The opinion of the court was delivered by: David G. Bernthal U.S. Magistrate Judge
In March 2005, Plaintiff, Georgina Byars, acting pro se, filed a Complaint (#3) against Defendant, Macon Resources, Inc., alleging that Defendant violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (hereinafter "Title VII") (42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-2, 2000e-5). Federal jurisdiction is based on federal question (28 U.S.C. § 1331) because Plaintiff's claim is based on a federal statute. The parties have consented to jurisdiction by a federal magistrate judge.
In January 2006, Defendant Macon Resources (hereinafter "MRI") filed a Motion for Summary Judgment (#27). After reviewing Defendant's motion and the parties' memoranda and evidence, the Court GRANTS Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (#27).
Summary judgment is granted "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the Court must decide, based on admissible evidence, whether any material dispute of fact exists that requires a trial. Waldridge v. Am. Hoechst Corp., 24 F.3d 918, 920 (7th Cir. 1994). The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of showing that no such issue of material fact exists. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323.
The Court must draw all inferences in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). However, the nonmoving party may not rest upon mere allegations in the pleadings or upon conclusory statements in affidavits; rather, she must go beyond the pleadings and support her contentions with proper documentary evidence. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23. A scintilla of evidence in support of the non-movant's position is not sufficient to oppose successfully a summary judgment motion; "there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the [non-movant]." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986). The plain language of Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment against a party who fails to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. Id. "In such a situation there can be 'no genuine issue as to any material fact,' since a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial." Id.
A. Plaintiff's Leave of Absence
Plaintiff's complaint alleges that MRI terminated her employment because of her race. The undisputed facts are as follows: MRI provides rehabilitative training programs and support services to individuals with developmental disabilities, mental illness, or other handicaps, and to their families. Plaintiff, an African American, began working for MRI around July 1989. In August 2002, she was working full time as a Case Management Aide.
In August 2002, Plaintiff was injured in an automobile accident during her vacation. As a result, she was physically unable to return to work at the end of her vacation. She was eligible to take a leave of absence under the Family and Medical Leave Act (hereinafter "FMLA") and on August 12, 2002, she began an FMLA leave of absence. On August 13, 2002, Carolyn Alderson, MRI's Benefits Coordinator, sent Plaintiff a letter (#27, Attachment #3, p. 7) containing information about the FMLA leave. Among other things, the letter stated that Plaintiff was eligible for twelve weeks of leave and that "[d]uring this leave you will be expected to use your accrued sick/vacation/personal time before having unpaid leave time." (#27, Att. #3, p. 7.)
Plaintiff states that, as of July 26, 2002, she had a total of 264.74 hours accrued, including sick time (217.75 hours), vacation time (40.74 hours), and personal time (6.25 hours). (#29, Att. #4, p. 16.) Her FMLA leave record shows that vacation time and sick time was applied to Plaintiff's FMLA leave between August 15 and October 11, 2002. (See #27, Att. #4, p. 22.) Thus, part of her FMLA leave was paid and part was unpaid.
On October 29, 2002, Plaintiff sent a letter to John Mallaney, asking that her leave of absence be extended for another eight weeks beginning November 10, 2002. (#27, Att. #3, p. 8.)
On November 21, 2002, Carolyn Alderson sent Plaintiff a letter (#27, Att. #3, p. 9) stating that Plaintiff had exhausted all of her FMLA leave time as of November 7, 2002, and agreeing to extend her medical leave through December 31, 2002. The letter stated that Plaintiff must provide documentation from her doctor on her medical status and prognosis. If MRI's Human Resources Department did not receive the information by December 2, 2002, the extension would be cancelled and Plaintiff's employment would be considered terminated as of November 30, 2002. The letter also offered Plaintiff an additional extension up to February 1, 2003. In order for Plaintiff to take advantage of that final extension, she was required to pay, in advance, for her insurance benefits for the month of January.
On December 17, 2002, Carolyn Alderson sent Plaintiff a letter and a claim form for long-term disability. (#27, Att. #3, p. 10.) The letter stated, in pertinent part, as follows:
I am aware that you have discussed with John Mallaney the possibility of returning to work and delaying your shoulder surgery. If this does not occur, and you want to continue your general medical leave for the month of January, the insurance premiums for January are $499.44. If you do not continue the general medical leave or return to work, then your insurance will end on December 31, 2002. You would be eligible under the COBRA provision to continue to pay for insurance coverage. You would also be eligible for re-hire for any position for which you are qualified. (#27, Att. #3, p. 10.)
On December 19, 2002, Plaintiff's doctor, Marshall Brustein, wrote a letter stating that Plaintiff was unable to return to work at that time, and that he planned to schedule surgery. (#29, Att. #4, p. 58.)
On December 20, 2002, Plaintiff met with Carolyn Alderson to discuss health insurance benefits. After the meeting, Alderson sent an internal memorandum to Gene Hurelbrink stating as follows:
Gina [(Plaintiff)] came in today (12/20) with a doctor's note indicating she is still not released to return to work even on an accommodated basis. She said she would not be paying her insurance and would have to take the rehire option. She hates to give up her job and would like to return. She wanted to know if on a rehire basis she would give up her rate of pay. I told her it would depend on what position she came back to, when, etc. and that this decision wasn't up to me but her previous work record would be considered. (#27, Att. #3, p. 11.)
Regarding the December 20, 2002, meeting with Alderson, Plaintiff states that she was willing to pay her January insurance premiums if she could make payments once she returned to work at MRI. (#27, Att. #4, p.16.) She did not want her job to be terminated. She assumed she could start paying for her January insurance benefits once she got back to work and she claims Carolyn Alderson did not tell her any different. (#27, Att. #4, p.16.) However, Alderson's letter dated November 21, 2002, clearly stated that Plaintiff must pay in advance for her January insurance benefits. Furthermore, this was consistent with MRI's policy. It is undisputed that Plaintiff did not pay the premium for her January 2003 insurance premiums in advance. Accordingly, Plaintiff's statement that she was willing to arrange to pay the premiums when she returned to work does not raise a factual dispute on this issue.
On December 26, 2002, MRI posted an opening for Plaintiff's position. On December 31, 2002, MRI terminated Plaintiff's employment when Plaintiff failed to pay for her January 2003 insurance benefits. Alderson testified that MRI terminated Plaintiff's employment because it could no longer justify absorbing the cost of Plaintiff's insurance benefits. (Alderson Aff., ¶ 6.)
On January 27, 2003, Plaintiff's doctor released Plaintiff to return to light-duty work. (#27, Att. #4, p. 17.) On March 7, 2003, Plaintiff's doctor released her to return to work with no restrictions. (#29, Att. #4, p.50.) On April 16, 2003, Plaintiff's doctor released her ...