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Jones v. Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago

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

March 27, 2018

MONICA JONES, Plaintiff,
v.
METROPOLITAN WATER RECLAMATION DISTRICT OF GREATER CHICAGO and REGINA BERRY, individually, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Virginia M. Kendall Judge.

         Plaintiff Monica Jones filed suit on August 11, 2017, against Defendants Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) and Regina Berry. On October 26, 2017, Jones filed her First Amended Complaint, alleging violations of the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”)[1] against MWRD, violations of the FMLA against Berry in her individual capacity under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and a state law claim of retaliatory discharge against MWRD. [Dkt. No. 21.] Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss seeking dismissal of the FMLA claims (Counts I-IV), pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). The Motion to Dismiss is granted for the following reasons. [Dkt. No. 27.]

         BACKGROUND

         The facts set forth in Plaintiff's Amended Complaint are accepted as true for the purpose of reviewing the Motion to Dismiss. Reynolds v. CB Sports Bar, Inc., 623 F.3d 1143, 1146 (7th Cir. 2010).

         Plaintiff Monica Jones worked as a Diversity Officer for MWRD for nearly 11 months- from September 8, 2015 until August 4, 2016. (Dkt. No. 21 at ¶ 6, 46-47.) Regina Berry, Diversity Administrator of MWRD, was Jones' immediate supervisor. (Id. at ¶ 5)

         On Friday, July 15, 2015, Jones was in the office elevator when a co-worker carrying an oversized display case struck her in the chest with the case causing Jones to suffer serious chest contusions. (Id. at ¶ 7.) On Monday, July 18, Jones continued to feel chest pain and notified Berry that she had been injured by the co-worker. (Id. at ¶ 7-8.) Berry instructed Jones to speak with Human Resources and she did: Jones met with HR analyst Cordelia Henry that same day, and met with Henry and HR analyst Robert Byrne the following day. (Id. at ¶ 11, 13.) At the meeting on Tuesday, July 19, Jones told Henry and Byrne that she believed the co-worker's conduct had been intentional. (Id. at ¶ 14.)

         Jones also sought treatment for her injury. On Monday, July 18, after her conversations with Berry and Henry, Jones visited the Immediate Care Center. (Id. at ¶ 12). By Thursday morning, Jones' chest pain had increased. (Id. at ¶ 15). She went to work around 7:30 a.m., logged in and emailed Berry, Henry and Byrne to inform them that she was going to the emergency room and would notify them upon her return to work. (Id. at ¶ 17.) As promised, Jones emailed Berry, Henry and Byrne when she returned around 9:20 a.m., attaching the bill from her emergency room visit and asking whether she should file a workers' compensation claim. (Id. at ¶¶ 20-21.) Neither Berry, Henry nor Byrne responded to Jones' email. (Id. at ¶ 18.)

         That afternoon, however, Berry held an in-person meeting with Jones in which she issued a disciplinary “oral warning” to Jones for violating MWRD policy by logging in earlier that morning. (Id. at ¶¶ 22-24.) Immediately following the meeting, Jones emailed Henry and Byrne stating that she believed Berry was disciplining her in retaliation for the complaint she made against the co-worker that injured her. (Id. at ¶¶ 26-27.) Neither Henry nor Byrne responded to Jones' email. (Id. at ¶ 28.)

         On Friday, July 22, Jones provided a doctor's note that recommended a “light duty” restriction due to her work-related injury. (Id. at ¶ 30.) Nonetheless, Jones worked her regular schedule without incident from Friday through the following Wednesday, July 27. (Id. at ¶ 31.) On Thursday, July 28, Jones experienced sharp pain during work and scheduled an emergency doctor's appointment. (Id. at ¶¶ 33-34.) The doctor issued a “Patient Status Report” recommending she take off two weeks of work to recover from her injury. (Id. at ¶¶ 35-36.) Jones emailed Berry, Henry and Byrne a copy of the Report that night. (Id. at ¶ 38.). The email to Berry explained,

My doctor is not allowing me to return to work for the next two weeks. I have a attached a soft copy for your review. Do I need to fill out FMLA paperwork for this time? Or is it notated that the Workers Comp claim is in process? Or is this marked as a medical necessity and for time used? . . .

(Id. at ¶ 38; Dkt. No. 28 at Ex. A.) This email was also sent to Robert Gottstein and Mary Nix of MWRD. (Dkt. No. 28 at Ex. A.) Jones then called Berry and left a voicemail about the doctor's note, the need for time off and initiating the FMLA process. (Dkt. No. 21 at ¶ 40.) Jones received no response from Berry, Henry or Byrne. (Id. at ¶ 39, 41, 42.) On Friday, July 29, Gottstein responded to Jones' email, advising that she “consider looking into completing possible FMLA paperwork.” (Dkt. No. 37 at Ex. A.)

         Jones did not work from Friday, July 29 through Wednesday, August 3. (Dkt. No. 21 at ¶ 45.) On Thursday, August 4, Berry called Jones to inform her she was being fired for “unsatisfactory progress.” (Id. at ¶ 46.) Jones also received a letter from MWRD dated August 4, explaining that Berry had recommended the termination based on Jones' unsatisfactory services during her probationary period. (Id. at ¶ 47.)

         September 8, 2016 would have marked 12 months' employment at MWRD for Jones. (Id. at ¶ 61.) Jones' period of recovery for the work-related injury ultimately lasted until October 22, 2016. (Id. at ¶ 52.)

         Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint alleges four claims under the FMLA against Defendants. Counts I and II are claims of interference with Jones' rights under the FMLA against MWRD and Berry, respectively. (Id. at ¶¶ 68, 88) Counts III and IV are claims of retaliation for Jones' attempt to exercise FMLA rights against MWRD and Berry, respectively. (Id. at ¶¶ 101, 118)

         LEGAL STANDARD

         “To survive a motion to dismiss under 12(b)(6), a complaint must ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Adams v. City of Indianapolis, 742 F.3d 720, 728 (7th Cir. 2014) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 566 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). “[I]t is not enough for a complaint to avoid foreclosing possible bases for relief; it must actually suggest that the plaintiff has a right to relief . . . by providing allegations that ‘raise ...


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