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Unruh v. Humana Insurance Co.

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

September 24, 2019

RENAE UNRUH, Plaintiff,



         Pro se plaintiff Renae Unruh ("Plaintiff) brings this action alleging violations of the Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq., and the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq., and various state law claims against Humana Insurance Company ("Humana"), Nancy Kavalle ("Kavalle"), and Donna Schoenheider ("Schoenheider"). Before the Court is Defendants' motion for summary judgment. (R. 86.) For the reasons that follow, the motion is granted as to all claims except state law age discrimination (Count VII) which is dismissed without prejudice.


         The following facts are undisputed unless otherwise noted.[1] Plaintiff was employed by Humana from approximately March 2, 2014, to December 6, 2016. (R. 88, Defs.' SOF ¶¶ 1, 14.) She held the position of "Utilization Review - Sub-Acute - Oak Brook, " in which she acted as a clinical registered nurse ("RN") advisor for sub-acute matters, collaborating with healthcare providers in reviewing actual and proposed medical care and services for Humana Plan members against established coverage guidelines review criteria. (Id. ¶¶ 14, 15.) Nancy Kavalle was employed by Humana as a "Front Line Leader" and was Plaintiffs direct supervisor. (Id. ¶ 3.) Donna Schoenheider was employed by Humana as a "Utilization Management Manager." (Id. ¶ 4.)

         Humana maintains an attendance expectations policy which states that employees are expected to be punctual and in attendance each of their scheduled work days in order to maintain efficiency and productivity, and that repeated absences and tardiness even for good reason may result in termination. (Id. ¶ 7.) It also maintains a flexible policy regarding paid time off ("PTO") that can be used for vacation, personal or family illness, doctor appointments, school, volunteerism, and other activities of the employee's choice. (Id. ¶ 8.) Excessive use of PTO, however, can be disruptive to Humana's business and employee morale, so employees are expected to provide as much advance notice as possible when they will be absent from work, and to be punctual and in attendance every day they are scheduled to work. (Id.)

         Humana also has a policy which sets out the procedures for requesting accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. (Id. ¶ 11.) In addition, it has a policy setting out the procedures for requesting leave under the FMLA. (Id. ¶ 12.) Finally, Humana has a policy against discrimination based on factors protected by federal, state, or local law. (Id. ¶ 9.) Humana provides employees several ways in which to raise concerns in the workplace, including a toll-free ethics hotline and the ability to report concerns to supervisors, managers, or human resources. (Id. ¶ 10.)

         I. Unruh's Employment with Humana

         Plaintiff is licensed as a registered nurse. (Id. ¶ 13.) She holds an associate's degree in nursing education, a bachelor's degree in consumer economics and family management, and a master's degree in registered nurse health education. (Id.) She began working for Humana on March 2, 2014, in the Utilization Review department. (Id. ¶ 14.) Her initial salary was $2, 730.77 biweekly, or about $71, 000 annually. (Id. ¶ 18.) While employed by Humana, Plaintiff acted as a clinical RN advisor for sub-acute matters, collaborating with healthcare providers in reviewing actual and proposed medical care and services for Humana Plan members against established guidelines review criteria. (Id. ¶ 15.) She worked with a team of other clinical RN advisors, and was responsible for the admission review, post-discharge calls, and discharge planning for Humana Plan members for several long-term care facilities. (Id. ¶ 16.) During the March 2014 to May 2015 time period, 13 people including Plaintiff held clinical RN advisor positions at the Oak Brook office and reported to Kavelle. (Id. ¶ 20.) Plaintiff was 44 at that time, and the other advisors ranged in age from 32 to 62. (Id.)

         Plaintiffs position with Humana was one which allowed for her to work from home. (Id. ¶ 17.) In order to work from home, however, new Humana employees must first successfully pass several audits for accuracy and adherence to company protocols. (Id.) If an employee is not successfully working from home, Humana may require the employee to work in the office. (Id.) When Plaintiff first began with Humana, she was required to work at least two days per week in Humana's Oak Brook office. (Id.)

         Plaintiff received a week of training in Kentucky when she first began with Humana, followed by classroom training in the Oak Brook office. (Id. ¶ 22.) In July 2014, Kavelle had a one-on-one meeting with Plaintiff in which they discussed her productivity. (Id. ¶ 23.) They discussed the importance of working from the Oak Brook office two days per week, and Plaintiff was reminded to provide advance notice when she would not be able to work. (Id.) These topics were addressed again in a coaching session the following month. (Id. ¶ 24.) Plaintiff told Kavelle in August 2014 that she could not come to the office because of car troubles. (Id.)

