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Xula v. Chase Bank, J.P. Morgan Chase

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

November 6, 2019

SERGIO XULA, Plaintiff,



         Dissatisfied with his new job assignment after returning from medical leave, Plaintiff Sergio Xula resigned his position with Defendant JP Morgan Chase Bank, N.A. (“Chase”) and filed this suit. Xula brings claims for interference and retaliation in violation of the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq. Chase now moves for summary judgment on Xula's claims. Xula has identified material disputes as to whether Chase assigned him to a position equivalent to the one that he held before his leave and whether his leave was a significant factor in that assignment. But Xula cannot recover for FMLA interference or retaliation because he does not suggest a basis to find that any FMLA violation harmed him, with the evidence instead establishing that he voluntarily resigned from his position without providing Chase with an opportunity to address the alleged violations.


         I. Xula's Employment History with Chase

         On January 31, 2005, Xula began working for Chase as a personal banker at its Warrenville, Illinois branch. Xula worked at various branches in Illinois until 2010, when he transferred to California. Beginning in December 2011, Xula held the position of business banker at Chase's Torrance Avenue and PCH branch in Redondo Beach, California. He also worked out of the Torrance Main branch in Torrance, California for several weeks in February 2013.

         Both branches belonged to the Orange County LA South market (“LA South”). Xula reported to an area manager, who in turn reported to the LA South market manager, a position filled during the relevant time periods by Joseph Skowera and Sue Baaden. As a business banker, Xula's responsibilities included business sales and revenue growth at his assigned branch, developing client relationships, selling credit products, and servicing business clients. Upon taking the business banker position in 2011, Xula viewed the Torrance Avenue and PCH branch as a new build because it did not have an existing book of business. A year later, on December 11, 2012, the Torrance Avenue and PCH branch had in its business banking portfolio twelve clients with a daily average of $409, 495 in deposits and $200, 677 in outstanding business banking attributable credit.

         On June 19, 2012, Rolland Mattoon, then Xula's area manager, gave Xula a written warning for unsatisfactory performance based on Xula making promises to customers that the branch could not keep, engaging in combative behavior with branch management, failing to take proper precautions when processing new account transactions, and opening accounts without proper customer identification and signed signature cards. Several months later, on October 30, Huy Doan, who took over from Mattoon as Xula's area manager, placed Xula on a performance action plan. The plan required Xula to book a minimum of ten appointments each week with customers and prospects and identified the dollar amounts of direct deposit accounts and credit booked as areas for development. Unhappy with the discipline, Xula sent a letter to Baaden on November 2, which recounted his issues with Doan. Specifically, Xula indicated that Doan suggested that he look for a job at other banks in response to Xula's complaints about Doan's expectations. Xula also indicated that Doan dismissed Xula's suggestion that he could take on a small business specialist role. Xula told Baaden that he interpreted Doan's comments as a message that Chase no longer wanted him.

         The following month, Xula received a needs improvement rating for his 2012 year-end performance review. Doan noted that Xula had the relationship selling skills to be an effective business banker or relationship manager but that he lacked discipline and needed to improve on internal partnerships and client building skills. Doan noted Xula's goal of becoming a relationship manager and suggested that he needed to improve on his business and credit acumen to progress toward that goal. Doan indicated that Xula had improved in all areas since November. Responding to the performance review, Xula noted that having a book of business would help his performance.

         II. Chase's Business Banking Realignment

         In October 2012, Chase began a national realignment of its business banking line of business, which involved merging the business banking and relationship manager positions. Xula learned of the planned realignment in mid-2012. Chase completed the realignment on April 1, 2013, when it officially eliminated the business banker role. The transition of business bankers to relationship managers did not amount to a reduction in force or a layoff. Chase generally transitioned business bankers into its relationship manager I position, although some business bankers took on the less-demanding role of a small business specialist.

         Chase compensated relationship managers differently than business bankers, with semiannual instead of monthly incentives. To ease the transition, Chase built into its compensation plan a transition payment for the second quarter of 2013 based on the business banker's historical incentive earnings. Chase also provided for a draw payment in the third quarter. The benefit package did not change.

