The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael P. McCUSKEY Chief U.S. District Judge
E-FILED Monday, 25 July, 2011 11:51:02 AM Clerk, U.S. District Court, ILCD
This case is before the Court for ruling on the Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (#29) filed by the Plaintiff, Rodney Harrell, and a cross motion for Summary Judgment (#35) filed by the Defendant, Jacobs Field Services North America, Inc. (Jacobs). This Court has carefully reviewed the parties' arguments and exhibits. Following this careful and thorough review, the Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (#29) is DENIED and the Defendant's cross motion for Summary Judgment (#35) is DENIED.
Similar to the start of a maze, the beginning of this story is straightforward and uncontested. The Defendant is the Field Service Division of a large corporate entity known as Jacobs Engineering. The Field Service Division is further broken down into Regions. Relevant to this case is Jacobs' Midwest Field Service Region site in Decatur, Illinois, which consisted of five facilities, the BioProducts Plant, the Glycol Plant, the Corn Sweetners Plant, the Archer-Daniels Midland East Plant, and the fabrication shop. Each of the five facilities were run by superintendents who were supervised by the assistant site manager, Charles Anderson (Anderson), and the site manager, Jerry Gillespey (Gillespey). Additionally, if any of the superintendents had a human resource question they directed it to the office manager, Robert Beck (Beck) who passed it on to Wanda Haydel (Haydel) at Defendant's corporate benefits department located in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
The Plaintiff began working as a laborer at the fabrication shop on
August 13, 2007. At the time, the superintendent of the fabrication
shop was Robert Blythe (Blythe). The Plaintiff worked at the
fabrication shop without incident until August 11, 2008, when the
Plaintiff's allergies began acting up. The Plaintiff called in sick
from August 11 to August 14. The Plaintiff also failed to show up for
work or call and report his absence the following week.*fn2
However, sometime before August 20, the Plaintiff called
Blythe to let him know that he scheduled a doctors appointment for
August 21 and that he was requesting Family Medical Leave pursuant to
the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and needed the proper paperwork.
Blythe relayed the Plaintiff's request to Beck who emailed Haydel at
Defendants' corporate benefits department requesting that she mail
FMLA paperwork to the Plaintiff's home.
On August 19, 2008, Plaintiff received the paperwork, which consisted of two forms. The first form, titled "Request for Family or Medical Leave," indicated that Defendant was on notice that the Plaintiff may need to take FMLA leave for a serious health condition and that the requested leave was to start August 18, 2008. The form further stated that the Plaintiff was required to furnish medical certification of a serious health condition, that the Plaintiff was required to present a fitness-for-duty certificate prior to being restored to employment, and that the Plaintiff was required to furnish Defendant with periodic reports updating the company on the Plaintiff's status and intent to return to work. The second form contained the medical certification of a serious health condition required by the first form. On August 21, 2008, the Plaintiff had his doctor fill out the second form, which stated that the Plaintiff suffered from allergic rhinitis, was incapacitated from August 11, 2008 to August 21, 2008, and was able to return to work on August 25, 2008 without any restrictions.
On August 25, 2008, the Plaintiff returned both forms and the fitness for duty certificate to Beck who mailed them to Haydel. Blythe also granted the Plaintiff paid vacation from August 25th to the 28th. Haydel signed the forms and fitness for duty certificate on August 26th subsequently approving the Plaintiff's FMLA leave.
Harking back to the maze analogy, what occurred between September 2 and October 6 is analogous to entering the middle section of a maze because the truth is lost somewhere in the twists and turns of the Plaintiff's and Defendant's conflicting versions of the facts. Both sides agree that the Plaintiff was supposed to return to work when his vacation ended on September 2, 2008. However, each side offers different reasons for why the Plaintiff failed to return to work. The Plaintiff testified that Haydel specifically told him during an August 22 telephone conversation that he was not allowed to return to work until notified that his FMLA leave was approved.*fn3 Therefore, the reason the Plaintiff offers for why he never returned to work was that the Defendant failed to notify him that his FMLA leave was approved and that he was cleared to return to work. Further, the Plaintiff testified that he stopped in the fabrication shop during the week of August 25, 2008, to ask Blythe whether he was cleared to return to work and Blythe told him he was still waiting to hear from Haydel. The Plaintiff also testified that he stopped in the fabrication shop twice during the week of September 1st to inquire whether he was cleared to return to work. Again, Blythe told him that he hadn't heard anything from Haydel and the Plaintiff responded that he was going to file for unemployment since Defendant was not allowing him to return to work. The Plaintiff filed for unemployment in September of 2008 and started receiving unemployment benefits due to the fact that he was not allowed to return to work following FMLA leave.
The Defendant denies that Haydel or anyone at Defendant told the Plaintiff that he was not allowed to return to work until they notified him that his FMLA paperwork was approved. The Defendant maintains that the Plaintiff's FMLA leave was approved when Haydel signed the FMLA forms on August 26, 2008. Therefore, the Plaintiff was supposed to return to work when his vacation ended on September 2, 2008. Further, the Defendant alleges that the Plaintiff never checked with Blythe or anyone else employed by Defendant during the week of August 25 or September 1 concerning the Plaintiff's FMLA status. Specifically, in his deposition, Blythe denies having any contact with the Plaintiff until October 6, 2008. In addition, Blythe and Beck testified that they had a handful of meetings with Anderson and Gillespey concerning the Plaintiff's absences. Blythe and Beck also testified that they did not receive the mandatory periodic reports updating Jacobs on the Plaintiff's intent to return to work. The Defendant does not deny that the Plaintiff received unemployment benefits from Defendant. However, unemployment was handled by the corporate human resource office in Houston and La Porte, Texas. Therefore, the fabrication shop and the benefit department were unaware that the Plaintiff was receiving unemployment benefits.
Furthering the maze analogy, in October of 2008 the story emerges from the muddled middle and once again becomes clear and straightforward. On October 6, 2008, the Plaintiff called Blythe to request his coveralls and Blythe asked the Plaintiff if that meant he was quitting. The Plaintiff stated that he was not quitting and Blythe told Anderson and Gillespey that the Plaintiff had not quit his job. On November 13, 2008, the Plaintiff received a letter from Haydel advising the Plaintiff that his twelve weeks of FMLA leave ended on November 7, 2008. On December 1, 2008, the Plaintiff responded to Haydel's letter stating that his doctor released him to return to work on August 25, 2008. That same day the Plaintiff returned to the fabrication shop to pick up his belongings. On February 13, 2009, the Defendant removed the Plaintiff from its payroll terminating his employment.
On December 28, 2009, Plaintiff filed a Compliant (#1) against Defendant. Plaintiff alleged that Defendant violated the FMLA for not allowing him to return to work following FMLA leave. Both the Plaintiff and Defendant filed Motions for Summary Judgment. Both Motions are fully briefed and ready for ruling.