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Daugherty v. Wabash Center

August 14, 2009

MICHAEL E. DAUGHERTY, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
WABASH CENTER, INC., AND JEFFREY DARLING, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, Hammond Division. No. 4:06-CV-00128-AS-PRC-Allen Sharp, Judge.

Per curiam.

ARGUED JULY 7, 2009

Before POSNER, KANNE, and SYKES, Circuit Judges.

Michael Daugherty sued Wabash Center, Inc., and its president, Jeffrey Darling, claiming that he was fired in violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 2601-2654. The district court granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment, and Daugherty appeals. Because Daugherty did not show that there was a genuine issue of material fact concerning Wabash's reason for firing him, we affirm.

Background

Because this is an appeal from the grant of summary judgment, we construe all facts and draw all reasonable inferences from the record in favor of Daugherty, the nonmoving party. See Cracco v. Vitran Exp., Inc., 559 F.3d 625, 633 (7th Cir. 2009).

Daugherty began working for Wabash, a not-for-profit agency serving adults and children with developmental disabilities, in May 1999. Between 1999 and 2006, Daugherty compiled an impressive employment record-he was promoted from a maintenance assistant to director and then vice-president of information technology. He always received "very good" or "excellent" performance reviews, and he was given a bonus for his leadership in a particular project. Daugherty was also vice-president and chief information officer of Rest Assured, LLC, a joint venture between Wabash and ResCare, Inc., that capitalized on Daugherty's idea to monitor patients via webcam.

Daugherty's work-related troubles began in the spring of 2006. He had gotten involved in "email wars" with several Wabash employees, and the Rest Assured staff complained about his management approach. On June 19, Darling and Steve McAninch, Wabash's Vice-President of Finance (and Daugherty's direct supervisor), gave Daugherty a written reprimand for sending abusive emails and for his management style. Daugherty acknowledged his professional shortcomings, and, although he thought the written reprimand was unwarranted, he agreed with the substance of the complaints and even drafted his own corrective action plan. Darling also told Daugherty that he was revoking permission for Daugherty's planned month-long vacation, scheduled to begin that month, because of pressing company business.

Before the corrective action plan was discussed, Daugherty left the June 19 meeting to visit his doctor. He returned to Wabash to request leave under the FMLA, having a note from his doctor stating: "off work 2 weeks due to medical illness." Daugherty's application for FMLA leave does not mention a health condition, but instead describes personnel conflicts within the company, concluding: "I have been placed under a tremendous amount of stress with [Rest Assured] & [Wabash Center]. I have requested from Jeff [Darling] & Steve [McAninch] reorganization that would alleviate this stress. It was declined. My much needed vacation has been cancelled by Jeff Darling on 6-16-06." The afternoon of June 19 he requested and received two weeks off.

During his absence, Wabash uncovered troubling information about Daugherty's work performance. On June 18, Daugherty had used Wabash's credit card without authorization to order a generator that was delivered to his home. After investigating, Wabash discovered at least five unauthorized purchases, including one other that was shipped to "Daugherty's Computers" at Daugherty's home address. McAninch had previously warned Daugherty that he was required to seek authorization before making purchases. Daugherty later acknowledged his violations of company purchasing protocol, but insists that these purchases were above-board because he never kept the items for himself, and had them shipped to his home only because Wabash couldn't easily accommodate some shipments.

Then on June 30, McAninch discovered that his computer was missing emails that he had sent to and received from Daugherty. That same day, two Wabash servers crashed. Outside experts brought in to restore the servers (because of Daugherty's absence) observed that Daugherty had failed to routinely back up the servers-one of his key responsibilities. Suspecting that Daugherty was remotely accessing (and potentially sabotaging) Wabash's network, the company asked these outside consultants to analyze Wabash's IT security and practices. The consultants' report in mid-July pointed out deficiencies in Wabash's IT infrastructure, recommending numerous changes.

Because of the purchasing irregularities, Wabash management presented a new corrective action plan to Daugherty on July 3, the day he was expected back at work. At the end of the meeting, Daugherty refused to sign the plan: he protested that signing would qualify as "work" and he was not supposed to work during medical leave. Instead he presented a new order from his doctor for continued medical leave, which Wabash granted. McAninch asked that Daugherty refrain from accessing Wabash's network while he was on leave, and asked Daugherty to turn over his keys and any passwords. Daugherty responded: "I'd rather not." Wabash requested the passwords and keys again-still unsuccessfully-on July 19 and August 3.

On July 31, a forensic expert analyzed Daugherty's computer and discovered that more than 5,000 files had been deleted on June 19-the day Daugherty was first disciplined and the day he invoked FMLA leave. On August 9, citing Daugherty's authoritarian management style, poor IT practices, failure to turn over keys, missing files, and violations of the purchasing protocols, Wabash terminated Daugherty's employment.

Daugherty filed suit in September 2006, claiming that Wabash and Darling fired him in violation of the FMLA. The district court granted the defendants' motion ...


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