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Peaslee v. Citizens Conservation Corps, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Beckley Division

January 4, 2018

MATTHEW PEASLEE, Plaintiff,
v.
CITIZENS CONSERVATION CORPS, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          IRENE C. BERGER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         The Court has reviewed the Defendant Citizens Conservation Corps, Inc.'s Motion for Summary Judgment (Document 45) and Memorandum of Law in Support (Document 46), the Plaintiff's Response in Opposition to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Document 47), and the Defendant's Reply to Plaintiff's Response in Opposition to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Document 48). For the reasons stated herein, the Court finds that the motion should be granted in part and denied in part.

         FACTS

         The Plaintiff, Matthew Peaslee, was employed by Defendant Citizens Conservation Corps, Inc. (CCC) from February 2012 until June 2016. CCC operates courtesy patrol vehicles in West Virginia. Mr. Peaslee was initially hired as a relief supervisor, to fill in when other supervisors were unavailable. He was quickly promoted to a supervisor position in May 2012. He worked from home in both positions.

         Mr. Peaslee is a disabled veteran and suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), as well as knee problems. He explained that his PTSD makes it “hard for me to be in public places; it's hard for me to take my kids somewhere to do something in public; I'm constantly on edge when I'm out and about; and I have a hard time with crowds and having my back to people.” (Peaslee Depo. at 174::4-8) (Document 48-1.) Mr. Peaslee's direct supervisor at CCC, Ed Cornett, and another management employee, John Ferrell, were veterans, and Mr. Peaslee first told them about his PTSD during a conversation about military service early in his employment. Mr. Peaslee stated that he talked about his PTSD in subsequent conversations with Mr. Cornett and Mr. Ferrell as well. Mr. Peaslee also reported telling Tim Pack, another manager, about his PTSD during a conversation about a harassment conviction that Mr. Pack discovered in Mr. Peaslee's background check.[1] All three told Mr. Peaslee to let them know if he needed anything related to his PTSD. Mr. Peaslee did not, however, list his PTSD on an “Emergency Information” form that included a section for employees to list medical information, including chronic conditions.

         Mr. Peaslee had regular medical appointments for PTSD treatment from the beginning of his tenure at CCC. His PTSD had been improving early in his employment, but worsened after an incident in 2014 in which a friend of his (now ex) wife shot at him. At some point, his doctor recommended prolonged exposure therapy, with appointments at the same time every week. He informed Mr. Cornett of his appointments about a week in advance, either verbally or via email, and explained the schedule for the exposure therapy prior to beginning the program. At the time, Mr. Cornett said it would not be a problem. Although Mr. Peaslee worked from home and his work hours were flexible, he testified that Mr. Cornett often scheduled meetings or other tasks requiring his attendance at the same time as his medical appointments, forcing him to cancel or postpone his therapy, both before and after he began the exposure therapy. When Mr. Peaslee tried to say he was unavailable because of his doctor's appointments, Mr. Cornett “would guilt [him] into canceling the doctor's appointment to go do whatever it is that he needed done.” (Peaslee Depo. at 90::9-11) (Document 47-2.) Mr. Peaslee said he was pressured to cancel his appointments about every two weeks, and the frequency increased towards the end of his employment. Mr. Cornett also objected to a three-day absence following a neck injury in 2016. Mr. Peaslee submitted a doctor's note to HR, and the absence was excused.

         Mr. Peaslee spoke with the Chief Operating Officer, Jennifer Douglas, about Mr. Cornett's last-minute schedule changes that interfered with the prolonged exposure therapy and she replied with “Well, sometimes we just have to cancel our appointments and…get over it.” (Peaslee Depo. at 75::6-9) (Document 47-2.) An HR consultant, Jen Brown, assured Mr. Peaslee that he could attend doctors' appointments, but Mr. Cornett's behavior did not change. On May 14, 2016, Mr. Peaslee sent Mr. Cornett an email, stating that he attempted to schedule doctor appointments to avoid interference with work obligations, but refusing to provide a list of doctors' appointments because “[i]n the past when I have given you my appointments you have made it impossible for me to attend those appointments with last minute ‘emergencies.'” (May 14, 2016 Email, M. Peaslee to E. Cornett) (Document 47-8.)

