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Dotson v. BRP US Inc.

January 31, 2007

BRIAN K. DOTSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
BRP US INC., A DELAWARE CORPORATION, FORMERLY KNOWN AS BOMBARDIER MOTOR CORPORATION OF AMERICA, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: J. Phil Gilbert United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

This matter comes on for consideration on the motion by defendant BRP US INC., formerly known as Bombardier Motor Corporation of America ("BRP") for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules fo Civil Procedure (Doc. 24). Plaintiff Brian K. Dotson ("Dotson") has responded to the motion (Docs. 28, 29 & 30), and BRP has replied to that response (Doc. 32).

I. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate where "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 Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Spath v. Hayes Wheels Int'l-Ind., Inc., 211 F.3d 392, 396 (7th Cir. 2000). The reviewing court must construe the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of that party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986); Spath, 211 F.3d at 396. This standard is applied with special scrutiny in cases that turn on issues of intent and credibility. Michas v. Health Cost Controls of Ill., Inc., 209 F.3d 687, 692 (7th Cir. 2000). Where the moving party fails to meet its strict burden of proof, a court cannot enter summary judgment for the moving party even if the opposing party fails to present relevant evidence in response to the motion. Cooper v. Lane, 969 F.2d 368, 371 (7th Cir. 1992).

In responding to a summary judgment motion, the nonmoving party may not simply rest upon the allegations contained in the pleadings but must present specific facts to show a genuine issue of material fact exists. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e); Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-26; Johnson v. City of Fort Wayne, 91 F.3d 922, 931 (7th Cir. 1996). A genuine issue of material fact is not demonstrated by the mere existence of "some alleged factual dispute between the parties," Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247, or by "some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts," Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986); Michas, 209 F.3d at 692. Rather, a genuine issue of material fact exists only if "a fair-minded jury could return a verdict for the [nonmoving party] on the evidence presented." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252; accord Michas, 209 F.3d at 692.

II. Facts

The evidence viewed in the light most favorable to Dotson and the inferences reasonably drawn in his favor establish the following relevant facts.

Dotson began working at BRP's factory in Benton, Illinois, in September 1999. When he first began working for BRP, Dotson received a copy of the employee handbook, which contained the following policy:

All FMLA [Family Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq.] time runs concurrent with short term disability and workers' compensation or any qualifying event. When an employee has exhausted the twelve weeks of FMLA time during a rolling calendar year, employment with [BRP] may be terminated.

An employee who is unable to work for more than twelve weeks will be considered automatically terminated at the expiration of that period, regardless of the reason for the inability to work.

BRP considered twelve weeks to be equivalent to 480 hours. BRP maintained this policy during all times relevant to this litigation.

On January 7, 2004, Dotson injured his back at work and subsequently filed a workers' compensation claim. As a result of that injury, Dotson was only able to work light duty for a few partial days the week after his injury, and was then unable to work at all from January 16, 2004 until the summer of 2004. As of January 16, 2004, BRP had calculated that Dotson had accumulated 286 hours of leave during the preceding year for workers' compensation and short term disability leave. In June 2004, Dotson's doctor released him for partial duty, and in August 2004, his doctor released him for full duty. He continued to be paid temporary total disability workers' compensation benefits during his entire absence.

Shortly after he stopped working in mid-January 2004, BRP personnel threatened to terminate Dotson immediately if he did not sign forms requesting FMLA leave for his absence. Dotson did not believe his absence was required to be taken under the FMLA and he questioned the requirement, but he signed the forms anyway. BRP's policy, however, was to count leave taken for medical reasons toward the twelve weeks of FMLA leave time regardless of whether the employee applied for it.

On January 19, 2004, BRP wrote Dotson a letter informing him that it believed he had used 286 hours of his FMLA leave in the preceding year and that he had 194 hours remaining. Again, on February 10, 2004, BRP wrote Dotson a letter informing him that by its calculations he would ...


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