18 F.Supp.2d 799 (M.D.Tenn. 1998), 2 97-0100, Bryant v. Delbar Products, Inc.

Docket Nº:2 97-0100
Citation:18 F.Supp.2d 799
Party Name:Bryant v. Delbar Products, Inc.
Case Date:August 27, 1998
Court:United States District Courts, 6th Circuit, Middle District of Tennessee
 
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Page 799

18 F.Supp.2d 799 (M.D.Tenn. 1998)

Martha A. BRYANT,

v.

DELBAR PRODUCTS, INC. and Bill Caruthers.

No. 2:97-0100.

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Northeast Division.

Aug. 27, 1998

Page 800

William Bush, Cookeville, TN, for Plaintiff.

W. Kerby Bowling, II, Charles W. Cavagnaro, Jr., Joseph M. Crout, Bowling, Bowling & Associates, Memphis, TN, for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM

WISEMAN, Senior District Judge.

Before the Court are the plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment; the defendant's motion for summary judgment or, in the alternative, partial summary judgment; the defendants' motion to deny the plaintiff's jury demand; motions to strike by both the plaintiff and the defendants; and the plaintiff's motion for oral argument. For the reasons set forth below, the Court hereby (1) GRANTS the plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment and DENIES the defendants' motion for summary judgment, (2) DENIES the defendants' motion to deny the plaintiff's jury demand, (3) DENIES both the plaintiff's and the defendants' motions to strike, and (4) DENIES the plaintiff's motion for oral argument.

I. Relevant Procedural Background

The plaintiff, Martha Bryant, filed suit under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq. She alleges that the defendants, Delbar Products and Bill Caruthers, violated the FMLA by terminating her for excessive absenteeism and by discriminating against her for opposing practices of the defendants that are made unlawful by the FMLA. Ms. Bryant requests a jury trial and is seeking damages, interest, liquidated damages, and other equitable relief found by the court to be appropriate. The defendants have filed a motion for summary judgment or, in the alternative, partial summary judgment. They deny any liability under the FMLA and claim that defendant Caruthers should be dismissed from the lawsuit

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because the FMLA does not provide for individual liability. Ms. Bryant has filed a motion for partial summary judgment on the issue of the defendants' liability under the FMLA. Furthermore, the defendants have moved to deny Ms. Bryant's jury demand and both parties have filed motions to strike. Ms. Bryant has requested oral argument on the motions pending before the court.

II. Relevant Factual Background

Martha Bryant worked on the assembly line for Delbar Products, Inc. from December 12, 1983 until April 8, 1996, when she was discharged for excessive absenteeism. Delbar manufactures automotive rear view mirrors. See Amended Complaint, ¶ 3; Answer to Amended Complaint, ¶ 3. Defendant Bill Caruthers is the manufacturing manager for Delbar in Tennessee. Dep. of Bill Caruthers, p. 6. Delbar's absenteeism policy is based on an "occurrence" system. In general, employees are assessed one point for each day that they are absent from work for an unexcused reason. They are assessed one-half point if they arrive late or leave early but work at least four hours in a day. At the six occurrence level, an employee is placed on probation. When occurrences accumulate to eight within a one-year period, the employee is fired for excessive absenteeism. If the employee has fewer than six occurrences at the end of the calendar year, however, he or she can start the next year with a "clean slate" of zero occurrences. See Defendant's Response to Plaintiff's Statement of Material Facts, ¶ 7.

On March 26, 1995, Ms. Bryant's son, Howard Bryant, was hospitalized with advanced kidney failure. 1 Aff. of Martha Bryant, ¶ 6; see Decl. of Lee Ray Crowe, M.D., ¶ 4. He remained in the hospital until March 29, 1995. Aff. of Martha Bryant, ¶ 6; Defendants' Response to Plaintiff's Statement of Material Facts, ¶ 15. On March 27, 1995, Ms. Bryant requested part of the day off from someone at Delbar. Dep. of Martha Bryant, p. 20. Specifically, Ms. Bryant stated, "My son is in the hospital and I've got to work things out." Id. at 21. Ms. Bryant was denied time off and assessed a one-half point penalty for missing work to go to the hospital. Aff. of Martha Bryant, ¶ 9. Ms. Bryant was also penalized one-half point for missing part of the day on April 4, 1995 because she had to drive her son to a doctor's appointment in Cookeville. Id. ¶ 9. In addition, Ms. Bryant used vacation days on March 29 and April 11, 19, and 25 in order to help her son without incurring more penalties. Id. ¶ 10.

From May 30, 1995 until August 7, 1995, Ms. Bryant was on disability leave due to a slipped disc. Id. ¶ 12. She returned to work on August 8, 1995; however, Ms. Bryant was one hour late to work on August 9, 1995 because her back pain had returned. Id. ¶ 14. As a result, she was assessed a one-half point penalty. Id. Finally, Ms. Bryant missed a doctor's appointment scheduled for October 2, 1995 because Delbar would not excuse her from work. Id. ¶ 15.

