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International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1600 v. PPL Electric Utilities Corp.

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

December 22, 2017

INTERNATIONAL BROTHERHOOD OF ELECTRICAL WORKERS LOCAL 1600, Plaintiff,
v.
PPL ELECTRIC UTILITIES CORPORATION, Defendant. ALICIA WATKINSON, Plaintiff,
v.
PPL ELECTRIC UTILITIES CORPORATION, Defendant.

         OPINION PLAINTIFF LOCAL 1600'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT, NO. 4675, ECF NO. 18-DENIED DEFENDANT PPL'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT, NO. 4675, ECF NO. 19-GRANTED PLAINTIFF WATKINSON'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT, NO. 4676, ECF NO. 17-DENIED DEFENDANT PPL'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT, NO. 4676, ECF NO. 18-GRANTED

          JOSEPH F. LEESON, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         These two consolidated cases involve a challenge to an employer's leave policy under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 29 U.S.C. §§ 2611-2654. PPL Electric Utilities Corporation requires all employees taking sick leave to call their supervisor on the day leave is required. If an employee is using FMLA leave, though, she must make a three- to five-minute phone call to a third party administrator in addition to calling her supervisor. This Court must decide whether this arrangement violates the FMLA. It concludes that it does not.

         Plaintiff Alicia Watkinson is an employee of Defendant PPL Electric Utilities Corporation who failed to call the third-party administrator on several days when she wanted to take FMLA leave. As a result, PPL denied her requests for FMLA leave. Watkinson brought suit contending that PPL's policy violates FMLA regulations and interferes with her rights under the FMLA. Plaintiff International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1600 is the union to which Watkinson belongs, which brought a grievance on her behalf challenging the denial of FMLA leave. The grievance was resolved by arbitration, and the arbitrator dismissed the grievance. Local 1600 brought suit to set aside the arbitration award, arguing that because the award upheld a PPL policy that violates FMLA regulations, it is manifestly contrary to federal law. Furthermore, the union argues that the arbitrator's finding that the policy contains an exception for unusual circumstances was not supported by the record. PPL cross-moved for summary judgment.

         This Court concludes that the FMLA regulations do not prohibit an additional requirement for giving notice of FMLA leave, and that PPL's policy does not otherwise violate the FMLA. Furthermore, the PPL policy contains an exception for unusual circumstances, but Watkinson has not established that unusual circumstances prevented her from complying with the call-in requirement on the dates in question. Therefore, PPL did not interfere with her rights under the FMLA. Because PPL's policy comports with the FMLA and does in fact contain an unusual circumstances exception, the arbitration award was proper. This Court therefore denies both plaintiffs' motions for summary judgment and enters summary judgment in favor of PPL.

         II. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural Background

         The two instant cases were consolidated on December 20, 2016. ECF No. 13 (No. 4675); ECF No. 12 (No. 4676).

         Local 1600 v. PPL: No. 4675

         Local 1600 filed its complaint against PPL on August 29, 2016. ECF No. 1. Local 1600 filed its motion for summary judgment, ECF No. 18, on May 1, 2017, and PPL filed its motion for summary judgment on the same day. ECF No. 19. Local 1600 filed its opposition on May 15, 2017, ECF No. 21, as did PPL. ECF No. 20.

         Watkinson v. PPL: No. 4676

         Watkinson filed her complaint against PPL on August 29, 2016. ECF No. 1. Watkinson filed her motion for summary judgment, ECF No. 17, on May 1, 2017, and PPL filed its motion for summary judgment on the same day. ECF No. 18. Watkinson filed her opposition on May 15, 2017, ECF No. 20, as did PPL. ECF No. 19.

         B. Factual Background

         PPL is a public utility company that provides electricity to residential and commercial customers in Pennsylvania. Def.'s Statement of Material Facts (SMF) ¶ 1, ECF No. 19-2; Pl.'s Response to Def.'s Statement of Material Facts (RMF) ¶ 1, ECF No. 23.[1] Watkinson works for PPL as a customer service representative in its office in Scranton, Pennsylvania, [2] and belongs to Plaintiff International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1600. Def.'s SMF ¶ 2; Pl.'s RMF ¶ 2. Local 1600 and PPL are parties to a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) that governs the terms and conditions of Watkinson's employment. Def.'s SMF ¶ 3; Pl.'s RMF ¶ 3.

         Watkinson received approval for intermittent FMLA leave in 2015. Pl.'s Statement of Material Facts (SMF) ¶ 1, ECF No. 18; Def.'s SMF ¶ 27. PPL uses Sedgwick, a third party administrator, to manage FMLA leave for PPL employees; PPL's FMLA leave policy requires employees using intermittent FMLA leave to contact both their supervisor and Sedgwick on the day they take leave. Pl.'s SMF ¶¶ 4-5; Def.'s SMF ¶¶ 4, 10, 19. Employees taking regular sick leave must only call their supervisor. Pl.'s SMF ¶ 15; Def.'s SMF ¶ 10. A call to Sedgwick takes between three and five minutes. Def.'s SMF ¶ 14; Pl.'s RMF ¶ 14.

         On July 13, 2015, Watkinson advised her supervisor that she needed to leave early, referencing FMLA time, and left to go home. Pl.'s SMF ¶ 3; Def.'s SMF ¶ 46. Watkinson drove herself home, a twenty- to thirty-minute trip on the highway. Def.'s SMF ¶ 50; Pl.'s RMF ¶ 50. As of July 13, 2015, Watkinson had been informed that she needed to call Sedgwick on the day she took leave, and had previously had leave requests denied when she did not call Sedgwick as required. Pl.'s SMF ¶ 10; Def.'s SMF ¶¶ 30, 31. However, Watkinson did not call Sedgwick to report her FMLA absence on July 13, 2015, and as a result, PPL denied her request for FMLA leave for that day and recorded an unexcused absence on her record. Pl.'s SMF ¶¶ 12-13; Def.'s SMF ¶¶ 30-31, 48, 53; Pl.'s RMF ¶ 53. Watkinson contends that on July 13 and the other days she did not call Sedgwick, she was too “incoherent” to call; by “incoherent” she means that her anxiety became so great that her mind was “ruminating” and ...


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