United States District Court, N.D. West Virginia, Martinsburg
CRYSTAL D. CRAIG, Plaintiff,
THE CHARLES TOWN GENERAL HOSPITAL, a/k/a “Jefferson Memorial Hospital, ” Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S
MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
M. GROH CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
pending before the Court is the Defendant's Motion for
Summary Judgment [ECF No. 19], filed on April 4, 2017. On
April 25, 2017, the Plaintiff filed her response in
opposition, and on May 9, 2017, the Defendant filed its
reply. For the following reasons, the Court
GRANTS the motion.
instant case involves the Defendant's alleged
interference with the Plaintiff's rights under the Family
and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), 29 U.S.C.
§§ 2601-2654. The Plaintiff began working as a
Patient Care Technician at Charles Town General Hospital in
September of 2012. ECF Nos. 3 at 2, 10 at 3. In early 2015,
the Plaintiff applied for leave under the FMLA to undergo a
cholecystectomy. See ECF Nos. 3 at 2, 19-2, 19-12.
The leave was scheduled to commence on January 9, 2015, and
estimated to conclude on February 6, 2015. ECF No. 19-12 at
2-3. The Plaintiff's cholecystectomy was performed on
January 9, 2015, and on January 14, 2015, the surgeon signed
a return to work slip that released the Plaintiff to work
full duty as of February 27, 2015. ECF No. 20-6 at 1; see
also ECF No. 20-6 at 2. Based upon medical documentation
provided by the Plaintiff, the Defendant approved the
Plaintiff's FMLA leave request for the dates of January
9, 2015, through February 27, 2015, “provided there
[was] no deviation from [her] anticipated leave
schedule.” ECF No. 19-4. The Plaintiff was required to
notify the Defendant as soon as practicable if her dates of
scheduled FMLA leave changed. ECF No. 19-4.
than the anticipated date of February 27, 2015, the Plaintiff
returned to work one month earlier on January 27, 2015. ECF
Nos. 3 at 2, 19-1 at 5-6, 20-1 at 4. On February 6, 2015, the
Plaintiff was unable to work due to pain in her upper right
quadrant in the location of her recent surgery. ECF Nos. 3 at
2, 19-1 at 4-11, 20-1 at 4-6. On that day, she contacted her
supervisor to report her inability to work and additionally
contacted the Defendant's Human Resources Department to
inquire as to whether her FMLA leave was still in effect. ECF
Nos. 3 at 2, 19 at 3-4, 19-1 at 6-7, 20-1 at 4. Human
Resources was unaware that the Plaintiff returned to work
prior to the scheduled February 27, 2015 date and informed
the Plaintiff she would not be allowed to return unless
documentation was received releasing her to work early. ECF
Nos. 19-1 at 5-6, 20-1 at 4. The Plaintiff did not believe
that she had returned to work early. ECF Nos. 19-1 at 6, 20-1
at 4. In fact, she stated that Dr. Kletter informed her she
could return to work on January 27, 2015. ECF No. 19-1 at
21-22. Following her conversation with Human Resources, the
Plaintiff contacted her surgeon's office to obtain
authorization to return to work. ECF Nos. 19-1 at 5-6, 20 at
1, 20-1 at 4. On February 6, 2015, the Defendant received a
letter from the surgeon's office indicating that the
Plaintiff was released to work full duty as of January 27,
2015. ECF Nos. 19 at 3, 19-5, 20-6 at 4. Because the
Plaintiff returned to work on January 27, 2015, and had a
physician's note approving her release to work full duty
as of January 27, 2015, Human Resources informed her that her
FMLA leave ended on that date. ECF Nos. 3 at 2, 19-1 at 5-7,
19-6 at 2, 20-1 at 4. The Plaintiff did not inform Human
Resources why she would not be at work on February 6, 2015,
did not advise how long she would be out and did not request
that the absence count as FMLA leave.ECF Nos. 19 at 4, 19-1 at
5-10, 20-1 at 4-5.
March 25, 2015, the Defendant terminated the Plaintiff's
employment because of poor attendance. ECF No. 19-11. Between
April 15, 2014, and her termination date, the Plaintiff had
seven unscheduled, non-FMLA absences. ECF No. 19-11. Pursuant
to the Defendant's attendance policy, seven unscheduled
absences results in a recommended discharge. ECF No. 19-8.
The Defendant considered the Plaintiff's February 6, 2015
absence as an unscheduled, non-FMLA absence. See ECF
Nos. 19-7, 19-10, 19-11. The Plaintiff did not contest the
classification of her February 6, 2015 absence until this
lawsuit. See ECF No. 19-1 at 28.
Standard of Review
moving party is entitled to summary judgment if there is no
genuine dispute as to any material fact, thus warranting
judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex
Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). A genuine
dispute exists “if the evidence is such that a
reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving
party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477
U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The court is tasked with
“determining whether there is the need for a
trial-whether, in other words, there are any genuine factual
issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact
because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either
party.” Id. at 250.
successfully oppose a motion for summary judgment, “the
nonmoving party must come forward with specific facts showing
that there is a genuine issue for trial, ”
Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp.,
475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (internal quotation and citation
omitted), by furnishing affidavits, depositions or other
evidence, see Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c);
Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323-25; Anderson, 477
U.S. at 247-48. In determining whether there is indeed a
genuine dispute, the court must view the evidence and
inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving
party. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007).
Summary judgment must be entered against a party who fails to
demonstrate the existence of an essential element.
Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23.
response to the Defendant's motion for summary judgment,
the Plaintiff contends that several facts are in dispute
which entitle her to a trial on her interference claim.
However, a review of the record reveals no genuine dispute as
to any material fact. Accordingly, based upon the following,
the Court grants summary judgment in favor of the Defendant.
the FMLA, employees are entitled “to take up to twelve
weeks of unpaid leave in any twelve-month period for
qualifying medical or family reasons.” Brushwood v.
Wachovia Bank, N.A., 520 F. App'x 154, 157 (4th Cir.
2013) (internal quotation omitted) (citing Rhoads v.
FDIC, 257 F.3d 373, 381-82 (4th Cir. 2001)); see
also 29 U.S.C. § 2612(a)(1). Employers are
prohibited from interfering with, restraining or denying an
employee's exercise of her FMLA rights. 29 U.S.C. §
2615(a)(1). To establish a claim of interference under the
FMLA, the plaintiff must show that (1) she was an eligible
employee under the FMLA, (2) the defendant is an employer
subject to FMLA requirements, (3) she was entitled to FMLA
leave, (4) she gave notice to the defendant-employer of her
intention to take FMLA leave and (5) she was denied benefits
to which she was entitled under the FMLA. Gibson v.
Corning, Inc., No. 5:14-CV-105-BO, 2015 WL 1880188, at
*7 (E.D. N.C. Apr. 13, 2015) (citation omitted);
Anusie-Howard v. Todd, Civil No. WDQ-12-199, 2015 WL
857360, at *3 (D. Md. Feb. 26, 2015) (citation omitted);
Braganza v. Donahoe, Civil Action No. 1:13-cv-848,
2014 WL 3749694, at *2 (E.D. Va. July 29, 2014) (citation
omitted). The record indisputably reveals that the Plaintiff
did not provide adequate notice of her intention to take FMLA
leave for her February 6, 2015 absence.
notice to be sufficient, the employee need not specifically
mention the FMLA. Peeples v. Coastal Office Prods.,
Inc., 64 F. App'x 860, 863 (4th Cir. 2003)
(unpublished per curiam). However, the employee must, at the
very least, imply that she is suffering from a serious health
condition and indicate the anticipated timing and duration of
leave. See 29 C.F.R. § 825.302(c);
Brushwood, 520 F. App'x at 157; see also
Anderson v. Discovery Commc'ns, LLC, 814 F.Supp.2d
562, 572-73 (D. Md. Sept. 29, 2011). Here, the Plaintiff did
neither. The information provided by the Plaintiff to the
Defendant regarding her February 6, 2015 absence did not
demonstrate that she was suffering from a “serious
health condition” as defined under the FMLA. Section
2611 of the FMLA defines a serious health condition as
“an illness, injury, impairment, or physical or mental
condition that involves inpatient care in a hospital,
hospice, or residential medical care facility or continuing
treatment by a health care provider.” 29 U.S.C. §
2611(11); see also 29 C.F.R. § 825.113(a). On
February 6, 2015, the Plaintiff contacted the Defendant's
Human Resources Department and asked if her FMLA leave was
still active. ECF Nos. 19-1 at 5, 20-1 at 4. She did not
inform Human Resources of the reason that she was requesting
the day off and did not indicate that the absence was related
to her January 9, 2015 cholecystectomy. ECF Nos. 19 at 4,
19-1 at 7-8, 20-1 at 4. Indeed, the Plaintiff did not provide
the Defendant's Human Resources Department with any
information that would indicate she was suffering from a
serious health condition triggering FMLA leave. The Plaintiff
also did not mention the anticipated length of her absence.
See ECF Nos. 19-1 at 5-10, 20-1 at 4-5. The
information provided by the Plaintiff to Human Resources on
February 6, 2015, was insufficient to put the Defendant on
notice that she was suffering from a serious health condition
entitling her to FMLA leave. Thus, the Defendant was not
obligated to inform her in writing that her February 6, 2015
absence was not covered under the FMLA. See 29
C.F.R. § 825.300(d)(1); Brushwood, 520 F.
App'x at 157 (“[T]he employer's duties are
triggered when the employee provides enough information to
put the employer on notice that the employee may be in need
of FMLA leave.” (internal quotation omitted) (quoting
Browning v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 178 F.3d 1043,
1049 (8th Cir. 1999))).
the Plaintiff argues that the Defendant was required,
pursuant to 29 C.F.R. § 825.300(d)(5), to provide her
with a designation notice within five business days after it
received information that she was returning to work early.
However, notice is only required under this subsection when
the employer receives notice of the employee's
“need for leave subsequent to any
change.” 29 C.F.R. § 825.300(d)(5) (emphasis
added). Here, the Defendant initially granted the Plaintiff
FMLA leave from January 9, 2015, through February 27, 2015.
ECF Nos. 19-4, 20-6 at 3. However, when the Plaintiff
returned to work early on January 27, 2015, her FMLA leave
ceased. See ECF Nos. 19-1 at 5-6, 20-1 at 4.
Pursuant to § 825.300(d)(5), the Defendant was not
required to provide the Plaintiff with notice unless or until
five days after she requested FMLA leave subsequent to her
January 27, 2015 return date. As articulated above, following
her return to work on January 27, 2015, the Plaintiff failed
to provide the Defendant with adequate notice that she
required additional FMLA leave. See Browning, 178
F.3d at 1049. Additionally, there is no indication that the
Plaintiff was close to exhausting the entire twelve weeks of
leave available under the FMLA. But see Ross v. Youth