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McCoy v. Diamond Electric MFG. Corp.

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

February 19, 2019

SHEILA L. McCOY, Plaintiff,
v.
DIAMOND ELECTRIC MFG. CORPORATION, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          ROBERT C. CHAMBERS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Pending before the Court is the Motion for Summary Judgment submitted by Defendant Diamond Electric Mfg. Corporation. Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J., ECF No. 25. Plaintiff alleges, in her complaint, claims against Defendant under four causes of action: (1) Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) interference; (2) FMLA retaliation; (3) violation of the West Virginia Human Rights Act (“WVHRA”); and (4) intentional infliction of emotional distress (“IIED”). See Compl., ECF No. 1, at 5-8.

         Defendant moves for summary judgment on all four counts Plaintiff asserts against it in the complaint. Mem. in Supp. of Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J., ECF No. 26, at 10, 14, 17. Defendant claims it is entitled to summary judgment on counts one, two, and three because Plaintiff has no evidence that she was either prevented from, or terminated for, exercising her FMLA rights, and has no evidence that she was terminated because of her allegedly protected status. See Id. at 10, 13-14. Additionally, Defendant claims it is entitled to summary judgment on count four because the way Plaintiff was terminated cannot be considered “outrageous” as a matter of law. See Id. at 17.

         The parties have fully briefed the issues and the motion is now ripe for adjudication. As explained below, the Court GRANTS, IN PART, AND DENIES, IN PART, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Defendant's FMLA Process

         Plaintiff was a production employee for Defendant from May 7, 1997, until December 29, 2016, when she was terminated. Compl., at ¶ 7. Two months before her termination, on October 31, 2016, Plaintiff requested intermittent FMLA leave to care for her father, who was battling lung cancer, and Defendant approved. See Id. at ¶¶ 17-19.

         When an employee of Defendant is on intermittent FMLA leave, and requests a day off, the duties of the employee's supervisor are simple. The employee calls their supervisor on a day when they are taking an absence, and the supervisor is not permitted to ask the employee any questions. Dep. of Crouch, ECF No. 25-4, at 3. The supervisor then writes the employee's comments on a “leave request” form, including whether the reason for the leave is the FMLA. See Id. at 3-4. The supervisor then completes her job by sending this form to Human Resources. See id.

         B. The Incident

         According to Plaintiff, on December 22, 2016, she called her supervisor, Bonnie Crouch, and told Ms. Crouch that her finger was bleeding and she needed to see a doctor. Dep. of McCoy, ECF No. 29-1, at 5. Plaintiff asked Ms. Crouch whether a potential absence due to this injury- because it occurred while she was caring for her father-would be covered under the FMLA. See Id. Ms. Crouch informed Plaintiff that she did not know the answer, and did not want to give an answer, because only Human Resources can respond to FMLA questions. See Id. Plaintiff then called Veronica Blevins, Defendant's Human Resources manager, explained that she cut her finger, and asked Ms. Blevins the same question she asked Ms. Crouch: whether an absence in this situation would be covered under the FMLA. See Id. Ms. Crouch answered Plaintiff's question by stating that “it was a different instance, ” but if Plaintiff “could go to the doctor and get an excuse, then they would cover it.” Id. After receiving this clarification from Ms. Blevins, Plaintiff called Ms. Crouch for a second time, and told Ms. Crouch that she “would have to have a doctor's excuse.” Id. Ms. Crouch said “no, ” and that the leave absence form would “have to [say] FMLA because you said it was an FMLA.” Id.

         Defendant's version of the events differs greatly from Plaintiff's. Ms. Crouch testified that in Plaintiff's first phone call Plaintiff told her that Plaintiff had cut her hand, and when Ms. Crouch asked whether Plaintiff was coming into work that day Plaintiff said, “I don't know, ” and that she would “get back with” her. See Mem. in Supp. of Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J., at 4. Later, according to Ms. Crouch, Plaintiff called a second time and said, “I'm going to have to take an FMLA day.” Dep. of Crouch, at 5. Ms. Crouch, as she is trained to do, did not ask any questions and filled out the leave request form, designating December 22 as an FMLA day for Plaintiff. Id.

