268 F.3d 51 (2nd Cir. 2001), 00-7265, Woodford v Community Action of Greene County

Docket Nº:Docket No. 00-7265
Citation:268 F.3d 51
Party Name:IVA WOODFORD, PLAINTIFF-COUNTER-DEFENDANT-APPELLANT, v. COMMUNITY ACTION OF GREENE COUNTY, INC.; EDWARD J. DALY; ROSEMARY BLOIS; BOARD OF DIRECTORS OF COMMUNITY ACTION OF GREENE COUNTY, INC.; ROBERT C. SCHROCK; ANNE YON; WILLIAM REICH; RUDOLPH MONTELEONE; LAURETTE SUDDS; THOMAS YANDEAU; PENNY FRIEDERICH; ELEANOR VAN SCHAACK; DONNA RUMMO-FAULKNER; K
Case Date:October 10, 2001
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
 
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268 F.3d 51 (2nd Cir. 2001)

IVA WOODFORD, PLAINTIFF-COUNTER-DEFENDANT-APPELLANT,

v.

COMMUNITY ACTION OF GREENE COUNTY, INC.; EDWARD J. DALY; ROSEMARY BLOIS; BOARD OF DIRECTORS OF COMMUNITY ACTION OF GREENE COUNTY, INC.; ROBERT C. SCHROCK; ANNE YON; WILLIAM REICH; RUDOLPH MONTELEONE; LAURETTE SUDDS; THOMAS YANDEAU; PENNY FRIEDERICH; ELEANOR VAN SCHAACK; DONNA RUMMO-FAULKNER; KARLENE SCHNUR; ANDREW DRESSER; AND ELAINE FARLEY, DEFENDANTS-COUNTER-CLAIMANTS-APPELLEES.

Docket No. 00-7265

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

October 10, 2001

Argued: November 29, 2000

Appeal from judgment of the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York (Lawrence E. Kahn, Judge) dismissing on summary judgment plaintiff's claims alleging violation of the Family Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. § 2615, and intentional infliction of emotional distress, and defendants' counterclaim of defamation by libel.

Affirmed.

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James W. Hyde, IV, Kernan & Kernan, Utica, New York, for Plaintiff-Counter-Defendant-Appellant.

Susan Bartkowski, Joshua Sabo, Thorn Gershon Towne Tymann & Bonanni (James T. Towne, Jr. on the brief) Albany, New York, for Defendants-Counter-Claimants-Appellees.

Before: Pooler and Sack, Circuit Judges, and Martin, District Judge.[*]

Pooler, Circuit Judge.

Plaintiff-Appellant Iva Woodford appeals from that part of a judgment of the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York (Lawrence E. Kahn, Judge), upon a February 3, 2000 Memorandum-Decision and Order that granted summary judgment to Defendants-Appellees, Community Action of Greene County, Inc. ("CAGC"); Edward J. Daly; Rosemary Blois; the Board of Directors of CAGC; Robert C. Schrock; Anne Yon; William Reich; Rudolph Monteleone; Laurette Sudds; Thomas Yandeau; Penny Friederich; Eleanor Van Schaack; Donna Rummo-Faulkner; Karlene Schnur; Andrew Dresser; and Elaine Farley (collectively, "CAGC"). Woodford challenges the district court's holding that she did not work enough hours to qualify as an eligible employee under the terms of the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq., and contends, further, that under the FMLA she was entitled to reinstatement to her former position with CAGC after taking an extended leave from work. We hold that the regulation upon which Woodford relies to establish her status as an eligible employee under the FMLA, 29 C.F.R. § 825.110(d), contravenes the clear intent of the statute it is meant to implement. We thus cannot enforce the regulation. We affirm the district court's finding that Woodford did not work enough hours to qualify as an eligible employee under the FMLA and therefore affirm the district court's grant of summary judgment to CAGC.