By the end of 1995, Ms. Bryant had been penalized with six occurrences and was placed on probation. See id. ¶ 9; Defendants' Response to Plaintiff's Statement of Material Facts, ¶ 9. Because Ms. Bryant was on probation at the end of 1995, her six occurrences carried over into 1996 and she was not allowed a clean slate of zero occurrences. Aff. of Martha Bryant, ¶ 9; Defendants' Response to Plaintiff's Statement of Material Facts, ¶ 9. By April 8, 1996, Ms. Bryant had incurred two more occurrences--for a total of eight--and she was fired. Id. ¶ 8; Defendants' Response to Plaintiff's Statement of Material Facts, ¶ 8.

Ms. Bryant claims that Delbar should have excused her absences on March 27, April 4, and August 9 under the FMLA. Importantly, if any one of these absences had been excused under the FMLA, Ms. Bryant would have incurred only five and one-half occurrence points by the end of 1995 and she would not have been placed on probation. As a result, Ms. Bryant would have begun 1996 with a clean slate of zero occurrences and she would have been penalized with only two occurrence points by April 8, 1996. Defendants'

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Response to Plaintiff's Statement of Material Facts, ¶ 10.

III. Legal Analysis--Liability Under the FMLA

A. Eligibility Under the FMLA

The FMLA establishes, among other things, the right of an eligible employee to receive up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave per year to care for a son or daughter who has a "serious health condition" or because of a "serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the functions" of his or her job. 29 U.S.C. § 2612(a)(1)(C), (D). Pursuant to his authority under the FMLA, the U.S. Secretary of Labor has issued regulations governing the implementation of leave entitlement. 29 C.F.R. § 825 (1997). Employers are prohibited from interfering with, restraining, or denying the exercise of (or attempt to exercise) any rights provided by the FMLA. 29 U.S.C. § 2615(a)(1); 29 C.F.R. § 825.220(a)(1). Any violation of the FMLA or its implementing regulations constitutes unlawful interference with, restraint, or denial of the exercise of rights provided by the FMLA. 29 C.F.R. § 825.220(b).

To be eligible for leave under the FMLA, an employee must have been employed by the employer from whom leave is requested for (1) at least twelve months and (2) at least 1250 hours of service during the previous twelve-month period. 29 U.S.C. § 2611(2)(A)(i), (ii). In addition, the employee must be employed at a worksite where fifty or more employees are employed by the employer within seventy-five miles of that worksite. See id. § 2611(2)(B)(ii). There is no dispute that Ms. Bryant was eligible for FMLA leave when she worked for the defendants. See Defendants' Response to Plaintiff's Statement of Material Facts, pp 4-5. Furthermore, there is no dispute that defendant Delbar is an "employer" within the meaning of the FMLA. 29 U.S.C. § 2611(4); Defendants' Response to Plaintiff's Statement of Material Facts, ¶ 3.

The defendants contend, however, that the time off requested by Ms. Bryant in March, April, and August of 1995 should not have qualified as FMLA leave. The defendants further contend that even if Ms. Bryant's absences were excused under the FMLA, she did not give them adequate notice of her need for leave as required by the FMLA. As noted above, if any one of Ms. Bryant's absences on March 27, April 4, or August 9 had been excused under the FMLA, Ms. Bryant would not have been fired on April 8, 1996. Thus, it is appropriate to examine each of these absences to determine if any of them should have been excused under the FMLA. If any one of them should have been excused, the Court's inquiry is at an end and summary judgment must be granted for Ms. Bryant on the issue of the defendants' liability.

B. The Definitions of "Serious Health Condition" and "Son" Under the FMLA

On March 27, 1995, Ms. Bryant was penalized one-half point for missing part of the day to go to the hospital where her son was hospitalized with advanced kidney failure. Delbar was required to allow Ms. Bryant to take unpaid leave to care for Howard Bryant if he had a "serious health condition" and qualified as her "son" under the FMLA. 29 U.S.C. § 2612(a)(1)(C).

1. The Definition of Serious Health Condition

The first issue is whether Howard Bryant had a "serious health condition" under the FMLA. "Serious health condition" is defined as "an illness ... that involves ... inpatient care in a hospital." Id. § 2611(11)(A). The regulations further define "inpatient care" to mean "an overnight stay" in a hospital. 29 C.F.R. § 825.114(a). There is no question that Howard Bryant was hospitalized with advanced kidney failure from March 26, 1995 through March 29, 1995. Thus, Howard Bryant had a "serious health condition" on March 27, 1995.

2. The Definition of "Son"

The second issue is whether Howard Bryant met the...

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