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Butler v. Illinois Bell Telephone Co.

October 3, 2006

KATEENA BUTLER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ILLINOIS BELL TELEPHONE COMPANY, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Samuel Der-Yeghiayan United States District Court Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

SAMUEL DER-YEGHIAYAN, District Judge

This matter is before the court on Defendants' motion to stay the enforcement of this court's order and motion to stay these proceedings. For the reasons stated below, we deny both motions.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Kateena Butler ("Butler") alleges that she was employed as a Consumer Advocate fielding telephone calls from customers, from October 1997 to August 2000, for Defendant Illinois Bell Telephone Company ("Illinois Bell"), a subsidiary of Defendant SBC Communications, Inc. ("SBC"). Butler alleges that she began working for Illinois Bell again in August 2001 and that SBC was the plan administrator of the employee welfare plans for Illinois Bell employees ("Plans"). Butler claims that in December 2002, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis ("MS") and that over the next few months she informed her supervisors of her illness. Butler alleges that in January 2003, March 2003, and April 2003, she submitted medical documentation of her illness to the SBC Medical Absence and Accommodations Resource Team ("SMAART Unit") which was a third party administrator of the Plans.

According to Butler, she was granted leave on March 20, 2003, for medical reasons, but was denied protection under the Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA") because she had allegedly missed too much work in the preceding twelve months. Butler alleges that she returned to work on March 25, 2003, but became ill again on April 9, 2003. Butler claims that on April 11, 2003, she called the SMAART Unit and asked for disability benefits under the Sickness and Accident Disability Benefit Plan ("SADBP") and was told that she had to wait seven days before her disability benefits would resume and she could apply for such benefits. Butler claims that on April 12, 2003, she left work because she was ill and that from April 14, 2003, to April 19, 2003, she called each day to the Illinois Bell attendance office ("Attendance Office"). According to Butler, the person she spoke with at the Attendance Office never told her that she was not eligible to take FMLA leave and, in fact, the records of the Attendance Office contain entries by Attendance Office personnel that show that Butler was on FMLA leave. Butler contends that she indicated each day that she was taking FMLA leave.

According to Butler, when she attempted to return to work on April 21, 2003, she was informed for the first time that she was not eligible to take FMLA leave, and was suspended for her absences from work. Butler claims that if she had been told she was not eligible for FMLA leave, she would not have attempted to return to work on April 21, 2003, and would have instead applied for disability benefits and received approval for disability leave. Butler states that she called the Attendance Office on April 22, 2003, and was told that she could not go back on disability benefits because she had been suspended. Defendants claim that she was not told that she was barred from applying for disability benefits because of her suspension. Defendants contend that she did not receive benefits because she did not apply in a timely manner. Butler alleges that on May 30, 2003, after a hearing with Illinois Bell management and a union representative, her employment was terminated without disability benefits for violations of Illinois Bell's attendance policy.

Butler subsequently brought the instant action and her complaint includes an estoppel claim under the FMLA, 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq., and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq., (Count I), a breach of fiduciary duty claim under 29 U.S.C. § 1104 and 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(3) (Count II), a claim under 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B) ("Section 1132(a)(1)(B)") for an improper interpretation of the SADBP (Count III), and a claim under 29 U.S.C. § 1140 of ERISA for retaliation (Count IV).

On April 19, 2006, we denied Defendants' motion for summary judgment in its entirety and granted Butler's motion for summary judgment in part on her estoppel claims that were based on the representations made by Attendance Office personnel that indicated that Butler was taking leave under the FMLA. In addition, on July 27, 2006, we partially granted Butler's motion for a judgment and entered an injunction order requiring Defendants to rescind Butler's suspension and termination and to provide her with the benefits due to her as if she had not been suspended and terminated. Defendants have since filed an interlocutory appeal of the court's rulings in this case and now request in the instant motion that the court stay the enforcement of the July 27, 2006 order and stay these proceedings until the appeal is resolved.

LEGAL STANDARD

Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 62(c) when a party brings an appeal challenging an interlocutory judgment "granting . . . an injunction," a court "in its discretion may . . . suspend" the injunction "during the pendency of the appeal . . . . " Fed. R. Civ. P. 62(c). A party seeking to stay the enforcement of such an order is required to show that: 1) "it has a significant probability of success on the merits," 2) "it will face irreparable harm absent a stay," and 3) "a stay will not injure the opposing party and will be in the public interest." Hinrichs v. Bosma, 440 F.3d 393, 396 (7th Cir. 2006)(citing Hilton v. Braunskill, 481 U.S. 770, 776 (1987)).

DISCUSSION

I. Motion to Stay the Enforcement of the Order

Defendants move to stay the enforcement of the July 27, 2006 order ("Order") until the ...


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