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Segura v. TLC Learning Center

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

January 6, 2015

CYNTHIA SEGURA, Plaintiff,
v.
TLC LEARNING CENTER, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

ROBERT W. GETTLEMAN, District Judge.

On December 17, 2013, plaintiff Cynthia Segura filed a three-count third amended complaint alleging that her former employer, the TLC Learning Center ("TLC"), a private educational institution: (1) interfered with her right to take family medical leave pursuant to the Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq. (Count I); (2) retaliated against her for taking family leave in violation of 29 U.S.C. § 2615(a)(2) (Count II); and (3) violated the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C.§ 12101 et seq., by discriminating against her based on her association with an individual with a disability (Count III). Plaintiff has filed the instant motion for partial summary judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56, contending that no genuine issue of material fact exists and that plaintiff is entitled to judgment as a matter of law as to Counts I and II. Plaintiff is not seeking summary judgment on her ADA claim. For the following reasons, plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment on liability is granted as to Count I and denied as to Count II.

BACKGROUND[1]

Plaintiff began working at defendant TLC's Crest Hill location in June 2008. Patricia Forkan is the Owner and Executive Director of TLC. Plaintiff asserts that on March 27, 2012, her husband was hospitalized for liver cirrhosis and ascites. From March 27, 2012, through April 11, 2012, plaintiff took personal days off from work. On April 11, 2012, plaintiff informed Forkan by email that she would need to take "a family leave of absence" from her position as Kindergarten Teacher/Assistant Director[2] to care for her husband. Forkan replied by email that same day, stating "[o]f course you have to be there for your husband, he needs you now." Forkan stated that she would make plaintiff's "family leave [e]ffective Monday April 15th, " and that plaintiff's insurance would be "in effect for 12 weeks of family leave."

Plaintiff contends that shortly after her family leave began, Forkan told Michelle Massarello, a TLC employee, that she may work in plaintiff's kindergarten classroom in the fall. Forkan arranged with and paid for Massarello to attend a three-day Montessori workshop beginning on April 27, 2012. In April 2012, Massarello and another TLC co-worker were asked to clean out the kindergarten classroom closet containing some of plaintiff's belongings.[3] Massarello's affidavit states that Forkan informed her in April 2012, that she would be teaching the kindergarten class instead of plaintiff because she had attended the Montessori training session.[4] Defendant contends that Massarello teaching the class was contingent on plaintiff not returning from leave.

On May 31, 2012, plaintiff emailed Forkan about returning to work. Plaintiff stated that it was "almost time for [her] to return to work, " but that because of her husband's continued medical needs she was "requesting to have the rest of the summer off." Plaintiff further stated that she hoped Forkan would "give [her] this opportunity" and that she would "take whatever teaching job is available." On June 5, 2012, Forkan responded to plaintiff's May 31 email: "I had to fill the Kindergarten position. I am going to make it a Montessori kindergarten. Michelle went to the Montessori training in Moline so she will be doing it in the fall. I do not know what will happen in the fall right now we are over staffed. Your insurance is being canceled unless you want to pay $500 per month to keep it in effect." Plaintiff responded later that day: "if I came back on [June] 17th what would my position be?" Defendant replied a few minutes later: "There is no position." Defendant TLC's business records show that plaintiff was on "Family Leave" beginning on March 26, 2012, and that she was terminated for an "Unknown Reason" on June 7, 2012.

DISCUSSION

A. Legal Standard

A movant is entitled to summary judgment under Rule 56 when the moving papers and affidavits show that there is no genuine issue of material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Once a moving party has met its burden, the nonmoving party must go beyond the pleadings and set forth specific facts showing there is a genuine issue for trial. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Becker v. Tenenbaum-Hill Assocs., Inc., 914 F.2d 107, 110 (7th Cir. 1990). The court considers the record as a whole and draws all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. See Green v. Carlson, 826 F.2d 647, 650 (7th Cir. 1987); Fisher v. Transco Services-Milwaukee, Inc., 979 F.2d 1239, 1242 (7th Cir. 1992).

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); Stewart v. McGinnis, 5 F.3d 1031, 1033 (7th Cir. 1993). The nonmoving party must, however, "do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). "The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the [nonmoving party's] position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the [nonmoving party]." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252.

B. FMLA

The FMLA entitles an eligible employee to 12 workweeks of leave during any 12-month period for certain qualifying reasons, including the need to care for a spouse suffering from a serious health condition. 29 U.S.C. § 2612(a)(1). Under the FMLA, it is unlawful for an employer to interfere with an employee's attempt to exercise any FMLA rights. 29 U.S.C. § 2615(a)(1). It is also unlawful for an employer to retaliate against an employee who exercises FMLA rights. 29 U.S.C. § 2615(a)(2).

1. Count I - Interference

To prevail on the FMLA interference claim, plaintiff must show that: (1) she was eligible for the FMLA's protections; (2) her employer was covered by the FMLA; (3) she was entitled to leave under the FMLA; (4) she provided sufficient notice of her intent to take leave; and (5) her employer denied her FMLA benefits to which she was entitled. See, e.g., Burnett v. LFW Inc., 472 F.3d 471, 477 (7th Cir. 2006); Daugherty v. Wabash Ctr., Inc., 577 F.3d 747, 750 (7th Cir. 2009). It is undisputed that plaintiff was eligible for FMLA protections. Under the FMLA, an individual is an "eligible employee" if she has been employed for at least 12 months and has performed at least 1, 250 hours of service for the employer during the previous 12-month period. 29 U.S.C. § 2611(2)(A). The parties agree that plaintiff satisfied these requirements at the time she requested leave. The parties also agree that defendant ...


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