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Ridings v. Riverside Medical Center

November 30, 2006

JANET M. RIDINGS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
RIVERSIDE MEDICAL CENTER, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael P. McCUSKEY Chief U.S. District Judge

OPINION

On June 3, 2005, Plaintiff Janet Ridings filed a Complaint (#1) against Defendants Riverside Medical Center, Jeff Pollock, and Kyle Hansen alleging violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), a state law claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress, and retaliatory discharge.*fn1 This matter is now before the court on cross motions for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (#33) is DENIED and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (#35) is GRANTED.

FACTS

Defendant Riverside Medical Center (Riverside) is a not-for-profit corporation operating a hospital in Kankakee, Illinois. Plaintiff Ridings began her employment with Riverside in 1998 as a Knowledge Manager/Systems Analyst. Ridings' job title was later changed to Knowledge Manager, although her job duties remained essentially unchanged. In this position, Ridings was responsible for responding to requests from Riverside employees to extract data from Riverside's computer network records and convert it into relevant, useful information through query reports. Ridings spent most of her work day at her computer. Employees making requests to Ridings communicated these requests through email, phone, and personal visits. During the time period relevant to this lawsuit, Jeff Pollock held the position of Vice President of Information Technology and Chief Information Officer with Riverside. Ridings reported to Pollock when she began her employment at Riverside. On April 12, 2002, Ridings began reporting to Kyle Hansen, who served as Systems Applications Manager. Ridings alleges that after Hansen became her supervisor, he and Pollock began a campaign to humiliate her because she is a woman.*fn2 According to Ridings, Hansen and Pollock intended to force her to quit or, in the alternative, sought to justify her termination.

Throughout her employment, Ridings was classified as a salaried exempt employee pursuant to the provisions of the FLSA. Riverside defines a regular full-time employee as one who is "regularly scheduled to work 30 hours per week or more." The policy and procedure for exempt employees states:

Exempt staff are paid a salary for the job for which they were hired. The actual hours an exempt staff member works to complete the job for which they were hired are not recorded. If the work load for an exempt staff member goes above 40 hours in a week, that person does not receive additional compensation. If the work load for an exempt staff member requires only 30 hours to complete, the exempt staff person still gets paid their full salary.

Exempt employees "swipe in" when they arrive at work, but do not "swipe out" when they leave.

On December 14, 2002, Ridings was diagnosed with Graves' disease. On January 14, 2003, Ridings had surgery to remove her thyroid. Prior to the surgery, Riverside directed Ridings to complete FMLA medical certification forms and to have her leave certified by her physician. Ridings' physician, Dr. Moss, filled out the medical certification and Ridings returned the certificate to Riverside. Ridings' physician stated in the application that Ridings would be able to perform the essential functions of her job after recovery from surgery. Riverside designated Ridings' absence from work for her surgery as FMLA leave. Ridings returned from FMLA leave in February 2003. Ridings asserts that she suffered from "mental fatigue" from January 2003 through the end of 2003.

Ridings further asserts this "mental fatigue" is a symptom of Graves' disease. Ridings did not work eight hours per day everyday on Riverside's premises for the rest of 2003 because, according to Ridings, her "mental fatigue" prevented her from working an eight hour day on Riverside's premises. Ridings testified that Hansen asked her occasionally for an update on why she was not working eight hours per day. Ridings informed him that she became tired in the late afternoon and was taking work home with her. Pollock understood that Ridings' reduced schedule was due to her surgery and medication and that Ridings was unable to work 8 hours per day at the hospital.

Riverside maintained during this time period a "Work Schedules" policy which provided that work schedules may vary based upon staffing needs and operational demands. The policy further provided that supervisors would advise employees of their individual work schedule. Riverside also maintained an "Attendance and Punctuality" policy which stated "excessive absenteeism that is not considered a serious health condition under the [FMLA] will lead to disciplinary action, up to and including termination." Riverside further maintained Employee Conduct and Work Rules that precluded insubordination, excessive absenteeism, and unauthorized absences from an employee's workstation. However, under the section "Essential Functions" in the job description for Knowledge Manager, there is no reference to the number of hours to be worked per day or week.

On January 25, 2004, Hansen met with Ridings and told her she needed to be on the premises for a full eight hours per day. Ridings did not begin working eight hours per day on the premises as a result of this meeting. On February 25, 2004, Hansen again met with Ridings to discuss working eight hours per day on premises. Ridings continued to fail to work eight hours per day on premises after this meeting. Ridings asserts she attempted to work at the hospital until 5:00 p.m., but she almost fell asleep driving home on two occasions. Ridings asserts that, as a result, she did not work at the hospital after 4:00 p.m. or 4:30 p.m. unless she had a ride home. Ridings testified that she took work home and did it during the evenings and weekends to perform the tasks expected of her. On March 22, 2004, Hansen gave Ridings a Corrective Action Report and asked her to read and sign it. The report was given to Ridings because she was not working eight hours per day and was "arriving at work between 8 a[.m.] and 8:30 a[.m.], and leaving for the day between 2:30 p[.m.] and 3:00 p[.m.]." The report further indicated that "[w]orking a full 8 hour day must begin immediately." After receiving the Corrective Action Report, Ridings still did not work eight hours per day on the premises. On March 31 or April 1, 2004, Ridings provided Hansen with documentation from her physician indicating that she could not work eight hours per day until further notice due to her medical condition. Hansen met with Ridings and informed her that, based on her doctor's note, she needed to provide FMLA paperwork. Hansen gave Ridings the form to request "intermittent leave" under the FMLA and the FMLA medical certification forms. This form states, "Form must be returned within 15 days or leave request may be delayed." By April 16, 2004, Ridings had failed to return the medical certification form. Ridings received another Corrective Action Report from Hansen on April 20 or 21, 2004, which was based on Ridings' failure to submit her FMLA paperwork within the requested 15 day period. This Corrective Action Report stated that "FMLA paperwork requesting intermittent leave needs to be completed by her physician and presented back to her supervisor by April 28, 2004." If that did not occur Ridings was to be placed on suspension for three days without pay. If she did not present the paperwork upon her return from suspension, she "could be terminated." After receiving this Corrective Action Report, Ridings again did not complete the FMLA certification and continued to not work eight hours per day on premises.

On May 10, 2004, Ridings was suspended for three days. She was provided with a Corrective Action Report stating that she was suspended for failing to return the FMLA paperwork by April 28, 2004. This suspension was without pay.*fn3 The report again indicated "FMLA paperwork requesting intermittent leave needs to be completed by her physician and presented back to her supervisor by May 13, 2004." When Ridings returned to work on May 13, 2004, she did not submit the FMLA medical certification and was terminated.

On July 20, 2003, Ridings filed a workers' compensation claim, alleging that she developed Graves disease as a result of stress at work. In January 2004, Pollock and Hansen*fn4 decided to discontinue a prepaid plan for vendor support for a computer software system used by Ridings, Crystal Reports. The support system was still available to Ridings, but Riverside now only paid for time and materials actually used. Ridings asserts that this decision was a result of her workers' compensation claim. Ridings asserts that this decision occurred right after she completed a payroll conversion project and, as a result, she was no longer in a vital position. Ridings further asserts that in April of 2004, Hansen made a comment ridiculing Ridings' ...


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