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Mackenzie v. Caplan Industries, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

July 19, 2019

MARK MACKENZIE, Plaintiff,
v.
CAPLAN INDUSRIES, INC. d/b/a McDonald's Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM

          CHAD F. KENNEY JUDGE

         Plaintiff alleges Defendant violated the Family Medical Leave Act by terminating Plaintiff four days after he informed Defendant he could return to work from FMLA leave. Defendant moves to dismiss, alleging Plaintiff failed to sufficiently plead causation between his termination and FMLA leave because the seventeen weeks between Plaintiffs request for FMLA leave and his termination are not "unusually suggestive" of a casual connection.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff began working for Defendant in 2005 and was employed as an Area Supervisor at the time of his termination. ECF No. 1 at ¶ 11. On March 29, 2018, Plaintiff alleges he suffered serious injuries from a motor vehicle accident including a "concussion and injuries to his neck, back, shoulder and right knee." Id. at ¶ 12. Following the incident, the Complaint alleges Plaintiff reported this accident to Doug Caplan ("Caplan"), Defendant's owner, who "instructed Plaintiff to stay out of work until he was medically cleared to return." Id. at ¶ 13. Plaintiff alleges that "[s]hortly after the motor vehicle accident" and a discussion with Caplan, Defendant forwarded FMLA paperwork to Plaintiffs treating physician. Id. at ¶ 14. Plaintiffs treating physician completed and returned the required FMLA paperwork to Defendant, and Plaintiff was approved for FMLA leave. Id. at ¶¶ 15-16. During Plaintiffs FMLA leave, Plaintiff alleges he "regularly communicated with Mr. Caplan regarding his injuries and medical treatment." Id. at¶17.

         On July 26, 2018, seventeen weeks after Plaintiffs accident, "Plaintiff called Defendant and spoke with Nancy Henry ['Henry']."[1] ECF No. 1 at ¶ 18. "Plaintiff advised [] Henry that he was ready to return to work." Id. Four days later, on July 30, Plaintiff spoke again to Henry, who "told Plaintiff that he had been terminated from employment." Id. at ¶ 19. "Henry did not provide a clear reason for Plaintiffs termination." Id. "Plaintiff believes . . . that he was terminated from employment because of his use of FMLA leave." Id. at ¶ 20.

         II. STANDARD

         When reviewing a motion to dismiss, the Court "accept[s] as true all allegations in plaintiffs complaint as well as all reasonable inferences that can be drawn from them, and [the court] construes them in a light most favorable to the non-movant." Tatis v. Allied Interstate, LLC, 882 F.3d 422, 426 (3d Cir. 2018) (quoting Sheridan v. NGK Metals Corp., 609 F.3d 239, 262 n.27 (3d Cir. 2010)). "To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557, 127 S.Ct. 1955)). "The plausibility determination is 'a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.'" Connelly v. Lane Const. Corp., 809 F.3d 780, 786-87 (3d Cir. 2016) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679).

         Finally, courts reviewing the sufficiency of a complaint must engage in a three-step process. First, the court "must 'take note of the elements [the] plaintiff must plead to state a claim.'" Id. at 787 (alterations in original) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 675). "Second, [the court] should identify allegations that, 'because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth.'" Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). Third, '"[w]hen there are well-pleaded factual allegations, [the] court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.'" Id. (alterations in original) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff alleges Defendant retaliated against Plaintiff in violation of the FMLA by terminating him within a close temporal proximity of his FMLA leave. ECF No. 1 at ¶¶ 25-26.[2] Plaintiff claims Defendant is an employer under the FMLA, Plaintiff was an FMLA eligible employee, Plaintiff exercised his rights under the FMLA since he requested and was approved for FMLA leave arising from "serious injuries," and Defendant terminated Plaintiffs employment in close temporal proximity to his protected leave. ECF No. 1 at ¶¶ 12, 22-24.[3]

         Defendant moves to dismiss the Complaint, claiming Plaintiff has not shown a casual connection between Plaintiffs protected activity and the adverse employment action because the seventeen weeks between Plaintiffs request for FMLA leave and his termination is too long a time period to establish a casual connection. ECF No. 9-1 at 6-7. In his response, Plaintiff contends he was "terminated from employment within days of informing Defendant that he was ready to return to work following his FMLA leave." ECF No. 13 at 4.

         The Family and Medical Leave Act was designed to "balance the demands of the work place with the needs of families" and "to entitle employees to take reasonable leave for medical reasons." 29 U.S.C. § 2601(b)(1)-(2). Prior to the statute, "there [was] inadequate job security for employees who ha[d] serious health conditions that prevent[ed] them from working for temporary periods." 29 U.S.C. § 2601(a)(4). Now, employees eligible for FMLA leave are "entitled to a total of 12 workweeks of leave during any 12-month period." 29 U.S.C. § 2612(a)(1). It is "unlawful for any employer to interfere with, restrain, or deny the exercise of. . . any right" delineated in the FMLA. 29 U.S.C. § 2615(a)(1). Employers cannot "discriminate against any individual for opposing any practice made unlawful by" the FMLA. 29 U.S.C. § 2615(a)(2).

         FMLA retaliation claims "arise under 29 U.S.C. § 2615(a)(2)." Erdman v. Nationwide Ins. Co., 582 F.3d 500, 508 (3d Cir. 2009). "They prohibit an employer from 'discriminating or retaliating against an employee ... for having exercised . . . FMLA rights." Budhun v. Reading Hosp. & Med. Ctr., 765 F.3d 245, 256 (3d Cir. 2014) (quoting 29 C.F.R. § 825.220(c)). "[T]o permit employees to take leave from work for certain family and medical reasons and to return to the same or equivalent job at the conclusion of that leave' would be undermined if retaliation were not prohibited." Egan v. Del River PortAutk, 851 F.3d 263, 271 (3d Cir.2017).

         To establish a prima facie retaliation claim under the FMLA, Plaintiff must prove (1) he "invoked [his] right to FMLA-qualifying leave," (2) he "suffered an adverse employment decision," and (3) there was a casual connection between the protected activity and the adverse action. Lichtenstein v. Univ. of Pittsburgh Med. Ctr.,691 F.3d 294, 301-02 (3d Cir. 2012); see also Conoshenti v. Public Serv. Elec. & Gas Co., 364 F.3d 135, 146 (3d Cir. 2004). Both parties agree to assume Plaintiff has ...


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