United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Rock Island Division
Plaintiff John Freeburg filed this suit against his former employer, Defendant Deere & Company, also known as John Deere Company, ("Deere"), for alleged violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA") and for state law claims of promissory estoppel and breach of contract. Before the Court are Deere's Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 22, and Freeburg's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, ECF No. 24. For the reasons set forth below, both motions are DENIED. All requests for oral argument are also DENIED.
Deere hired Freeburg on October 13, 2003. On January 5, 2009, Freeburg's physician, Dr. John Lanciloti, provided a Certification of Health Care Provider to enable Freeburg to take FMLA leave. The Certification states that Freeburg suffers from chronic fatigue syndrome and insomnia, which are categorized on the Certification as chronic serious health conditions. Mem. in Supp. Mot. Summ. J. Ex. G, ECF No. 23-7. In answer to the question, "Will it be necessary for the employee to take work only intermittently...? If yes, give the probable duration:" the Certification states, "Pt desires to continue with present employment; may a [sic] time depending on diagnosis require medical treatment; diagnostic testing; office visits; unknown[.]" Id. at 1. In response to the directive, "If the condition is a chronic condition... state whether the patient is presently incapacitated and the likely duration and frequency of episodes of incapacity:" the Certification states, "Pt is not incapacitated-he is willing to work and function if any flare ups of chronic condition arises he will be seen at Dr. office visit and treated as needed[.]" Id. In answer to the question, "[i]f medical leave is required for the employee's absence from work because of the employee's own condition (including absences due to pregnancy or a chronic condition), is the employee unable to perform work of any kind?" the Certification states, "Once again the pt is willing and desires to work; if at any future time unusual symptoms arise he will be medically evaluated." Plaintiff requested FMLA leave from Deere to begin on January 6, 2009. Deere granted intermittent FMLA leave to Freeburg.
The parties agree that "[i]t was Deere's policy that when an employee took FMLA leave for a serious health condition which caused the employee to use FMLA leave on an intermittent basis, the employee must present a doctor's note covering all the days of the absence when the employee returns to work." Mem. in Resp. Mot. Summ. J. 7, ECF No. 27; Pl.'s Mem. in Supp. Mot. Partial Summ. J. 3-4, ECF No. 25; Def.'s Resp. Mot. Partial Summ. J. 2, ECF No. 37. The parties dispute whether Freeburg was aware of this policy. Reply to Resp. Mot. Partial Summ. J. 3, ECF No. 38. As of January 19, 2012, Deere's website stated: "To apply for FMLA you must contact Disability Services and have the required Department of Labor and Health Care Certification form completed by your doctor and returned to Disability Services. FMLA approval is based on the employee meeting eligibility and qualifying condition requirements. FMLA is an unpaid benefit." Mem. in Supp. Mot. Partial Summ. J. Ex. G, ECF No. 34.
As a condition of employment, Deere employees are required to conduct themselves "with reasonable and proper regard for the welfare and rights of other employees and the Company's interests." Mem. in Supp. Mot. Summ. J. Ex. D, ECF No. 23-4. To that end, Deere provides written Rules of Conduct to its employees, which consists of a non-exclusive list of "some representative examples of unacceptable conduct." Id. The thirteenth example of "unacceptable conduct" is "[b]eing absent or late for work without reasonable cause." Id. As a member of the United Auto Workers ("UAW"), Freeburg was also responsible for following the terms of the agreement between UAW and Deere ("Agreement"). Article 14, section 13 of the Agreement provides that Deere may terminate an employee who "remain[s] away from work for three (3) consecutive working days without a satisfactory reason." Id. Ex. C, ECF No. 23-3.
On January 20, 2009, Gerald Roman, the Industrial Relations Representative for Deere, sent Freeburg a three-day quit letter informing him that his employment had been suspended because he had been absent for three consecutive work days without a satisfactory reason. Id. Ex. I, ECF No. 23-9. When Freeburg returned to work on January 22, 2009, he provided a doctor's note explaining that he had been under a physician's care from January 14 to January 22, 2009, and certifying that he could return to work with a limitation to light duty for four weeks. Id. Ex. J, ECF No. 23-10. Freeburg provided three additional doctor's notes, each titled "Certificate to Return to Work/School, " spanning January 23 through March 3, 2009-with a notation on February 17 that Freeburg could "[r]eturn to regular duty work"-and March 19 through April 6, 2009. Id. Exs. K & L, ECF No. 23-11 & 23-12. On April 21, 2009, Freeburg was sent a second three-day quit letter. Id. Ex. M, ECF No. 23-13. When Freeburg returned to work, he provided another doctor's note covering March 18 through April 22, 2009, and limiting "work day to 8 hours for 2 weeks then may increase by 1 hr every 2 weeks up to 12 hrs per day." Id. Ex. N, ECF No. 23-14.
