359 F.Supp.2d 813 (N.D.Iowa 2005), C03-4081, Willemssen v. Conveyor Co.

Docket Nº:C03-4081 PAZ.
Citation:359 F.Supp.2d 813
Party Name:Kelli Jo WILLEMSSEN, Plaintiff, v. THE CONVEYOR COMPANY, Defendant.
Case Date:March 18, 2005
Court:United States District Courts, 8th Circuit
 
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Page 813

359 F.Supp.2d 813 (N.D.Iowa 2005)

Kelli Jo WILLEMSSEN, Plaintiff,

v.

THE CONVEYOR COMPANY, Defendant.

No. C03-4081 PAZ.

United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Western Division.

March 18, 2005

Page 814

Dewey P. Sloan, Jr., Dewey P. Sloan, Jr., PC, LeMars, IA, Richard H. Moeller, Berenstein, Moore, Berenstein, Heffernan & Moeller, LLP, Sioux City, IA, for Plaintiff.

Harold D. Dawson, DeKoter, Thole & Dawson, PLC, Sibley, IA, for Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER ON CROSS-MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

ZOSS, United States Magistrate Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

On August 28, 2003, Kelli Jo Willemssen ("Willemssen") filed a two-count Complaint against her former employer, The Conveyor Company ("Conveyor"). (Doc. No. 1) In Count I, Willemssen alleges Conveyor violated her rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act (the "FMLA") 1 by not providing her with leave under the Act and then firing her from her job. In Count II, she alleges she was wrongfully terminated by Conveyor in violation of Iowa common law.

On October 30, 2003, Conveyor filed an Answer, denying liability on both counts of the Complaint, and affirmatively alleging that (1) Willemssen's claims are barred by the statute of limitations; (2) her claims are barred because she failed to file this action within ninety days of the issuance of the EEOC's ruling on her claim; (3) Willemssen never notified Conveyor of a request for medical leave; (4) Willemssen was, fact, provided with the medical leave required by the FMLA; (5) Conveyor acted in good faith, and (6) Conveyor had no improper motive in terminating Willemssen, and never intended to violate the FMLA. (Doc. No. 5)

On February 2, 2004, the parties consented to jurisdiction before a magistrate judge, and on that date, Chief Judge Mark W. Bennett referred the case to the undersigned magistrate judge "for the conduct of all further proceedings and the entry of judgment in accordance with [federal law]." (Doc. No. 8)

On December 3, 2004, Conveyor filed a motion for summary judgment, statement of material facts, supporting brief, and appendix. (Doc. No. 10) On January 4, 2005, Willemssen filed a response to the motion, a cross-motion for summary judgment, and a statement of material facts. (Doc. No. 15) On January 11, 2004, Conveyor filed a reply brief and a resistance to the cross-motion for summary judgment. (Doc. No. 16)

The court has considered the submissions and arguments of the parties carefully, and turns now to discussion of the issues raised by the parties in their motions.

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Willemssen was employed by Conveyor in Sibley, Iowa, as a receptionist/administrative

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assistant. She worked for Conveyor for more than one year, from August 29, 2000, until August 31, 2001, when her employment was terminated. Conveyor employs more than fifty individuals from an area within 75 miles of Sibley. During Willemssen's employment with Conveyor, she worked more than the 1,250 hours required by the FMLA.

Willemssen missed twenty-four days of work on unpaid leave from August 29, 2000, to June 1, 2001. Beginning on June 1, 2001, she took unpaid leave to participate in activities with her children. She was still on unpaid leave on June 11, 2001, when she was hospitalized because of complications relating to a pregnancy. She gave birth to the baby prematurely on July 6, 2001. Willemssen remained on leave until August 29, 2001, when Conveyor notified her that her employment was being terminated effective August 31, 2001. 2

Willemssen's baby was sent home from the hospital in early December 2001. Because she had to stay home to take care of the baby, Willemssen would not have been able to return to work until sometime in January 2002, more than three months after the date of her termination.

Willemssen had been on unpaid leave from June 1, 2001, to August 31, 2001, when her employment was terminated, a total of thirteen consecutive weeks. According to Conveyor, it terminated Willemssen's employment because she had been on unpaid leave for more than twelve weeks but she had never informed the company of when, if ever, she would be returning to work.

III. STANDARDS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governs motions for summary judgment and provides that either party to a lawsuit may move for summary judgment without the need for supporting affidavits. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a), (b). Rule 56 further states that summary judgment:

shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). A court considering a motion for summary judgment "must view all of the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and give that party the benefit of all reasonable inferences that can be drawn from the facts." Webster Indus., Inc. v. Northwood Doors, Inc., 320 F.Supp.2d 821, 828 (N.D.Iowa 2004) (citing Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 1356, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986); and Quick v. Donaldson Co., 90 F.3d 1372, 1376-77 (8th Cir.1996)).

The party seeking summary judgment must " 'inform[] the district court of the basis for [the] motion and identify[] those portions of the...

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