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Vaughn v. Illinois Department of Human Services

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

March 23, 2018

JULIA VAUGHN Plaintiff,
v.
ILLINOIS DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM and ORDER

          HERNDON, District Judge:

         I. Introduction

         Now before the Court is defendant's Illinois Department of Human Services (hereinafter “DHS” or “defendant”) motion for summary judgment (Doc. 51), to which plaintiff filed a response (Docs. 59), and defendant replied (Doc. 62). For the reasons explained below, the Court grants in part and denies in part defendant's motion for summary judgment (Doc. 51).

         II. Background

         Plaintiff Julie Vaughn was employed by DHS at Murray Developmental Center as a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN II) from September 19, 2011, until her discharge on May 27, 2015 (Doc. 52-1, pg. 9). Murray Developmental Center (hereinafter “Murray”) is operated by Illinois Department of Human Services and provides medical and behavioral services to developmentally disabled individuals.

         Murray's employees are subject to the DHS Employee Handbook section regarding time and attendance. DHS had an attendance policy which defined unauthorized absences as those for which the time off was not approved (Doc. 52-2, pg. 45). Employee requests for leaves of absence needed to be supported with a written request to the employee's supervisor, unless an emergency condition prevented a timely request (Doc. 59-3). An employee who missed work due to a medical illness, and received an unexcused absence, could have the absence later treated as excused by providing the proper medical certification to his or her supervisor. In an emergency, DHS asserts that their affirmative attendance policy allows an employee to call in that day and later submit a formal request for time off after returning to work.

         When employing the “call-in” notification policy, an employee who planned to miss work was required to call in to notify their supervisor at least one hour before their shift started (Doc. 52-2, pg. 46). According to DHS, failure to comply with these procedures forced employees to accumulate unexcused absences, ultimately leading to “progressive disciplinary action”, depending on the number of unexcused absences (Doc. 52-2, pg. 47).

         On January 27, 2015, plaintiff was injured by a patient at Murray. Initially, plaintiff's physician recommended that she be placed on light-duty work at Murray until February 6, 2015. However, on February 6, 2015, plaintiff's physician prohibited her from work for two weeks - from February 6, 2015 to February 24, 2015- as a result of the injury. Plaintiff later submitted a Physician Statement Authorization for Disability Leave and Return to Work (CMS-95) indicating her need to be off work. Her medical leave was extended by DHS until March 9, 2015. Plaintiff later returned to her physician, and he recommended that plaintiff's medical leave be extended to March 13, 2015. As a result, DHS extended plaintiff's medical leave.

         On March 18, 2015, plaintiff submitted a CMS-95 to Murray, which indicated she should be off work from March 13, 2015 to an unknown date. Prior to that date, DHS alleges that her March 16, 2015 and March 17, 2015 absences were unexcused. In late March 2015, plaintiff received notice by mail that Murray Developmental Center had instituted disciplinary proceedings against her as a result of her absences from work on March 16, 2015, and March 17, 2015. Plaintiff's pre-disciplinary hearing was scheduled for March 31, 2015. However, plaintiff did not attend the hearing because she was physically unable to do so.

         On April 2, 2015, despite plaintiff's failure to submit an FMLA certification, Murray Developmental Center sent plaintiff an FMLA designation notice indicating that she had been approved for FMLA starting on February 5, 2015 through an unknown time. Thereafter, on April 21, 2015, Plaintiff obtained a CMS-95 from her physician indicating a need to be off work from March 13, 2015 to April 21, 2015, due to her injury.

         Despite the aforementioned CMS-95 and prior FMLA certification, DHS placed plaintiff on a suspension pending discharge effective April 28, 2015. Thereafter, on May 5, 2015, Murray sent plaintiff another FMLA designation notice indicating she had been approved for FMLA beginning February 5, 2015 through April 27, 2015. The notice informed her that she had used 56 days of FMLA leave. Subsequent to receipt of the designation notice, plaintiff was discharged from Murray Developmental Center effective May 27, 2015.

         Plaintiff was not medically cleared to return to work until September 20, 2016. Following her discharge from Murray Developmental Center, plaintiff began working at Shepard of the Hills, located in Branson, Missouri, in October 2016.

         Prior to returning to work, plaintiff filed the underlying lawsuit on June 9, 2016, alleging that Murray interfered with her rights under the FMLA and also alleging a state law retaliatory discharge claim (Doc. 1). Defendant moved to dismiss the case, asserting that Murray Developmental Center was not an employer and also that plaintiff's state law claim was barred by sovereign immunity (Doc. 11). Thereafter, on August 23, 2016, plaintiff filed an amended complaint asserting one count of FMLA interference against DHS (Doc. 27). Defendant now moves for summary judgment on plaintiff's FMLA interference claim (Doc. 51).

         III. Motion for ...


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