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Bertig v. Julia Ribaudo Healthcare Group, LLC

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

October 31, 2017

MARY BETH BERTIG, Plaintiff
v.
JULIA RIBAUDO HEALTHCARE GROUP, LLC d/b/a JULIA RIBAUDO EXTENDED CARE CENTER and BRIGHTEN AT JULIA RIBAUDO; JULIA RIBAUDO SENIOR SERVICES, LLC d/b/a JULIA RIBAUDO EXTENDED CARE CENTER and BRIGHTEN AT JULIA RIBAUDO; and SABER HEALTHCARE GROUP, LLC, Defendants

          MEMORANDUM

          JAMES M. MUNLEY JUDGE.

         Before the court for disposition is a motion for summary judgment filed by Defendant Julia Ribaudo Healthcare Group, LLC, and Defendant Saber Healthcare Group, LLC. The matter has been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition.

         Background

         Plaintiff worked at Julia Ribaudo Nursing Home from 1982 until 2014 as a restorative/nurses' aide. (Doc. 37, Def. Stmt. of Mat. Facts (“SOF”) ¶ 73).[1] Plaintiff has a history of medical problems, including asthma and cancer. She received her diagnosis of bladder cancer in 2011.[2] (Id. ¶ 75). Despite this diagnosis, plaintiff continued her employment with the defendants. (Id. ¶ 73). She remained employed by defendants for the next two years. (Id.)

         In 2012, Plaintiff took leave from work via the Family and Medical Leave Act (hereinafter “FMLA”) from May 29, 2012 to June 25, 2012. (Id. ¶ 24). She completed the necessary FMLA paperwork, and had the FMLA form signed by her physician who indicated on the form that plaintiff would not require intermittent leave. (Id. ¶ 25).

         The following year, plaintiff missed a total of thirteen days between April 2013 and April 2014. (Id. ¶ 22). According to the call off calendar, which was reviewed by Shelia Layo, an administrator at Julia Ribaudo, plaintiff called in sick for various reasons including: foot pain; a stress fracture in her foot; an upset GI; diarrhea and a temperature; stomach cramps; a sore throat; dizziness; and a common cold. (Id. ¶ 105). At some point prior to April 2014, Layo spoke with plaintiff about her attendance issues. (Id. at ¶ 5). The defendants claim that during this meeting, plaintiff did not provide an explanation for her numerous absences.[3] (Id. ¶ 6).

         Defendants have a company policy which states that termination may occur when an employee accrues seven absences within a twelve month rolling period. (Id. ¶ 18). After tallying plaintiff's thirteen absences between April 2013 and April 2014, defendants terminated plaintiff from her position in accordance with company policy. (Id. ¶ 17). The parties agree that none of the absences between April 2013 and April 2014 were formally designated as FMLA qualifying absences, but dispute whether they qualify regardless of the absent paperwork. (Id. ¶ 23).

         During plaintiff's termination meeting, Layo informed plaintiff that she was being terminated for excessive call offs. (Id. ¶ 38). In response, she told Layo that she was sick, and asked Layo not to fire her. (Id. ¶ 39). Layo informed plaintiff that if she was sick she should have taken FMLA leave and that she was going to have to let plaintiff go. (Id. ¶ 40). Layo told plaintiff that if she started feeling better, she could come back and they would talk about her getting a position back. (Id.)

         Based upon these facts, plaintiff filed a three-count complaint on November 19, 2015. The complaint raises the following causes of action: Count I, interference and retaliation under the FMLA; Count II, disability discrimination and failure to accommodate pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act (hereinafter “ADA”); and Count III, age discrimination in contravention of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (hereinafter “ADEA”).

         Defendants filed a motion to dismiss on February 22, 2016. On July 12, 2016, we dismissed Count III's wrongful termination claim based upon the ADEA. Defendants filed the instant motion for summary judgment on May 3, 2017 with respect to all remaining claims. This motion is fully briefed and is ripe for disposition.

         Jurisdiction

         The court has federal question jurisdiction over this FMLA action. See 28 U.S.C. § 1331 (“The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.”); 28 U.S.C. §§ 1343(a)(3), (4) (granting district court jurisdiction over civil actions brought to redress deprivations of constitutional or statutory rights by way of damages or equitable relief).

         Legal Standard

         Granting summary judgment is proper if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Knabe v. Boury, 114 F.3d 407, 410 n.4 (3d Cir. 1997) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)). “[T]his standard provides that the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986) (emphasis in original).

         In considering a motion for summary judgment, the court must examine the facts in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. Int'l Raw Materials, Ltd. v. Stauffer Chem. Co., 898 F.2d 946, 949 (3d Cir. 1990). The burden is on the moving party to demonstrate that the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could not return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248 (1986). A fact is material when it might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law. Id. Where the non-moving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the party moving for summary judgment may meet its burden by establishing that the evidentiary materials of record, if reduced to admissible evidence, would be insufficient to carry the non-movant's burden of proof at trial. Celotex v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Once the moving party satisfies its burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party, who must go beyond its pleadings, and designate specific facts by the use of affidavits, depositions, admissions, or answers to interrogatories demonstrating that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. at 324.

         Discussion

         As noted above, plaintiff's complaint raises several different causes of action, and the defendants seek summary judgment on all counts. We shall address each count in turn.

         Count I: FMLA Violations

         Plaintiff brings both interference and retaliation claims pursuant to the FMLA. The FMLA contains two distinct provisions prohibiting employers from: (1) interfering with an employee's exercise of her right to take reasonable leave for medical reasons; and (2) discriminating or retaliating against an employee who exercises this right. 29 U.S.C. § 2615(a); see also Lichtenstein v. Univ. of Pittsburgh Med. Ctr., 691 F.3d 294, 301 (3d Cir. 2012); Callison v. City of Phila., 430 F.3d 117, 119 (3d Cir. 2005). We start our analysis with the FMLA interference claim.

         A. FMLA Interference

         To prove an FMLA interference claim, plaintiff must establish: (1) she was an eligible employee under the FMLA; (2) the defendants were an employer subject to the FMLA's requirements; (3) she was entitled to FMLA leave; (4) she provided notice to the defendants of her intention to take FMLA leave; and (5) she was denied benefits to which she was entitled under the FMLA. Ross v. ...


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