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Righi v. SMC Corporation of America

February 27, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joe Billy Mcdade United States District Judge


Before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, filed on August 29, 2008 (Doc. 24). Plaintiff filed a response in opposition on October 15, 2008 (Doc. 28), and Defendants replied on October 29, 2008 (Doc. 29). For the reasons stated below, Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.


Plaintiff, Robert Righi, brought this suit under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA), 29 U.S.C. § 2601, et seq. Plaintiff alleges that his former employer, SMC, and direct supervisor, Louis King, ("Defendants") interfered with his right to take FMLA-qualifying leave for the purpose of attending to his mother's medical needs. Plaintiff's Complaint also appears to allege that Defendants discriminated or retaliated against him by terminating his employment after he missed work to care for his mother.

SMC hired Plaintiff in 2004 as a sales representative and assigned him to the company's Aurora, Illinois office. Although Plaintiff attended biweekly sales representative meetings at the Aurora office, he worked primarily out of his home in Henry, Illinois. Plaintiff reported to sales manager Louis King, and he interacted with King on a daily basis. (Defs.' SUMF ¶ 9). SMC generally contacted Plaintiff on his company-issued cell phone or on his home phone. Occasionally, Plaintiff would use the cell phone of Chuck Purtscher, his roommate and partner, to call or receive calls from King. (Defs.' SUMF ¶ 10). If Plaintiff wanted to contact King, he would call King's cell phone or King's Aurora office number, or Plaintiff would email King. (Defs.' SUMF ¶ 11). In his capacity as an SMC sales representative, Plaintiff was expected to work forty or fifty hours per week. (Defs.' SUMF ¶ 12).*fn1

During Plaintiff's employment, SMC had a policy in place regarding vacation and paid time-off which required employees to notify SMC of their requested days off and to obtain approval. In addition, SMC had a written attendance policy, pursuant to which "[f]ailure to report for work for two (2) consecutive days without notifying your supervisor" was a ground for immediate termination. (Robert Righi Dep. Ex. 7, p. 3 ¶ 10).*fn2 Plaintiff was aware of these policies. (Defs.' SUMF ¶ 15).

Generally, if Plaintiff needed time off for any reason, he would contact King via phone or email and inform King that he expected to miss work. Prior to July 2006, Plaintiff had never taken more than a day or two off for a personal illness or to care for his mother, Ann Righi, who resided with Plaintiff during his SMC employment. Ann experienced medical problems related to diabetes. (Defs.' SUMF ¶ 13; Ptf.'s Add. UMF ¶¶ 2-3).

In July 2006, SMC held a training session for its sales representatives in Indianapolis. Plaintiff was scheduled to attend the training in Indianapolis from July 9 to July 14, 2006 and from July 16 to July 21, 2006. In the early morning of July 11, 2006, while Plaintiff was in Indianapolis, Plaintiff's sister called to inform him that his mother had experienced a medical problem related to an insulin overdose. In response to this news, Plaintiff left the training session and drove home to Henry, Illinois to attend to his mother's well-being.*fn3 (Defs.' SUMF ¶ 20).

By the time Plaintiff arrived back at home on the morning of July 11, 2006, his mother's condition had stabilized. (Defs.' SUMF ¶ 21).

Meanwhile, King -- apparently unaware that Plaintiff had left the training session -- called Plaintiff's company-issued cell phone three times on July 11, 2006 to discuss business matters. (Defs.' SUMF ¶¶ 23-24). After receiving no response, King called Plaintiff again at 6:45 a.m. on July 12, 2006 and could not reach him. (Defs.' SUMF ¶ 25). At 9:05 a.m. on July 12, 2006, Plaintiff sent separate emails to King and to another SMC employee, notifying them that he had left Indianapolis because of his mother's illness. (Defs.' SUMF ¶¶ 26-27).*fn4 Plaintiff's email to King read as follows:

Louie, Sorry, I did not get back with you before now I was at the hospital emergency room with my Mother. I have had to leave the training class due to this emergency. I have informed them in Indy of the situation. I talked to Kinta [sic] Joki and he told me not to worry about the training class and would reschedule. With out [sic] my care in the evenings my Mother took an incorrect dosage of insulin and went into a coma..I am her primary care provider. Of course my primary goal is the well being of my family as I am sure it is yours as well. This is why I returned from Indy.

I need the next couple days off to make arrangements in an intermediate care facility for my Mother. This should solve alot of the problems I have been having. I do have the vacation time, or I could apply for the family care act, which I do not want to do at this time.

I hope you can understand my situation and approve this emergency time off. I will be very busy the next couple of days to get things arranged so I might be slow getting back to you.

My job is very important to me and I know this has caused problems in the past. I am trying to resolve this so my job performance ...

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