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Sampra v. Department of Transportation

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois

June 14, 2017

Sara Sampra, Plaintiff,
Department of Transportation, Defendant.


          Ronald A. Guzmán United States District Judge.

         For the reasons stated below, Defendant's motion for summary judgment [27] is granted. All pending motions are denied as moot. Civil case terminated.


         Plaintiff Sara Sampra sues the Department of Transportation for interfering with her rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (“FMLA”) after she took leave to care for her newborn baby.


         From approximately October 2009 through April 2014, Sampra was employed as an engineer by the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”), an agency within the United States Department of Transportation (“DOT”). (Pl.'s Resp. Def.'s Stmt. Facts, Dkt. # 30, ¶ 1.) Sampra remains employed by the FAA at the time of this suit. FAA engineers who are assigned to field work (“field engineers”) typically do not work in an office; rather, they travel full time to the field, and are assigned to airports across the central portion of the U.S., including places like Minnesota, South Dakota, and Louisiana. (Id. ¶ 2.) The assignments for field engineers can last between one week and one year. (Id.) Sampra originally applied to work as a field engineer given that there were no office work engineering positions open at the time, and she was assigned field work at the time she was first hired to October 2010. (Id. ¶¶ 1, 3.)

         From July 2010 until about January 13, 2014, Jenny Ross was Sampra's immediate supervisor. (Id. ¶ 4.) In October 2010, Ross assigned Sampra to do almost exclusively office work, managing the Technical Support Services Contract (“TSSC”) work releases and providing oversight for the work completed under the TSSC. (Id. ¶¶ 1, 5.) This assignment involved monitoring work that was being performed by TSSC contractors in the field as well as performing work in the office. (Id. ¶ 5.) Ross's supervisor, John Smith, was not aware of the type of work Ross had assigned Sampra to do. (Id.) Though she was assigned projects that largely could be completed in the office, Sampra was still classified as a field engineer, and her job description continued to require up to 100% travel and fieldwork. (Id. ¶ 6.) Sampra contends, however, that there is not technically a position at the FAA entitled “field engineer, ” and that despite Defendant's contention that she was a field engineer, she was assigned to duties for three and half years that required little to no field work. (Id. ¶ 7.)

         Ross attests in an affidavit that Sampra avoided traveling to complete on-site checks of projects, and failed to attend in-person meetings even at O-Hare Airport, which is near the FAA office in Des Plaines. (Ross Decl., Def.'s Ex. 8, Dkt. # 29-2, ¶ 5.)[1]

         From approximately December 23, 2013, through approximately January 3, 2014, Sampra worked from home after her doctor ordered bed rest because of a complication with her pregnancy. (Id. ¶ 9.) Ross approved her temporary request to telework while on bed rest. (Id.) On January 6, 2014, Sampra began FMLA leave in order for care for her newborn baby. (Id. ¶ 10.) Prior to going on FMLA leave, Sampra did not submit a written transition plan and did not make any written request to transition back to work through the use of telework. (Id. ¶ 11.)

         On or about January 13, 2014, while Sampra was on FMLA leave, Ross moved to a new position and Matt Sibert took over as Sampra's direct supervisor. (Id. ¶ 12.) In January 2014, Sibert, who was located in Kansas City and was the Manager of the NAVIDS Construction/Installation Center became the Acting Manager of the Chicago Construction/Installation Center. (Id. ¶ 12.) On January 24, 2014, Sibert reassigned the task of overseeing the TSSC work releases to himself. (Id. ¶ 13.) Sibert oversaw the TSSC work releases in Kansas City and was able to perform the same task in Chicago in about an hour a week. (Id. ¶ 15.)

         On February 7, 2014, Sampra emailed Sibert that she would be returning to work on March 10th. In the same email, she indicated that she “would like to take three months off to take care of [her] newborn but since [she was] not being allowed to work from home [she could not] afford to.” (Id. ¶ 16.) Prior to going on FMLA leave, Sampra had planned on taking eight weeks of leave and then teleworking for four weeks. (Id. ¶ 17.) On her planned return date of March 10, 2014, Sampra would have been on FMLA leave for nine weeks. (Id.) Pursuant to FAA policies, employees are not entitled to telework; an employee must request and be granted supervisory approval for teleworking, and telework is official duty time and is not to be used for any purpose other than official duties. (Id. ¶¶ 19-21.)

         Sibert responded to Sampra's February 7, 2014 email by stating that telework was not authorized for Sampra to care for her baby. (Id. ¶ 18.) On February 18, 2014, Sampra emailed Sibert and told him she would not be caring for her child while on official time (i.e., teleworking). (Id. ¶ 22.) If allowed to telework, Sampra did not plan on working full days, but rather to work “on and off” as she had availability. (Id. ¶ 23.) Sampra's FAA Telework Agreement stated that she was “not permitted to telework for partial days, unless the remainder of the day is accounted for by approved leave or approved duty status.” (Id. ¶ 24.) If given permission to telework, Sampra was required to continue to work the same schedule she had previously worked. (Id.) Field employees are only permitted to telework on an ad hoc basis, meaning that they cannot be scheduled to telework. (Id. ¶ 25.)

         On February 19, 2014, Sibert denied Sampra's request to telework, stating that he had no work to assign Sampra that could be performed while teleworking. (Id. ¶ 26.) Sampra returned to work on March 10, 2014. (Id. ¶ 27.) While Defendant asserts she still held a position as a field engineer, Sampra contends, for the reasons already stated, that she was never assigned to work as a “field engineer” between October 2010 and March 10, 2014. (Id.)

         When Sampra was set to return to work, Sibert believed that overseeing the TSSC work releases was not appropriate work for a field engineer nor was it a full-time job. (Id. ΒΆ 28.) Sibert believed that because Sampra was a field engineer, she should be assigned to complete engineering work in the field, ...

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