         Xula testified that he viewed the relationship manager and business banker positions as “essentially the same job.” Doc. 93 ¶ 74. But where the business banker role was reactive, the relationship manager role was proactive and required the employee to manage and grow a portfolio of business clients with at least $500, 000 in annual revenues by building external referral sources and offering more complex products and services. Relationship managers covered clusters of branches, instead of just one branch as the business bankers had. In creating the clusters, Chase considered the prospects, existing book of business, business banking clients, and asset and lending size of each branch, as well as the branch's proximity to other branches. Chase sought to make the clusters as equal as possible, with each cluster having a portfolio of at least $500, 000 in revenue from existing and prospective customers. As part of the realignment, Chase assigned at least ten business bankers in the LA South market to clusters that did not include the branch at which the business banker had worked. At least six of these business bankers also changed area managers, with another six having clusters ten or more miles away from their pre-realignment branches.

         By December 6, 2012, Chase placed the Torrance Avenue and PCH branch in the Riviera Torrance cluster along with the Riviera and Torrance Village branches. As of December 11, 2012, these three branches had 200 existing business banking clients with a daily average of $10, 472, 697 in deposits, $2, 671, 001 in outstanding credit, and 386 prospective business clients with over $500, 000 in revenue within a three mile radius of the branches. The Riviera branch, located approximately one mile from the Torrance Avenue and PCH branch, had a business banking portfolio of 147 clients with a daily average of $7, 459, 442 in business banking deposits and $2, 220.324 in outstanding credit. The Torrance Village branch did not have an assigned business banker. Chase assigned the Riviera Torrance cluster to Marques Swayne, the business banker at the Riviera branch. Swayne received an exceeds rating for his 2012 year-end performance review. Chase did not consider Xula for the Riviera Torrance cluster and did not assign him to any cluster as part of the reassignment because he had already provided Chase with notice that he was moving to Illinois.

         III. Xula's Attempts to Return to Illinois

         Chase has an FMLA policy. It provides that, after it learns an employee's leave may arise from a qualifying FMLA event, Chase will notify the employee within five business days whether he satisfies basic FMLA eligibility requirements. Caring for a parent with a serious health condition amounts to an FMLA qualifying event. The policy further indicates that an employee should notify his manager of the need for FMLA leave, or at least the need to take time off due to a medical condition, with as much advance notice as possible so that the manager can file a formal request for FMLA leave. Chase then requires that the employee and health care provider provide certain medical information within fifteen calendar days of the request.

         In November 2012, Xula began discussions about transferring back to a job in Illinois because his family needed additional assistance in caring for his mother. To transfer to a different position within Chase, a current employee must seek out and apply for internal positions. Typically, a transfer requires the employee to have a meets expectations or better rating on his most recent performance evaluation. If the employee does not have such a rating, the employee must obtain the approval of the HR business partner to transfer.

         On December 18, Xula contacted Chase area managers in the Chicagoland area about available positions in Illinois. On January 10, 2013, Xula sent the Chicago area managers and Doan a follow-up email, emphasizing his need to return to Illinois to care for his mother by April 1. He indicated that he had shared his timeline for the move with Doan. Doan testified that Xula's references to health and family in the January 10 email would have caused him to refer Xula to the HR department, but Xula denies that this happened.

         On February 1, Sharon Jones became Xula's area manager. She testified that she understood that Xula was resigning his position in California and looking for a new position with Chase in Illinois. The day before she became his area manager, Xula sent Jones an Outlook calendar notice indicating he would not be at work between March 20 and April 1, time Jones understood Xula to be taking as vacation days to pack his belongings and move back to Illinois.

         On February 15, Xula again sent an email to the Chicago area managers in which he expressed anxiety about his job prospects in Illinois as the date of his move approached. Xula did not include Jones on the email. On February 25, Xula sent another email to the Chicago area managers, this time copying Jones. In the email, he reiterated his availability to begin work on April 1. Jones forwarded the email the same day to Baaden. Jones and Baaden discussed Xula's mother's medical issues and his need to return to Illinois, and Baaden then forwarded Xula's email to HR Business Partner Wendy Roberts. As of that date, neither Jones nor Baaden had discussed the impact of Xula's mother's illness on his work needs or potential eligibility for FMLA leave. Jones testified that she had no indication that Xula potentially needed FMLA leave, and that, when he raised the issue around that time, she immediately ...

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