BACKGROUND

Iva Woodford worked for CAGC for approximately twelve years, ten of which she spent as the director of CAGC's Head Start Program. During her last year with CAGC, Woodford only worked 816.5 hours, according to her time sheets, due in part to a suspension she received for disciplinary reasons. During that same period, Woodford complained to CAGC's Board of Directors about harassment by the Executive Director of CAGC. On November 18, 1997, Woodford sought to take leave under the FMLA because, she asserts, she suffered from stress, anxiety and depression, arising from the alleged harassment, and from the CAGC Board of Directors' failure

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to respond to her complaints about the harassment. She requested that her leave be effective as of November 17, 1997. On November 19, 1997, CAGC provided Woodford with an "Employer Response to Employee Request for Family or Medical Leave" form which indicated that she was an employee eligible for leave under the FMLA. While the FMLA guarantees leave for eligible employees, it also permits employers to deny reinstatement for certain highly paid employees, called "key employees," see 29 C.F.R. § 825.217, to their position at the end of their leave if reinstatement would cause "substantial and grievous economic injury" to the employer. 29 U.S.C. § 2614(b)(1)(A). The form CAGC provided Woodford indicated that CAGC had determined that she was a "key employee" and that, consequently, she would not be reinstated to her former position at the end of her leave because doing so would "cause substantial and grievous economic harm" to CAGC. A letter from CAGC to Woodford dated November 21, 1997, informed her again that she was a key employee ineligible for reinstatement unless she returned to work by December 1, 1997. Woodford promised to return by December 5, 1997, but she later postponed the end of her leave until January 16, 1998. Meanwhile, on December 2, 1997, CAGC hired an interim Head Start Program Director. On January 15, 1998, CAGC notified Woodford that it would not reinstate her. She filed this lawsuit on February 9, 1998.

Before the district court, Woodford claimed that the defendants' denial of reinstatement violated the FMLA and that their conduct caused her emotional distress. The defendants counterclaimed, alleging that Woodford in her complaint and elsewhere "libeled and defamed" CAGC and its Board of Directors. Judge Kahn granted summary judgment against Woodford on her FMLA claim on the ground that the Act did not cover her because her time sheets showed that she had not worked a minimum of 1,250 hours at CAGC in the last twelve months as the FMLA requires. See Woodford v. Community Action of Greene County, Inc., 103 F.Supp.2d 97, 100 (N.D.N.Y. 2000) (citing 29 U.S.C. § 2611(2)(A)). Judge Kahn also held that CAGC's notice to Woodford that it would deny her reinstatement complied with the FMLA's implementing regulations' requirement that employers give such notice "`as soon as practicable.'" Woodford, 103 F.Supp.2d at 101 (quoting 29 C.F.R. § 825.219(a)). Woodford's state law claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction in the wake of the dismissal of her federal claims. See Woodford, 103 F.Supp.2d at 101. Judge Kahn also dismissed defendants' counterclaim for defamation because they did not plead it with sufficient particularity, see Fed. R. Civ. P. 9(b), and because public policy counsels against deterring plaintiffs from "candid and forthright pleading of causes of action." Woodford, 103 F.Supp.2d at 101. Defendants do not appeal that ruling.

On appeal, Woodford challenges dismissal of her FMLA claim, arguing that CAGC could not contest her eligibility under the Act because CAGC itself had provided her notice of eligibility in accordance with 29 C.F.R. § 825.110(d). The regulation prohibits an employer from challenging an employee's eligibility for leave under the FMLA once the employer has given notice to the employee that she is eligible for such leave. See id. Woodford further argues, assuming her eligibility under the FMLA, that CAGC was not entitled to deny her restoration based on her status as a key employee whose reinstatement would cause CAGC grievous economic injury. See 29 U.S.C. § 2614(b)(1)(A). CAGC in turn argues that 29 C.F.R.

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§ 825.110(d) is invalid because it contravenes the clear language of the statute it is meant to implement.

DISCUSSION

We review a district court's grant of a motion for summary judgment de novo. Hermes Int'l v. Lederer De Paris Fifth Ave., Inc., 219 F.3d 104, 107 (2d Cir. 2000). We will affirm the district court's grant of summary judgment if, construing the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, the record shows that no genuine issues of material fact exist and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Tenenbaum v. Williams, 193 F.3d 581, 593 (2d Cir. 1999), cert. denied, 529 U.S. 1098 (2000).

A. Woodford's eligibility under the FMLA

As an initial matter, Woodford suggests in passing that whether she is an eligible employee under the FMLA is a disputed issue of fact that the district court inappropriately resolved on summary judgment. In order to be eligible for FMLA benefits, an employee must have been employed for at least twelve months with an employer and have worked at least 1,250 hours in the twelve months preceding the date on which eligibility is determined. See 29 U.S.C. § 2611(2)(A). The district court found that, based on Woodford's own time sheets, she had not worked the necessary hours to qualify as an eligible employee. Woodford protests...

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