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Breneisen v. Motorola

March 23, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Magistrate Judge P. Michael Mahoney


I. Introduction

James Breneisen ("James") and Anna Lineweaver Sweeney ("Anna") are two of six original plaintiffs in this lawsuit. Both alleged in the complaint that Defendants violated their rights under the Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"). Defendants now have a motion to dismiss all claims brought by James pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). Defendants also have a motion to dismiss all claims brought by Anna pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). Anna has a motion to convert Defendants' settlement tender into a judgment. The court will first address the motion regarding James's claims. The court will then address the motions regarding Anna's claims.

II. Defendants' Motion to Dismiss All Claims Brought by James Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1)

James was employed at various Motorola facilities between 1994 and 2003. In February 2000, he was given the title of Process Analyst. His duties at that time included receiving merchandise for Motorola's Factory Express Program, tracking down outgoing packages, filing claims with UPS and Federal Express, devising shipping solutions, developing packaging materials, and formulating process improvement for the assembly line.

James took FMLA leave in January 2001. When he returned on April 9, 2001, he was reassigned to the keypad line-a production line position where James had to lift heavy boxes and manually press buttons on phone keypads to ensure that they worked properly. He considered the reassignment a demotion.

On April 20, 2001, James again took medical leave. It appears that a portion of this leave, approximately seven hours, was also covered by the FMLA. He returned to the keypad line on September 4, 2001. About three weeks later, he accepted a position as Contracts Coordinator in the Contract Department. James worked in that position until February 5, 2002, when he took another medical leave. He never returned to work, and he was officially terminated on June 27, 2003.

James's complaint alleges a number of FMLA violations, including failure to reinstate, discrimination, and retaliation. After the Seventh Circuit's opinion, Breneisen et al. v. Motorola, Inc. et al., 512 F.3d 972 (7th Cir. 2008), James has three remaining potential causes of action. The first is that Motorola failed to reinstate James to the position of Process Analyst or an equivalent position when he returned to work on April 9, 2001. The second is that Motorola discriminated and retaliated against James by transferring him to the keypad line when he returned to work on April 9, 2001. In regard to this cause of action, the Seventh Circuit found that "[i]f the transfer was a demotion or resulted in fewer promotional opportunities, it would qualify as an adverse employment action and a materially adverse action." Id. at 979. The third remaining potential cause of action is that Motorola discriminated and retaliated against James by way of his supervisor's, Patterson's, alleged harassment while he worked in the Contracts Department from late September until he left on medical leave on February 5, 2002.

On June 22, 2009, this court granted in part Motorola's motion in limine to bar evidence of James's medical condition. On October 27, 2009, this court granted in part James's motion to reconsider the June 22 ruling. The court limited damages available to James to periods when James could perform the functions of his previous position or one comparable, or where there still existed a balance on his FMLA-leave allotment. The court found that if James is physically unable to perform the functions of either his previous job or an equivalent job, then reinstatement is not an appropriate remedy and front pay is unavailable as damages. The court found that medical evidence related to proving that Motorola's discriminatory or retaliatory conduct after September 4, 2001 exacerbated James's medical condition such that James was unable to perform the duties of his previous job, or an equivalent job, was irrelevant to James's claims.

Pending before the court is Motorola's motion to dismiss all of James's claims. Motorola argues that the court's ruling limits James's damages to the following: the difference, if any, between the salary and benefits paid to [James] when he was reinstated to the keypad position in April 2001, and what he would have been paid of the eight days he worked in April 2001 plus the period of September 2001 through his last day worked of February 2001, had he been reinstated to the position of process analyst. (Motorola's Mot. 2.) Because James received the same pay and benefits while he worked on the keypad line as he did when he was a Process Analyst, and because he received a raise when he moved to the Contracts Department, Motorola argues that James's damages are zero. According to Motorola, this renders James's claims moot and the court should dismiss them for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

Motorola is incorrect. There are still potential damages in this case. As pointed out by the Seventh Circuit, 512 F.3d at 979, James may have been denied promotion opportunities because he was moved to the keypad line upon his return from FMLA leave. If true, he would be entitled to the difference between what he would have made at a promoted position, including benefits, and what he made on the keypad line or in the Contracts Department.

Although James still has claims left, James admits in his response brief that the June 22 and October 27 rulings limit "the vast majority of the monetary legal damages and equitable front pay damages that James seeks to recover from Motorola under the FMLA." (James's Resp. 2.) At a hearing on March 9, 2010, James's counsel elaborated, stating that the court's rulings had eliminated any chance of proving damages for his claim that Patterson discriminated or retaliated against him while he worked in the Contracts Department. These damages were James's primary damages in this case.

Any trial would involve substantial transactional costs. Expert forensic information technology witnesses would testify. If James's damages are minor, the trial would not be cost effective for the plaintiff.

James wants to appeal the court's rulings that limited his damages. However, those rulings did not constitute final, appealable decisions under 28 U.S.C. ยง 1291 because James still has claims for which he can prove damages. James indicates that he will waive all his remaining claims for which he may be entitled to relief except for his claim that Defendants discriminated or retaliated against him by way of Patterson's conduct, and that the discriminatory or retaliatory conduct exacerbated his medical condition such that he is unable to work. If the court accepts James's ...

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