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Reynolds v. Inter-Industry Conference on Auto Collision Repair

January 13, 2008

CHRISTOPHER REYNOLDS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
INTER-INDUSTRY CONFERENCE ON AUTO COLLISION REPAIR (A/K/A I-CAR) DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable David H. Coar

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Christopher Reynolds brings an action against Defendant Inter-Industry Conference on Auto Collision Repair (a/k/a I-CAR) ("I-CAR" or "Defendant") alleging that Defendant violated the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq., and Section 510 of the Employee Retirement and Income Security Act ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. § 1140, and committed an act of gender discrimination against him in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(k), when it terminated his employment. Defendant now moves to dismiss Plaintiff's FMLA claim (Count I), pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). For the reasons stated below, Defendant's motion to dismiss is DENIED.

FACTS

Plaintiff alleges the following facts, which for purposes of the motion to dismiss the Court assumes to be true. Plaintiff is a former employee of I-CAR. Compl. ¶ 3. His employment began on August 25, 2005, and was terminated on August 16, 2006. Id. at ¶ 3, 12. On or about August 8, 2006, Plaintiff's fiancée, who was pregnant with his child, went into premature labor three months before the baby was due. Id. at ¶ 7. Plaintiff promptly notified his supervisor at I-CAR, as well as Defendant's Human Resources department, of his family's medical emergency and requested time off work. Id. On August 10, 2006, the condition of Plaintiff's fiancée and his unborn child deteriorated, and Plaintiff requested additional time off work. Id. at ¶ 8-9.

On or about August 16, 2006, Plaintiff returned to work after his eight-day leave. Id. at ¶ 10. That morning, Plaintiff notified Human Resources that his son's doctors anticipated he would remain hospitalized in the neonatal intensive care unit for at least the next three months. Plaintiff explained that his fiancée was using her own maternity leave to be with their son while he was in the hospital, and that he was requesting leave under the FMLA to care for his newborn son after he was released from the hospital in early- to mid-November 2006. The Human Resources representative told Plaintiff she would look into his request and get back to him. Id.

Around midday on August 16, 2006, Plaintiff returned to the hospital. Id. at ¶ 11. A few hours later, Plaintiff attempted to reach Human Resources to discuss his son's health insurance coverage and the status of his earlier request for FMLA leave. Id. At the end of the business day on August 16, 2006, Plaintiff's supervisor and the director of human resources called Plaintiff and fired him. Id. at ¶ 12. Plaintiff was suspicious of the timing of his termination, and asked Defendant why he was being fired. Defendant responded that Plaintiff's termination was purely related to his skill set. Id. at ¶ 13. At the time of his termination, Plaintiff had not yet worked for I-CAR for one year.

Defendant now moves to dismiss Count I of the Complaint, which alleges that Defendant violated the FMLA by discharging Plaintiff after he requested leave. Defendant argues that because Plaintiff had not worked twelve months before requesting leave, he was not an "eligible employee" within the meaning of 29 U.S.C. § 2617(a)(1) and therefore not protected by the FMLA provision under which he brings his claim.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

On a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, the district court must accept all well-pleaded factual allegations as true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). The purpose of a 12(b)(6) motion is to decide the adequacy of the complaint, not to determine the merits of the case. Gibson v. City of Chicago, 910 F.2d 1510, 1520 (7th Cir. 1990) (citation omitted). A complaint should not be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) unless it fails it provide fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests or it is apparent from the face of the complaint that under no plausible facts may relief be granted. St. John's United Church of Christ v. City of Chicago, 502 F.3d 616, 625. All reasonable inferences are to be drawn in favor of the plaintiff. Gastineau v. Fleet Mortg. Corp., 137 F.3d 490, 493 (7th Cir. 1998) (citation omitted).

ANALYSIS

The FMLA provides that "an eligible employee shall be entitled to a total of 12 workweeks of leave during any 12-month period" for the birth or adoption of a child; to care for a child, spouse, or parent with a serious health condition; or because of a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the functions of the employee's position. 29 U.S.C. § 2612(a)(1) (emphasis added). "Eligible employee" is defined in the statute as "an employee who has been employed . . . for at least 12 months by the employer" and who has "at least 1,250 hours of service with such employer during the previous 12-month period." 29 U.S.C. § 2611(2)(A). The FMLA makes it "unlawful for any employer to interfere with, restrain, or deny the exercise of or the attempt to exercise, any right provided under" the FMLA. 29 U.S.C. § 2615(a)(1). The Act also prohibits an employer from discriminating against an employee for exercising or attempting to exercise rights provided by the statute. 29 U.S.C. § 2615(a)(2). Plaintiff did not specify in his complaint under which theory of recovery he brings his FMLA claim.

It is undisputed that Plaintiff, at the time of his termination and FMLA leave request, had not yet worked for at least twelve months for I-CAR. Defendant argues that because of this fact, Plaintiff is not an "eligible employee" and therefore cannot state a claim for relief under the FMLA, and Count I of his complaint should be dismissed. Plaintiff argues that Defendants misstate the issue. Plaintiff contends that at the time of his anticipated leave, he would have been an "eligible employee" because by November 2006, he would have been employed by ICAR for at least twelve months.

The issue, then, is whether an employee is barred from proceeding with an FMLA claim if he or she has been employed for less than twelve months but requests leave to begin more than a year after employment commenced. It is a matter of first impression in this circuit; the Court is not aware of any cases in the Seventh ...


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