155 F.3d 775 (6th Cir. 1998), 97-3388, Cehrs v. Northeast Ohio Alzheimer's Research Center

Docket Nº:97-3388.
Citation:155 F.3d 775
Party Name:Katherine R. CEHRS, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. NORTHEAST OHIO ALZHEIMER'S RESEARCH CENTER and Windsor House, Inc., Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:September 01, 1998
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

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155 F.3d 775 (6th Cir. 1998)

Katherine R. CEHRS, Plaintiff-Appellant,



House, Inc., Defendants-Appellees.

No. 97-3388.

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

September 1, 1998

Argued April 21, 1998.

Rehearing and Suggestion for Rehearing En Banc Denied Oct. 16, 1998.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Ellen S. Simon (briefed), Cathleen M. Bolek (argued and briefed), Lancione & Simon, Cleveland, OH, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Sally G. Cimini (argued and briefed), Robert J. Henderson (briefed), Polito & Smock, Pittsburgh, PA, for Defendants-Appellees.

Before: GUY, GILMAN, and GODBOLD, [*] Circuit Judges.


GILMAN, Circuit Judge.

Katherine R. Cehrs appeals from the district court's order granting summary judgment in favor of defendants Northeast Ohio Alzheimer's Research Center and Windsor House, Inc. (collectively "Northeast"). Cehrs claims that Northeast terminated her employment as a nurse in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101-12213 (1994) ("ADA"), and the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, 29 U.S.C. §§ 2601-2654 (1994) ("FMLA"). For the reasons set forth below, we REVERSE the grant of summary judgment on Cehrs's ADA claim, AFFIRM the grant of summary judgment on Cehrs's FMLA claim, and REMAND the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.


For thirty years, Cehrs has suffered from chronic generalized pustular psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis (collectively "psoriasis"). Psoriasis is defined as "a chronic and recurrent disease characterized by dry, well-circumscribed, silvery, scaling papules and plaques of various sizes." The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy 2283 (Robert Berkow et al. eds., 1987). Pustular psoriasis is the most severe form of psoriasis and "is characterized by sterile pustules." Id. at 2284. Cehrs's doctor characterized pustular psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis as "a red scalded skin appearance with pustules and some linings of pus in association with that, which is an inflammatory arthritis, ... involving all of [Cehrs's] joints but specifically her hands, her hips, her knees, and her feet." Psoriasis can be life threatening during "flare-ups," but is noticeable in its dormant stage only by skin lesions. These lesions do not directly interfere with Cehrs's ability to work. During the dormant stage of the disease, however, Cehrs receives medical treatment on a weekly basis to control the psoriasis.

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Cehrs began working as a nurse for Northeast in June of 1991, and Northeast was aware of her medical condition when she was hired. Her work proceeded without incident until November of 1993, when Cehrs suffered a flare-up of her psoriasis triggered by a staph infection she had contracted in October of that year. During the flare-up, Cehrs was completely unable to work. She also was unable to perform common daily functions, such as driving a car or even dialing the telephone. This was Cehrs's first psoriasis flare-up since beginning work with Northeast, and her last flare-up had been approximately eight years earlier.

On November 26, 1993, Dr. Bergfeld (Cehrs's treating physician) wrote a note to Northeast explaining that Cehrs required a medical leave of absence. Upon obtaining the note, Northeast sent Cehrs a medical leave of absence form that she gave to Dr. Bergfeld to complete. Dr. Bergfeld completed the form without including an anticipated return date. When Northeast returned the form to Cehrs and specifically requested a return date, Dr. Bergfeld advised Northeast of a tentative return date of January 20, 1994.

After examining Cehrs on January 10, 1994, Dr. Bergfeld determined that her condition was still very severe and would require an additional month of leave. Dr. Bergfeld wrote a note to that effect, and Cehrs's daughter delivered the note to Northeast on January 11, 1994. Cehrs told her daughter to deliver the note to either Sally Beil (Northeast's administrator), Rose Kelly (Beil's secretary), or Barb Sladewski (Cehrs's immediate supervisor). Cehrs's daughter does not recall to whom she delivered the note. The note nevertheless was found in Cehrs's personnel file. Beil acknowledges that Kelly mentioned that a note had been delivered, but she does not recall reading the note. Kelly testified, however, that nothing goes into a personnel file without Beil seeing it. During her deposition, Beil acknowledged that if she had been aware of the doctor's note, she probably would have sent the leave-extension forms to Cehrs.

Cehrs met again with Dr. Bergfeld on February 14, 1994. At this time, Dr. Bergfeld determined that Cehrs had improved and could return to work on a part-time basis by March 1, 1994. She also estimated that Cehrs could begin working full-time on April 1, 1994. Dr. Bergfeld wrote a second note to Northeast conveying this information. Cehrs's stepdaughter hand-delivered the note, which was later found in Cehrs's personnel file. Although both notes were delivered, Cehrs failed to complete any additional medical leave forms, and Northeast never sent the forms to her.

While the above facts are undisputed, the parties are in disagreement over other relevant details. Cehrs, for example, claims that she spoke to Sladewski sometime after February 14, 1994, and that they discussed the possibility of Cehrs being placed on the work schedule for March. Cehrs contends that in response to her request to be placed on the schedule, Sladewski commented that she would inform Cehrs about the schedule shortly. But Sladewski denies speaking with Cehrs on that occasion. On February 28, 1994, because she never heard back from Sladewski, Cehrs claims that she arrived at Northeast to discuss the March schedule with both Sladewski and Beil. Cehrs further asserts that both Sladewski and Beil implied that Cehrs would be placed on the schedule. Sladewski and Beil, however, deny that they met with Cehrs on that date.

When Cehrs called Sladewski to discuss scheduling on March 1, 1994, Cehrs claims that Sladewski informed her that Beil had terminated Cehrs's employment as of January 20, 1994. Beil and Sladewski, on the other hand, maintain that Cehrs was terminated on February 28, 1994. Beil claims that Cehrs was terminated because she failed to complete the required paperwork to extend her leave of absence. Beil specifically stated that Cehrs was not fired because of poor performance, a reduction in force, scheduling changes, or excessive absences.

Following Sladewski's advice, Cehrs applied for rehire on March 3, 1994. On March 9, 1994, Cehrs's new treating physician (Dr. Mehle) examined Cehrs and determined that she could begin working full-time. Dr. Mehle wrote Northeast a note to this effect, and Cehrs delivered the note to Northeast. Northeast, however, did not rehire her. Instead,

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Northeast hired three new nurses between March and November of 1994.

Northeast's medical leave policy permits employees to take ninety days of unpaid leave and to file for a ninety-day unpaid extension, for a maximum of 180 days leave. Northeast claims that its policy permits employees to take an initial leave or to extend a leave only if they complete the proper forms in advance. Evidence exists in the record, however, that Northeast has in the past allowed employees to submit the requisite paperwork after their initial leave has begun and, in some cases, even after they have returned from leave.

Cehrs brought an action against Northeast on February 21, 1995, alleging that it fired her in violation of the ADA, the FMLA, and relevant state statutes. The district court granted Northeast's motion for summary judgment, holding that Cehrs failed to state a prima facie case under the ADA because she was not "otherwise qualified" within the meaning of the Act. In addition, the court determined that the FMLA was inapplicable because Cehrs was unable to return to work within the twelve weeks maximum...

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