         Mr. Cornett also asked questions about Mr. Peaslee's medical conditions that he found overly invasive, such as asking what medications were prescribed, why he had appointments, what symptoms he was having, or who his doctor was. Mr. Cornett did not indicate that he needed the information for HR paperwork or to consider Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) coverage; his responses when Mr. Peaslee expressed discomfort with the questions suggested that he was simply curious. Mr. Peaslee complained to Ms. Brown about Mr. Cornett asking invasive questions about his PTSD, though it is not clear whether he told Ms. Brown the medical condition at issue. Ms. Brown instructed him to submit doctor's notes and notice of medical appointments directly to HR, but Mr. Cornett was angry about not knowing his schedule.

         Ms. Douglas explained that FMLA materials were in the handbook and training materials to notify employees of their rights. Because Mr. Peaslee was a supervisor, he had additional training and was responsible for posting FMLA information in the trucks he was responsible for. Mr. Peaslee did not expressly invoke the FMLA in any discussions about needing accommodation to attend his therapy and other medical appointments.

         Mr. Peaslee received positive performance evaluations early in his employment. However, by 2015, his performance evaluations indicated that he needed improvement. A performance evaluation dated September 22, 2015, provides the following “specific areas needing improvement.” “The employee needs to work on getting his paperwork turned in without follow up from management. He also needs to strive on checking his CP-Unit Drivers more often. There has been improvement in the employee's performance recently and it needs to continue.” (Sept. 2015 Performance Evaluation) (Document 45-4.) Mr. Peaslee indicated that his workload increased, in part because CCC did not hire a relief supervisor after he was assigned a permanent supervisor position, and he sometimes worked 24 hours straight. He and his wife both recalled very frequent telephone calls, usually from Mr. Cornett, which Mr. Peaslee felt were unnecessary.

         In late June 2016, Ruth Lanier, an HR employee, called Mr. Peaslee to discuss his daily work schedule. In an email to Ms. Brown recounting the conversation, she states that he refused to provide more detail, saying he “does not have time to sit down and detail every hour of his day, down to when he plans to take a shit.” (June 22, 2016 Email, R. Lanier to J. Brown) (Document 45-13.) He declined to provide any information about what he does in his personal time, and expressed frustration with his workload. Mr. Peaslee agreed that the email accurately reflected the conversation, though he emphasized that Ms. Lanier, and CCC management generally, frequently encroached into his personal affairs and personal time, including intrusive questioning regarding his medical appointments. CCC fired Mr. Peaslee on June 28, 2016, purportedly for insubordination and poor work performance. Ms. Douglas testified that it was her decision to terminate his employment because of his insubordination and lack of cooperation with CCC's attempts to improve his performance.

         Mr. Peaslee's complaint lists the following causes of action: Count One - Interference with FMLA rights; Count Two - Retaliation for Exercising FMLA Rights; Count Three - Disability Discrimination under the West Virginia Human Rights Act; Count Four - Invasion of Privacy; and Count Five - Retaliatory Discharge.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The well-established standard in consideration of a motion for summary judgment is that “[t]he court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a)-(c); see also Hunt v. Cromartie, 526 U.S. 541, 549 (1999); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986); Hoschar v. Appalachian Power Co., 739 F.3d 163, 169 (4th Cir. 2014). A “material fact” is a fact that could affect the outcome of the case. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; News & Observer Publ'g Co. v. Raleigh-Durham Airport Auth., 597 F.3d 570, 576 (4th Cir. 2010). A “genuine issue” concerning a material fact ...


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