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Chester Plaxico v. County of Cook

October 12, 2011

CHESTER PLAXICO, PLAINTIFF,
v.
COUNTY OF COOK, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Samuel Der-yeghiayan, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter is before the court on the parties' cross motions for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment is denied and Defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Chester Plaxico (Plaxico) alleges that he began working for the Cook County Sheriff's Department (Sheriff's Department) in May of 1986 and that in May of 2002, he became a Superintendent. Plaxico further alleges that in November 2005, he applied for intermittent leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 29 U.S.C. § 2601, et seq., indicating that he needed the leave to address issues relating to his son's oppositional defiant disorder, conduct disorder, disruptive behavior, depression, and symptoms of bipolar disorder. Plaxico's FMLA request was allegedly approved and effective as of December 21, 2005. Plaxico and his wife, who is also an employee of the Sheriff's Department, allegedly received a combined total of twelve weeks of intermittent leave for 2006. According to Plaxico, he properly reapplied for intermittent leave in 2007 and 2008, and his requests were granted each time.

Plaxico alleges that Defendant Gilberto Romero, Jr. (Romero), who was the Assistant Executive Director of the Department of Corrections, and Defendant Salvador Godinez (Godinez), who is currently the Executive Director of the Department of Corrections, "subjected [Plaxico] to unwarranted discipline . . . in retaliation for [] exercising his rights under the FMLA." (Compl. Par. 21). Plaxico also claims that, with the knowledge, consent, and approval of Romero and Defendant Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart (Dart), Godinez demoted Plaxico to the position of Chief on January 14, 2008, due to Plaxico taking intermittent FMLA leave.

According to Plaxico, Godinez has allegedly stated, at some unspecified time, that Plaxico was a "valued employee" and that Plaxico's demotions resulted from Plaxico's "personal 'issues,' which required [Plaxico] to take intermittent leave."

(Compl. Par 26). Godinez also allegedly told Plaxico that Plaxico could discuss being promoted again once Plaxico "got his 'family situation' resolved." (Compl. Par. 27). Plaxico alleges that, in spite of being on intermittent FMLA leave, he has worked 45-60 hours per week, and that his requests to substitute compensatory time for FMLA leave have been denied. In addition, Plaxico claims that he reapplied for intermittent FMLA leave in 2009, and that Defendants approved his leave, but specifically limited Plaxico to five days of intermittent leave per month, which does not satisfy the needs of his son.

Plaxico includes in his complaint FMLA interference claims brought against Defendant County of Cook (County), Dart, in his official and individual capacity, Godinez, in his individual capacity, Romero, in his individual capacity, and Defendant Rosemarie Nolan (Nolan), in her individual capacity (Count I). Plaxico also includes in his complaint FMLA retaliation claims brought against the County, Dart, in his official and individual capacity, Godinez, in his individual capacity, Romero, in his individual capacity, and Nolan, in her individual capacity (Count II). The County and Individual Defendants previously moved to dismiss Plaxico's claims. On August 11, 2010, the court granted the County's motion to dismiss the claims brought against the County, but the County remains in the instant action as an indemnitor to Dart in the event that Dart is found to be liable in his official capacity.

The court also denied Individual Defendants' motion to dismiss. The parties have now filed cross-motions for summary judgment.

LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate when the record, viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, reveals that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Smith v. Hope School, 560 F.3d 694, 699 (7th Cir. 2009). A "genuine issue" in the context of a motion for summary judgment is not simply a "metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). Rather, a genuine issue of material fact exists when "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Insolia v. Philip Morris, Inc., 216 F.3d 596, 599 (7th Cir. 2000). In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court must consider the record as a whole, in a light most favorable to the non-moving party, and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255; Bay v. Cassens Transport Co., 212 F.3d 969, 972 (7th Cir. 2000). When there are cross motions for summary judgment, the court should "construe the evidence and all reasonable inferences in favor of the party against whom the motion under consideration is made." Premcor USA, Inc. v. American Home Assurance Co., 400 F.3d 523, 526-27 (7th Cir. 2005).

DISCUSSION

Defendants move for summary judgment on the FMLA interference and FMLA retaliation claims. Plaxico moves for summary judgment as to liability on the FMLA interference and FMLA retaliation claims and argues that damages should be resolved at trial. The FMLA provides that an eligible employee working for a covered employer is entitled to take up to twelve work weeks of unpaid leave, either on an intermittent basis or all at once within a twelve-month period, in order to attend to issues such as taking care of someone in the employee's immediate family. 29 U.S.C. § 2612(a)-(b). In addition to requirements for providing leave, the FMLA provides that it is "unlawful for any employer to interfere with, restrain, or deny the exercise of or the attempt to exercise, any right provided" in the FMLA. 29 U.S.C. § 2615(a)(1). Also, if employees exercise their rights under the FMLA, an employer is prohibited from retaliating against the employee because of the exercise of his FMLA rights. 29 U.S.C. § 2615(a).

I. Interference Claims (Count I)

Plaxico contends that Defendants interfered with his FMLA rights by actions such as allegedly subjecting him to arbitrary transfers, disciplining and demoting him, placing conditions on his leave, creating a hostile environment, and failing to reinstate him to the Superintendent position. For a FMLA interference claim, a plaintiff must establish that: "(1) he was eligible for the FMLA's protections, (2) his employer was covered by the FMLA, (3) he was entitled to leave under the FMLA, (4) he provided sufficient notice of his intent to take leave, and (5) his employer denied him FMLA benefits to which he was entitled." Burnett v. LFW, Inc., 472 F.3d 471, 477 (7th Cir. 2006). Defendants argue that Plaxico has not pointed to sufficient evidence to show that he was denied FMLA benefits to which he was entitled.

A. Entitlement to Leave

Defendants contend that the undisputed evidence shows that a significant portion of the time that Plaxico took for FMLA leave was spent addressing non-medical family issues that were not covered by the scope of the certification for his FMLA leave. An employer can require an employee who seeks to take FMLA leave "to obtain a medical certification from a health care provider that sets forth" information such as the medical facts for the leave. 29 C.F.R. § 825.306(a); see also Vail v. Raybestos Products Co., 533 F.3d 904, 909 (7th Cir. 2008)(stating that "an employer can defeat an interference claim by showing, among other things, that the employee did not take leave 'for the intended purpose'")(quoting Crouch v. Whirlpool Corp., 447 F.3d 984, 986 (7th Cir. 2006)). Defendants have pointed to evidence showing that Plaxico used FMLA leave for purposes not covered in his FMLA certification. The FMLA certification process is in place to ensure that employees are taking leave for protected reasons. If Plaxico wanted to try and expand his certification for additional family issues, it was incumbent on Plaxico to try and get the type of leave certified as medically necessary. The FMLA certification did not provide Plaxico with carte blanche to take leave for any reason. Plaxico brought this case claiming that ...


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