         On September 26, 2014, Kavelle met again with Plaintiff for her mid-year progress review. (Id. ¶ 25.) They discussed the importance of communicating with front line leaders when Plaintiff would be unable to work at the office. (Id.) In January 2015, Kavelle asked RN Clinical Advisor Jessica Goulding ("Goulding") to schedule a side-by-side meeting with Plaintiff in order to observe her work and help her improve it. (Id. ¶ 26.) When Goulding reached out to Plaintiff, however, she advised that she did not know when she could come into the office. (Id)

         Plaintiff met with Goulding and another employee named Bob Unger on January 19, 2015. (Id. ¶¶ 25, 28.) Unger reported to Kavelle that Plaintiffs notes were disjointed and failed to include several required processing steps. (Id.) He noted that Plaintiff usually refused help from others, and was unwilling to accept feedback. (Id. ¶ 28) That same day, Plaintiff reached out to Kavelle about which facilities and assignments she was supposed to be handling. (Id.) Kavelle asked Plaintiff to meet with Goulding for guidance, and reminded her of the importance both of in-person trainings, and in-office attendance when requested. (Id) Plaintiff again resisted. (Id.)

         That same day, Kavelle requested scheduling Plaintiff's annual performance review. (Id. ¶ 31.) Plaintiff provided one date in response, adding that she would not be available for a week thereafter because she was taking PTO. (Id. ¶ 31.) Despite the short notice, Plaintiff was permitted the time off. (Id.) On January 20, 2015, Goulding reported to Unger and Kavelle that he had reviewed Plaintiffs work queue, found it to be in disarray, and spent three hours fixing it. (Id. ¶ 32.) Other workers similarly reported difficulty working with Plaintiffs cases. (Id.)

         On January 27, 2015, Plaintiff and Kavelle met for her performance review. (Id ¶ 33.) Plaintiff received a rating of "inconsistent" overall and in several specific subcategories, and a rating of "full" in a few others. (Id.) Kavelle noted that Plaintiff required re-training in the office, but that Plaintiff resisted it. (Id.) Plaintiff was encouraged to review Humana's policy regarding working at home, and advised that she needed to be more open to attending meetings and/or trainings at management's request. (Id.) After her performance review, however, Plaintiff continued to work outside of established business hours and was not online when she was expected to be. (Id.) On January 30, 2015, Kavelle counseled Plaintiff on the company's expectations, namely, that she was expected to begin work between 7:00 and 9:00 a.m., and to work eight hours per day including a lunch. (Id) She reminded Plaintiff that if she was unable to make personal appointments during her lunch hour or outside of work, she was to contact Kavelle for approval. (Id.)

         About a week later, Plaintiff had another side-by-side training with Goulding. (Id. ¶ 37.) He reported that Plaintiff was not familiar with standard processes for completing work on which she had previously been trained. (Id.) On February 23, 2015, a Humana auditor informed Kavelle that two of Unruh's telephone calls had not followed Humana procedures, were inappropriate, and adversarial. (Id.) The next day, Kavelle, Schoenheider, and Unruh met by telephone for a coaching session. (Id. ¶ 38.) They reminded Plaintiff of the required working hours, noted time gaps in logs of her work, and discussed the inappropriate calls. (Id.) Kavelle and Schoenheider advised Plaintiff to let them know if she felt overwhelmed with her caseload. (Id.) Plaintiff did not respond to that or request a caseload reduction. (Id) In March 2015, Plaintiffs work was again audited and found to be out of compliance and poorly documented. (Id.) Accordingly, Kavelle decided to put Plaintiff on a Competency and Contribution Improvement Plan ("CCIP"). (Id. ¶ 41.)

