346 F.3d 713 (6th Cir. 2003), 02-3357, Cavin v. Honda of America Mfg., Inc.

Docket Nº:02-3357
Citation:346 F.3d 713
Party Name:Cavin v. Honda of America Mfg., Inc.
Case Date:October 10, 2003
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
 
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Page 713

346 F.3d 713 (6th Cir. 2003)

Samuel J. CAVIN, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

HONDA OF AMERICA MANUFACTURING, INC., Defendant-Appellee.

No. 02-3357.

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

October 10, 2003

Argued July 29, 2003.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Joshua J. Morrow (argued and briefed), John S. Marshall (briefed), Law Offices of John S. Marshall, Columbus, OH, for Appellant.

Mary Ellen Fairfield (argued and briefed), Robert N. Webner (briefed), Vorys, Sater, Seymour & Pease, Columbus, OH, for Appellee.

Patrick J. Perotti (briefed), Dworken & Bernstein, Painesville, OH, for Amicus Curiae.

Before DAUGHTREY and MOORE, Circuit Judges; CALDWELL, District Judge.[*]

OPINION

MOORE, Circuit Judge.

Plaintiff-Appellant Samuel J. Cavin ("Cavin") appeals the district court's dismissal of his claim of wrongful discharge in violation of public policy and the district court's grant of summary judgment to Defendant-Appellee Honda of America Manufacturing, Inc. ("Honda") on Cavin's claim that Honda interfered with his rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 ("FMLA" or "Act"). Cavin was employed by Honda from 1991 until 1999. Cavin violated Honda policy in June 1999 by failing to notify Honda's Leave Coordination Department of his need for leave within the required time period and again in October 1999 by failing timely to submit a medical certification form. Honda terminated Cavin in November 1999 for violating its leave policy. Cavin filed a suit alleging that Honda had interfered with his FMLA rights and wrongfully discharged him in violation of Ohio public policy. The district court dismissed Cavin's wrongful discharge claim and granted Honda summary judgment on the FMLA-interference claim. Cavin appeals these decisions. For the reasons explained below, we AFFIRM the district court's decision to dismiss the wrongful-discharge claim. However, we REVERSE the district court's grant of summary judgment

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on the FMLA-interference claim and REMAND the action for further proceedings.

I. FACTS AND PROCEDURE

Cavin worked as a production associate in Honda's assembly department from 1991 until 1999. As a Honda employee, Cavin received an Associate Handbook ("Handbook") which contained detailed information about Honda's leave policies. In the event of an absence, a Honda employee "must notify either Plant Security, [his] department, or Administration prior to the beginning of [his] scheduled shift, or as soon as reasonable." 1 Joint Appendix ("J.A.") at 290 (Handbook). According to Honda, employees may call security to report a vacation day, "a one-day absence," or "a one-day sickness." J.A. at 362 (Patterson Dep.). However, when an employee's "absence continues beyond one day away from work ... [he] should contact Administration--Leave Coordination." J.A. at 290 (Handbook). If the need for leave is unforeseeable, leave must be requested "no later than three (3) consecutive workdays of the first day missed. The first day missed counts as day one." J.A. at 294 (Handbook).

The Handbook provides that whenever an employee falls below 98 percent attendance, Honda will strive to help the employee improve his attendance through a progressive-counseling system designed to ensure that employees understand the attendance policy. However, failure to comply with Honda's "established attendance guidelines" and "leave of absence requirements," J.A. at 288 (Handbook), "will result in corrective action up to and including suspension without pay or separation from employment," J.A. at 287 (Handbook). In fact, if an employee is "absent for three consecutive workdays without notifying Administration--Leave Coordination, [he] will be separated from employment." J.A. at 290 (Handbook).

On June 21, 1999, Cavin injured his right shoulder in a motorcycle accident. Cavin was treated in the emergency room of St. Ann's Hospital and released the same day with a prescription for pain medication. The emergency room physician wrote Cavin a note excusing him from work until June 24, 1999. When he returned home from the hospital, Cavin called Honda to inform the company that he needed to take time off work because he was injured in a motorcycle accident. According to Cavin,

When I called in on the 21st and security asked my reason for calling in, I stated that it was a motorcycle accident. And I knew that when I was a team leader we had a call-in screen [on the company's computer system] that could tell us why a person was not coming to work, and when I stated motorcycle accident, they also asked me when I planned on returning. I gave them a return date, and I thought that information would have been communicated to my coordinator.