On May 4, 2009, Roman told Freeburg that he had 120 FMLA hours remaining. May 5, 2009, is the last day Freeburg reported to work. Neither party has provided a complete record of the days Freeburg was absent from work between January 6 and May 5, 2009; an Employee Absence Inquiry provided by Deere shows Freeburg was on a leave of absence due to FMLA for April 20-24, 27-30, and May 1, that he was tardy on May 4, and that he left early on May 5. Id. Ex. O, ECF No. 23-15. On May 7, 2009, a work force planning coordinator for Deere, Diane Hoffman, realized that Freeburg's FMLA hours had been miscalculated, and that as of May 4, 2009, Freeburg only had 11 FMLA hours remaining. After learning of the miscalculation, Roman attempted to call Freeburg on May 8 but was unable to reach him. Freeburg received a telephone message from Roman on May 13, 2009, alerting him that he had no remaining FMLA leave available. On May 15, 2009, Roman sent Freeburg a third three-day quit letter. Id. Ex. P, ECF No. 23-16. Freeburg never provided a doctor's note covering May 6-8 or May 11-12, 2009. Freeburg called Deere's security office per Deere policy to advise them that he was too ill to work and that he was taking an FMLA day on May 6-8, and May 11-12. Roman sent Freeburg a letter on May 22, 2009, informing him that his "employment relationship at John Deere has been terminated effective 22 May 2009." On June 22, 2009, a Reinstatement Conference was held, and Freeburg's employment was terminated effective as of that date. Id. Ex. W, ECF No. 23-23. Freeburg was informed that he was terminated because "he had not provided the Company with a satisfactory reason for his absences." Id. Ex. W. at 2. The parties agree that the relevant absences are May 6, 7, 8, 11, and 12, 2009.
Freeburg alleges four causes of action related to the termination of his employment. Specifically, he claims Deere interfered with his FMLA leave when it impermissibly required verifying notes from his doctor. Second, he claims that his termination was retaliation for exercising his rights under the FMLA. Third, he alleges that his reliance on Deere's statement that he was entitled to FMLA leave gives rise to promissory estoppel claim. Freeburg's fourth claim is for breach of contract.
Summary judgment is appropriate when "the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). On a motion for summary judgment, the Court will construe all facts and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. See Srail v. Vill. of Lisle, Ill. , 588 F.3d 940, 948 (7th Cir. 2009). Summary judgment is the "put up or shut up moment in a lawsuit, when a party must show what evidence it has that would convince a trier of fact to accept its version of events." Johnson v. Cambridge Indus., Inc. , 325 F.3d 892, 901 (7th Cir. 2003) (internal quotation marks omitted). A court should grant summary judgment only "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). At the summary judgment stage, the judge's function is not to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial. Patel v. Allstate Ins. Co. , 105 F.3d 365, 370 (7th Cir. 1997). There can be no genuine issue as to any material fact when a party "fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett , 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).
I. Deere's Motion for Summary Judgment
Deere argues that all of Freeburg's claims "are based on his alleged entitlement to FMLA leave, " and because he was not, in fact, entitled to additional FMLA leave after he used up his hours, all of his claims fail. Mem. in Supp. Mot. Summ. J. 7. Even if he were entitled to additional leave, Deere argues that Freeburg's failure to comply with Deere's "usual and customary notice and procedural requirements for requesting leave" justified Deere in denying him FMLA-protected leave. Id. Therefore, according to Deere, Freeburg's termination was "unrelated to his FMLA leave, " and was simply the consequence of his unexcused absences. Id. Those are the only arguments advanced by Deere, even though the memorandum sets forth the legal framework for Freeburg's two FMLA claims (interference and retaliation)-the promissory estoppel and breach of contract claims are not specifically argued. The Court limits its analysis to the issues raised and argued by the parties. See United States v. Holm , 326 F.3d 872, 877 (7th Cir. 2003) ("[P]erfunctory and undeveloped arguments, and arguments that are unsupported by pertinent authority, are waived. It is not the obligation of this court to research and construct the legal arguments open to parties, especially when they are represented by counsel." (citations omitted)).
The FMLA entitles an eligible employee suffering from a serious health condition that renders him unable to perform the functions of his position to twelve workweeks of leave during each twelve-month period. 29 U.S.C. § 2612(a)(1)(D). In addition to providing for leave time, the FMLA prohibits employers from interfering with or discriminating against an employee who attempts to exercise his rights under the FMLA. 29 U.S.C. § 2615(a)(1)-(2). To prevail on his interference claim, Freeburg must prove that: (1) he was eligible for FMLA protection; (2) Deere was covered by the FMLA; (3) Freeburg was entitled to FMLA leave; (4) he provided ...