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Labor & Employment – FMLA – Interference Claim — Call-in Requirement – Diminished Authority – No Raise

Chauncey v. Life Cycle Engineering, Inc. (Lawyers Weekly No. 002-162-13, 34 pp.) (David C. Norton, J.) 2:12-cv-00968; D.S.C.

Holding: Defendants assert that, while plaintiff was out on medical leave, defendant Walls asked her to send weekly email updates because Walls wanted to reduce the number of emails plaintiff was sending. Regardless of Walls’ intentions, no reasonable jury could find that Walls asking plaintiff to do something she was already doing regularly would interfere with her leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Plaintiff’s motion for partial summary judgment is denied. Defendants’ motion for summary judgment is granted except as to certain aspects of plaintiff’s FMLA claim: plaintiff’s diminished duties upon return from leave, the denial of a raise, and retaliation.

Where Walls had concerns with plaintiff’s performance beginning in January 2010, and where those concerns escalated until she was terminated on Dec. 1, 2010, the evidence does not create a genuine issue as to whether plaintiff was fulfilling her employer’s legitimate expectations at the time of discharge. Plaintiff failed to make out a prima facie case of discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Walls emailed plaintiff while she was on leave to ask where he could find certain information so that others could work with that information. He indicated that “there is no expectation for you to update or do work, just send what you have or point folks to where the files are.” Although plaintiff told another employee that she had to pull the requested information from various files, she did not tell Walls that further work was needed. No reasonable jury could find that defendants interfered with plaintiff’s right to FMLA leave by asking her to send information to other employees.

Although defendants assert that plaintiff did not receive a raise because she was on notice that her performance was not acceptable and her salary was already the highest among her peers, genuine issues remain about the exact nature of the defendant-employer’s salary increase and bonus policies, as well as whether denying plaintiff either resulted in her being returned to a position of equivalent pay or interfered with her FMLA rights by discouraging her from taking leave. Defendants are not entitled to summary judgment to the extent that plaintiff bases her FMLA interference claim on not receiving a bonus or raise while on leave.

Before her FMLA leave, plaintiff had the authority to reschedule meetings, but, upon her return, Walls objected to her rescheduling a meeting. Walls claims that he objected because plaintiff moved the meeting to a date on which he had scheduled vacation. Whether plaintiff was restored to the position of employment held when leave commenced or an equivalent position and whether plaintiff having to consult Walls before rescheduling meetings constituted a “substantially similar duty” are subject to genuine dispute. To the extent plaintiff relies on her diminished duties upon return from leave, a reasonable jury could find for either side on her FMLA interference claim.

Plaintiff did not receive a raise while she was on FMLA leave. Despite previous satisfactory performance reviews, she received a negative performance review three days after she applied for FMLA leave. She was fired 14 days after her attorney sent the employer a letter alleging that plaintiff had been subject to illegal employment action and soon after she came back from FMLA leave. These facts are such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for plaintiff on her FMLA retaliation claim.

Defendants’ motion for summary judgment is granted in part and denied in part.


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