         A. The CCIP

         On or about April 22, 2015, Kavelle and Schoenheider met with Plaintiff to issue her the CCIP. (Id. ¶ 42.) The CCIP focused on plaintiffs behavior as well as her work assignments, and noted that she had engaged in unprofessional communications with a provider, and that she was resistant to attending training sessions and meetings with leadership. (Id.) The CCIP noted a litany of problems: submitting fragmented documentation and incomplete post-acute clinical forms; copying and pasting information into areas that were not required which made it look like Plaintiff was being more productive than she actually had been; sending incorrect letter requests to the compliance department which then required correcting; submitting incorrect processing information to facilities; submitting documentation in a manner than made it difficult for coworkers to follow and caused them to perform unnecessary work; not working regularly scheduled hours; and taking unscheduled time away from work for personal appointments. (Id ¶ 42.) It outlined the expectations Plaintiff was to meet, including attending in-person meetings when asked, following proper protocol on routine work assignments, and not being absent during the workdays to attend to personal appointments. (Id. ¶ 44.) Plaintiff was advised that the CCIP would continue through October 16, 2015, and that the failure to meet expectations during the CCIP period would result in immediate termination. (Id.) Plaintiff was told that Kavelle would meet with her weekly to discuss her progress in meeting the CCIP's expectations. (Id.)

         After the meeting, a copy of Plaintiff s CCIP was faxed to Plaintiffs attention, but routed to a team inbox since Plaintiffs fax line had been set to forward there. (Id. ¶ 45.) The person tasked with opening and distributing team faxes notified Kavelle of the error. (Id. ¶ 46.)

         On about April 28, 2015, Plaintiff called Humana's Ethics Line to report that her CCIP had been forwarded to the team fax box, and Humana subsequently investigated her complaint. (Id. ¶¶ 47, 48.) On May 1, 2015, Plaintiff submitted a "Resolving Issues Report Request Form, " in which she disagreed with the CCIP and requested its removal from her employee file. (Id. ¶ 48.) An investigation began, but was never completed because Plaintiff took a leave of absence from Humana shortly thereafter. (Id.)

         B. FMLA Leave

         Plaintiff testified that she was diagnosed with general anxiety in 2006 but that it did not affect or limit her ability to do her job. (Id. ¶ 69.) Similarly, she testified that she was first diagnosed with celiac disease in 2010 or 2011, but that neither celiac disease nor migraines affected her work. (Id. ¶¶ 69, 71.) Although Plaintiff testified that she told Kavelle in 2014 about having celiac disease, Kavelle testified that she was not informed of it until May 13, 2015, when Plaintiff mentioned it in conjunction with a request to leave work early the following day. (Id. ¶ 71.)

         On April 23, 2015, Plaintiff sought FMLA leave for her parent's serious health condition. (Id. ¶ 54.) UNUM, Humana's third-party administrator for FMLA and short-term disability leave at the time, approved Plaintiff for intermittent leave between April 23, 2015, and October 22, 2015. (Id.) Plaintiff also requested leave for her own serious health condition on April 23, 2015. (Id. ¶ 48.) She had not requested FMLA leave previously because she did not believe it was necessary. (Id. ¶¶ 52, 53, 58, 63.)

         The healthcare provider certification that Plaintiff submitted in support of her FMLA leave request was dated May 18, 2015, and noted that Plaintiff was diagnosed with "severe anxiety, headaches, GI upset due to significant work related/triggered stress, " but did not mention celiac disease. (Id) The certification noted that Plaintiffs conditions began on April 22, 2015, she began treatment on April 27, 2015, and she was unable to perform all of the functions of her job. (Id.)

         Plaintiff was approved by UNUM for continuous FMLA leave for her own serious health condition from May 15, 2015, through June 14, 2015. (Id. ¶ 56.) Her subsequent request for an extension of FMLA leave for her own condition was also approved to its exhaustion date of August 1, 2015. (Id. ¶ 56.) Thereafter, Plaintiff continued on leave under short-term disability through November 11, 2015. (Id. ¶ 57.)

         Plaintiff never returned to work after her continuous leave of absence began on May 15, 2015. (Id. ¶ 57.) While she was on leave, Humana reached out to her to discuss accommodations, but Plaintiff did not provide any of the information the company requested. (Id. ¶¶ 59, 60.) On December 13, 2016, Humana informed Plaintiff that her employment had been terminated effective December 6, 2016, since she had exhausted all available leave and remained unable to work, sought an indefinite leave, and had failed to engage in an interactive accommodation process. (Id. ¶ 59.)

         C. Complaint of Discrimination

         On about August 17, 2015, Plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination with the Illinois Department of Human Rights ("IDHR"), alleging discrimination on the basis of age, marital status, and disability. (Id. ΒΆ 61.) Plaintiff ...

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