         According to Defendant, after this phone call Plaintiff called Ms. Blevins and told her that Plaintiff was “taking an FMLA day” and wanted to know how this would affect her holiday pay. See Dep. of Blevins, ECF. No. 25-5, at 9. Ms. Blevins explained to Plaintiff that she would not receive holiday pay unless she had vacation time to run concurrent with her FMLA day. See Id. at 4; Mem. in Supp. of Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J., at 6. Upon hearing this explanation, Plaintiff told Ms. Blevins that she needed to change the reason for her absence from the FMLA to the fact that she had cut her hand and needed to go to the emergency room. See Dep. of Blevins, at 4-5. Plaintiff then told Ms. Blevins that she “didn't want to get in trouble, ” and asked Ms. Blevins if Ms. Blevins could “get her paperwork and correct her paperwork for her so that she wouldn't get in trouble.” Id. at 5. In response, Ms. Blevins explained to Plaintiff that she could not do what Plaintiff requested, as such an action would be “falsifying records.” Id. Ms. Blevins then immediately contacted Ms. Crouch and asked her if Plaintiff had called in, and if so, what Plaintiff said to Ms. Crouch. See Id. at 6. Ms. Crouch told Ms. Blevins that Plaintiff had “requested an FMLA day.” Id. at 7.

         C. The Investigation and Termination

         Following the incident, Ms. Blevins conducted an investigation. She spoke with Ms. Crouch, reviewed the holiday policy in Defendant's handbook, reviewed Plaintiff's leave request form, and reviewed Defendant's employee conduct rules regarding falsifying or misrepresenting records. See Mem. in Supp. of Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J., at 7. After returning from the holiday break, Ms. Blevins met with Chad Carte, Defendant's CFO, discussed the investigation, and made the decision to terminate Plaintiff's employment. Exhibit F, ECF No. 25-6, at 2.

         On December 29, 2016, Ms. Blevins and Defendant's Human Resources specialist Chris Snyder met with Plaintiff to terminate her employment. Dep. of Blevins, at 11. During the meeting, Ms. Blevins explained to Plaintiff that she was being terminated because she lied about her reason for an absence and attempted to falsify documents. See Id. Ms. Blevins then walked with Plaintiff to her locker, stayed with her while she removed her items, and explained to Plaintiff that she could contact her at any time if she had any questions. See Id. at 12. Plaintiff thanked Ms. Blevins and left the property. See id.

         On November 16, 2017, Plaintiff filed this action against Defendant, and on December 14, 2018, Defendant filed its motion for summary judgment. ECF Nos. 1, 25. Plaintiff filed her response and Defendant filed its reply on January 10, 2019, and January 17, 2019, respectively. ECF Nos. 29, 30.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         To obtain summary judgment, the moving party must show that no genuine issue as to any material fact remains and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). In considering a motion for summary judgment, a court will not “weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter[.]” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). Instead, a court will draw any permissible inference from the underlying facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587-88 (1986). Any inference, however, “must fall within the range of reasonable probability and not be so tenuous as to amount to speculation or conjecture.” JKC Holding Co. v. Wash. Sports Ventures, Inc., 264 F.3d 459, 465 (4th Cir. 2001) (citation omitted). Therefore, summary judgment will not be granted if a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party on the evidence presented. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48.

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Count One: FMLA Interference

         Plaintiff's FMLA interference claim relies upon the conclusion that Defendant “failed to responsively answer [Plaintiff's FMLA] questions”-an undisputed violation of the FMLA according to its regulations. Response in Opp. to Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J., ECF No. 29, at 11. However, the facts of this case simply cannot support Plaintiff's conclusion.

         The FMLA allows “employees to balance their work and family life by taking reasonable unpaid leave for … the care of a child, spouse, or parent who has a serious health condition, ”[1] and the Act states that “[i]t shall be unlawful for any employer to interfere with, restrain, or deny the exercise of or the attempt to exercise, any right provided” by the Act. 29 U.S.C. § 2615(a)(1) (emphasis added). The FMLA regulations state that an employer “interferes” with a right provided by the FMLA when an employer violates an FMLA regulation. See 29 CFR § 825.101(b). One such regulation requires employers “to responsively answer questions from employees concerning their rights and responsibilities under the FMLA.” 29 CFR § 825.300(c)(5). Thus, an FMLA interference ...


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