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Simpson v. Temple University

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

October 23, 2019




         This is an action brought under the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq, alleging both that Defendants interfered with Plaintiff's right to FMLA leave, and that Plaintiff was unlawfully terminated in retaliation for seeking leave to which she was statutorily entitled. With discovery closed, Defendants have moved for summary judgment. Because the record is clear that Defendants made the decision to terminate Plaintiff before she requested leave, and did so for reasons wholly unrelated to her request for leave, Defendants' motion will be granted.

         I. Relevant Factual Background

         Plaintiff Delwanna Simpson worked for Temple University as the Assistant Director of Maintenance and Operations for five years, between November 2012 and January 2018. Simpson Dep. 24:13-15, 26:6-9, ECF No. 41-6. Defendant Temple University hired co-defendant T.J. Logan to be the Associate Vice President for Student Affairs in March 2017. In that role, Logan had supervisory authority over Plaintiff, although he was not her direct supervisor. Logan Dep. 11:18-22, ECF No. 41-7. Plaintiff received positive feedback for the skill and effort she displayed in her work throughout her tenure at Temple; however, she also received warnings from her supervisors, including Logan, about her need to adopt a more supportive leadership style toward her subordinates. Def's Ex. D, 0042, ECF No. 28-4; Def's Ex. C, 0081, ECF No. 28-3.

         After Logan was hired, there was a change in Plaintiff's direct supervisor. Logan informed Plaintiff that he was aware of her prior performance issues relating to staff supervision and that “her margin to gain trust from her staff was very narrow.” Def's Ex. C, 0081. Logan began weekly meetings with Plaintiff “to ensure that [he] was doing everything possible to promote [Plaintiff's] success.” Id. Nonetheless, issues with Plaintiff's performance continued. Logan Dep. 76:20-77:17, 81:12-82:7; Def's Ex. C, 0081; Def's Ex. E, 0084, ECF No. 28-5. In one instance, an employee, together with that employee's supervisor, came forward to complain that Plaintiff had “berated” and “yelled at” him. Logan Dep. 78:12-79:9; Def's Ex. C, 0081. In another instance, an employee approached Logan to express frustration with Plaintiff's “punitive” managerial style and requested to be transferred to another department. Logan Dep. 79:22-80:16; Def's Ex. E, 0084.

         In December 2017, Plaintiff had a verbal confrontation with another employee not under her supervision. Simpson Dep. 145:4-148:12. Logan learned of the incident when he was contacted by another Temple employee who was also a union representative. Def. Ex. E, 0083. The employee raising the complaint-who was not under Plaintiff's supervision-reported that she was sequestered and yelled at by Plaintiff. Simpson Dep. 145:4-22; Def. Ex. C, 0082; Def. Ex. E, 0083. When the employee sought to leave the room and end the encounter with Plaintiff, she was threatened with insubordination, which was a terminable offense. Simpson Dep. 147:13-14, 148:13-149:5; Def's Ex. C, 0082. That incident was consistent with prior complaints about Plaintiff's management style. After investigating, Logan decided to terminate Plaintiff's employment on Friday, January 19, 2018, telling Plaintiff that same day that he had lost faith in her ability to be a supervisor. Logan Dep. 82:11-14; Def's Ex. E, 0084. Plaintiff acknowledges that Logan communicated his lack of confidence in her at the January 19 meeting. Simpson Dep. 126:4-8.

         That same day, following Logan's meeting with Plaintiff, Logan sent an email to human resources communicating his intention to terminate Plaintiff along with his underlying reasoning. Def's Ex. C; Logan Dep. 94:16-21, 95:14-24, 98:15-19. But before Logan could formally notify Plaintiff of his decision, he needed to complete additional steps in the regular termination protocol. Logan Dep. 34:4-35:17, 38:3-14, 45:16-46:1, 82:11-20. That involved, in part, Logan providing a second email to human resources detailing his decision to terminate Plaintiff, which he sent on Monday, January 22, 2018 at 10:53 a.m. Def's Ex. E.

         The record further shows that on the morning of Monday, January 22, Plaintiff applied for two job openings, evidence consistent with an understanding on her part that she was being terminated by Temple following the meeting on Friday, January 19. Def's Ex. F, ECF No. 28-6; Def's Ex. G, ECF No. 28-7.

         Later that evening she went to the emergency room experiencing abdominal pain and nausea. Simpson Dep. 114:15-17, 178:11-14. After being discharged the following morning on January 23, Plaintiff emailed the human resources staff person responsible for handling FMLA requests at Temple about obtaining medical leave pursuant to FMLA. Def's Ex. M, ECF No. 28-13. Logan was not copied on the email nor made aware of the request by Plaintiff or human resources staff. Id.; Simpson Dep. 202:20-24; Allen Dep. 20:16-19, ECF No. 28-14. Regardless, both his initial email communicating his decision to terminate Plaintiff, and his follow-up email addressing the formalities required to implement the decision, on January 19 and 22 respectively, were sent before Plaintiff made her initial request for FMLA leave on January 23.

         Plaintiff did not return to work that week. Logan Dep. 36:14-37:8. On Friday, January 26, Logan emailed Plaintiff her termination papers, having been unable to personally deliver them to her in her absence from work. Logan Dep. 71:6-24. Plaintiff subsequently filed the present action against Defendants on May 31, 2018, seeking monetary damages in the form of back pay and front pay, along with liquidation damages.

         II. Standard of Review

         This Motion is governed by the well-established standard for summary judgment set forth in Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a), as amplified by Celotex Corporation v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986).

         III. Discussion

         A. ...

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