eventually contacted State College Police about the damaged manikins. A theft investigation was undertaken, but no charges were ever filed against Ms. Reagan.[32]

         B. Procedural History

         On July 16, 2015, Ms. Reagan instituted this action against LifeLink.[33] In Count I of her complaint, she alleged that LifeLink's “conduct in terminating [her was] contrary to [her] rights under the FMLA[, i]nasmuch as [LifeLink] interfered with [her] ability to take the FMLA leave.” (her “interference claim”).[34] In Count II, she alleged that her termination was in retaliation for her decision to take FMLA leave (her “retaliation claim”).[35]

         LifeLink filed an answer to this complaint on October 1, 2015, denying both of Ms. Reagan's allegations of FMLA violations.[36] LifeLink also raised two counterclaims against Ms. Reagan, alleging that Ms. Reagan had taken several items from LifeLink - a laptop, a pager, and the 15 CPR certification cards referred to above - and that these actions constituted conversion (Count I) and unjust enrichment (Count II).[37]

         In her answer to LifeLink's counterclaims, Ms. Reagan admitted to improperly retaining a LifeLink laptop and to taking the 15 CPR certification cards.[38] She “acknowledge[d that] return of the laptop to [LifeLink] is appropriate, ” and stated her “willing[ness] to either reimburse [LifeLink] for the [15 CPR certification] cards or provide replacement[s].”[39] She stated, however, that she was not in possession of a LifeLink pager, alleging that she “left her assigned pager at [LifeLink] when she went on vacation prior to her injury and subsequent FMLA leave.”[40]

         On July 25, 2016, this Court granted a stipulated dismissal of Ms. Reagan's retaliation claim.[41] On August 30, 2016, LifeLink filed the instant motion for summary judgment, and on September 9, 2016, Ms. Reagan filed the instant cross-motion for summary judgment.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Standard of Review

         Summary judgment is granted when “the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”[42] A dispute is “genuine if a reasonable trier-of-fact could find in favor of the non-movant, ” and “material if it could affect the outcome of the case.”[43] When deciding whether to grant summary judgment, a court should “draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party.”[44]

         B. Claims under the FMLA

         Under the FMLA, an “eligible employee” is entitled to leave from her job because of, inter alia, “a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the functions the [employee's] position.”[45] An employer may not “interfere with, restrain, or deny” an employee's right to FMLA leave[46] or “discriminate” - i.e., retaliate - against an employee for taking FMLA leave.[47] As noted supra, Ms. Reagan stipulated to a dismissal of her retaliation claim.[48]

         To prevail on her interference claim, Ms. Reagan must show: (1) that she “was an eligible employee under the FMLA”; (2) that LifeLink “was an employer subject to the FMLA's requirements”; (3) that she “was entitled to FMLA leave”; (4) that she “gave notice to [LifeLink] of [her] intention to take FMLA leave”; and (5) that she “was denied benefits to which [she] was entitled under the FMLA.”[49]Stated differently, Ms. Reagan must show “that [s]he was entitled to benefits under the FMLA and that [LifeLink] illegitimately prevented [her] from obtaining those benefits.”[50] The parties have agreed (1) that Ms. Reagan is an “eligible employee, ” (2) that LifeLink is an “employer” for purposes of the FMLA, and (3 and 4) that Ms. Reagan was on an approved FMLA leave when she was terminated.[51] The only question that remains, then, is whether Ms. Reagan was “denied benefits to which [she] was entitled under the FMLA” - i.e., whether LifeLink “illegitimately prevented [her] from obtaining those benefits.”

         The FMLA “does not provide employees with a right against termination for a reason other than interference with rights under the FMLA.”[52] When a terminated employee accuses an employer of FMLA interference, the employer “can defeat [the employee's] claim if it can demonstrate that [the employee] was terminated for reasons unrelated to [the employee's] exercise of rights.”[53]

         LifeLink has met that burden. LifeLink maintains that it terminated Ms. Reagan because she failed to respond to Mr. Beard's July 10, 2013 letter. That was the reason given in the July 23, 2013 letter terminating her, and that was the reason given by Mr. Rawson in his deposition testimony.[54] That evidence is uncontradicted. Although Ms. Reagan testified in deposition that she believes her termination was motivated by LifeLink's financial considerations, [55] she has submitted nothing to this Court - other than her own testimony reiterating that unsubstantiated belief - that supports her alternative theory or shows that LifeLink's stated reason was pretextual. Therefore, ...


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