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J.A. at 251 (Cavin Dep.). There is no evidence that Cavin informed security at that time that he would be absent for more than one day.

Cavin received treatment from a second doctor, Dr. Scott D. Cohen ("Cohen"), the day after the accident. Cohen excused Cavin from work until June 28, 1999. According to Cavin, during his absence he "called the company everyday [sic] that [he] was scheduled to work to inform the company of [his] status." J.A. at 135 (Cavin Aff.). Cavin reported his absence to security every day during the week of June 21-25. The following week, Cavin was not scheduled to work because there was a scheduled plant shutdown. Cavin returned to work on July 6, 1999, two weeks after the first day of his absence, at which time Cavin finally notified the Leave Coordination Department of his need for a leave of absence.

When Cavin returned from leave on July 6, his supervisor and several other Honda employees knew that Cavin had been in a motorcycle accident and inquired about how he was doing. That day, Cavin received what Honda refers to as progressive counseling, or coaching, for employees with less than 98 percent attendance. Counseling is an element of Honda's "progressive discipline" structure for attendance violations. J.A. at 353 (McClellan Dep.). Linda McClellan ("McClellan"), a representative of Honda's Associate Relations Department, met with Cavin and reviewed Honda's leave policies. She informed Cavin that any future violation of company policy would result in his separation.

Cavin explained to McClellan that he had been injured in a motorcycle accident on June 21, had been excused from work through June 24 by the emergency room doctor, and further excused until June 28 by a second doctor. Cavin told McClellan that he had called Honda every day to report his absence and gave her the return to work slips that his doctors had signed to excuse him. Honda gave Cavin a leave coordination packet, instructing Cavin to have his doctor complete the forms and to return the packet by July 21, 1999. Cavin timely completed the packet, in which Cohen certified that Cavin's June 21-28 leave was due to a serious health condition.

On July 7, 1999, Honda disallowed a portion of Cavin's leave under the FMLA on grounds that the absences were not approved. Cavin had violated Honda's leave policy by failing to call Honda's Leave Coordination Department within three consecutive workdays of his first day of leave. 2 Honda refused to approve Cavin's absences for June 21-23 as FMLA-qualifying leave, recognizing only June 24-25 as qualifying leave. Cavin was forced to take a vacation day to cover his June 21 absence.

Cavin missed work several times during the following months because he was suffering from extreme pain in the shoulder that was injured during the motorcycle accident. Honda approved Cavin's July 15-20 and July 23-28 leaves of absence as FMLA-qualifying, but denied his final request for FMLA leave on grounds that he failed timely to submit a certification form for the September 30-October 4 absence. To receive FMLA leave for this period, Cavin was required to submit a certification form to the Leave Coordination Department before October 19. Cavin met the deadline, but the certification was facially incomplete; it did not include the

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dates of treatment or incapacity. The Leave Coordination Department instructed Cavin to submit a completed form by October 27. Cavin failed to meet the new deadline when his doctor did not timely submit the form to Honda. 3 Because Honda did not timely receive the certification, Cavin was disciplined a second time in November 1999. Honda then fired Cavin for violating the Honda leave policy twice.

On April 3, 2000, Cavin filed a suit in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, alleging that Honda had interfered with his FMLA rights and wrongfully discharged him in violation of Ohio public policy. Honda filed a motion to dismiss the wrongful discharge claim, and the district court granted the motion on March 28, 2001. Cavin v. Honda of Am. Mfg., Inc., 138 F.Supp.2d 987, 998 (S.D.Ohio 2001) (Cavin I). Honda then filed a motion for summary judgment on the FMLA claim, which the district court granted on February 22, 2002. Cavin v. Honda of Am. Mfg., Inc., 2002 WL 484521, at *25 (S.D.Ohio Feb.22, 2002) (Cavin II).

Cavin filed a timely notice of appeal. On appeal, "Cavin chose to simplify his claim ... by only appealing the June 1999 denial of FMLA" and by declining to appeal the district court's grant of summary judgment with respect to Cavin's September-October leave. 4 Cavin Reply Br. at 4 n. 1. The National Employment Lawyers Association ("NELA"), a "professional membership organization of lawyers who represent employees in discrimination, wrongful discharge, employee benefit, and other employment-related matters," filed an amicus brief in support of Cavin. NELA Br. at 1.

II. THE FAMILY AND MEDICAL LEAVE ACT

The district court granted Honda summary judgment on Cavin's claim that...

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