391 F.3d 644 (5th Cir. 2004), 04-30007, Haley v. Alliance Compressor LLC

Docket Nº:04-30007.
Citation:391 F.3d 644
Party Name:Marilyn HALEY, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. ALLIANCE COMPRESSOR LLC and Copeland Corp., Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:November 17, 2004
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

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391 F.3d 644 (5th Cir. 2004)

Marilyn HALEY, Plaintiff-Appellant,


ALLIANCE COMPRESSOR LLC and Copeland Corp., Defendants-Appellees.

No. 04-30007.

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

November 17, 2004

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Pamela R. Jones (argued), Shreveport, LA, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Samuel Newman Poole, Trevor S. Fry (argued), Steven M. Oxenhandler, Gold, Weems, Bruser, Sues & Rundell, Alexandria, LA, for Defendants-Appellees.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana.

Before DeMOSS, STEWART and CLEMENT, Circuit Judges.

DeMOSS, Circuit Judge:

Plaintiff-Appellant Marilyn Haley ("Haley") appeals the district court's grant of final judgment in favor of Defendants-Appellees Alliance Compressor LLC and Copeland Corp. (together, "Alliance"), based on its finding that Haley did not present a genuine issue of material fact supporting her constructive discharge, the basis for her Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq., claims. For the reasons stated below, we AFFIRM.

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Starting May 11, 1999, Haley was employed in the Human Resources ("HR") Department at Alliance Compressors LLC, a joint venture manufacturer of air-conditioning compressors located in Natchitoches, Louisiana. Copeland Corp. is one company involved in the joint venture. The other key personnel involved in this case are: Jeff Risinger ("Risinger"), HR manager and Haley's immediate boss for most of her time there; Mark Schuller ("Schuller"), a fellow HR leader; Steve Hokky ("Hokky"), Plant Manager; and Bob Anderson ("Anderson"), Vice-President of the HR Department at Copeland Corp.

When Alliance hired Haley, she was assigned as leader of the machining business unit while Schuller was responsible for the assembly business unit. Haley's responsibilities for her unit included staffing, employee relations, training, and all daily activities in those areas. On performance evaluations conducted by Risinger in 1999 and 2000, Haley was evaluated as meeting or exceeding job expectations. In October 2000, an employee survey was conducted by Emerson Electric Co., the parent company of Copeland Corp. These results came out in December 2000 and showed employee misgivings about the HR department, including some individual negative comments directed toward both Haley and Schuller. Around January or February 2001, Alliance conducted feedback sessions with employees at the plant. From these, Alliance developed a plan of action to improve the performance of the HR group. Risinger reorganized the department, with Schuller to be in charge of training and Haley to oversee recruitment. At the time, another HR employee, Joanna Deloch, was handling employee relations.

About April 23, 2001, Risinger met with Haley to discuss some deficiencies in her performance. At the time, Risinger documented the meeting with informal, handwritten notes. About June 18, 2001, Haley completed a temporary disability claim form; the next day she saw her physician who diagnosed a stress/anxiety disorder, which Haley claimed arose from her employment. Haley's doctor recommended that Haley take a leave of absence from work from June 25, 2001, until August 20, 2001. Haley then completed and submitted an employee request for medical leave form, requesting leave for the time period stated by her doctor. On June 22, 2001, Alliance approved Haley's request for leave under the FMLA; Haley commenced her leave on June 25, 2001. While Haley was out on leave, Risinger approved a merit increase in her salary, effective August 6, 2001.

Risinger, Hokky, and Anderson felt frustrated that Haley was out on leave. Sometime in July 2001, about three weeks into Haley's leave, Anderson contacted Risinger about the alignment of the HR department. Issues relating to Haley's return were discussed--Anderson claims they talked about preparations for Haley's return and what performance issues she still needed to work on. Risinger presents a different version. He stated that Anderson told him to call Haley while she was on leave and inform her that her job had been eliminated, "that she didn't have a job to come back to, basically." Risinger said he objected because firing Haley might be considered discriminatory and in violation of the FMLA. Anderson agreed. Risinger stated that Anderson called him again after consulting an employment attorney and asked him for written documentation of Haley's work performance.

Risinger prepared the requested memo documenting the April 23, 2001, meeting he had with Haley and submitted it to Anderson on July 29, 2001. This memo

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included nine specific areas of improvement for Haley to work on. Risinger stated none of these areas was an issue anymore and Haley had left for leave in good standing, while Anderson claims not all the performance issues had been resolved. On August 10, 2001, Risinger submitted his letter of resignation, effective August 24, 2001. Haley returned to work on August 20, 2001. Her doctor recommended she resume no more than 40-hour work weeks, and Alliance changed her status from salaried, exempt to salaried, full-time. In the meantime, Schuller had also resigned and Steve Ritcheson had been brought on as HR manager of employee relations. Hokky and Anderson assumed Risinger's supervision of the HR department; Risinger's role in management became insubstantial and disengaged after he submitted his resignation.

Anderson and Hokky confronted Haley with the memo and the alleged job deficiencies on August 20, 2001, and advised her of the importance of making improvements in her performance. Haley did not know where this had come from, so she went to Risinger to ask him about the circumstances of this meeting. Risinger told her about Hokky and Anderson not being happy that she had taken leave and about Anderson's aborted plan to have Risinger tell her that her job had been eliminated. On August 23, 2001, Anderson and Hokky met with Haley to discuss Alliance's expectations about her work performance and informed her that she needed to improve in the outlined areas of concern or she faced termination. They gave her a letter to that effect and a performance plan.

Haley stated that any and all of her attempted actions at work were now closely monitored and micromanaged by Hokky and his secretary Donna Pearce, who Haley says was proposed to replace her. Haley stated that she observed at least three HR department meetings that took place without her; she could see this because the meeting room had glass walls. On one occasion, she received very late notice of a scheduled telephone conference with Anderson. When she arrived to find the meeting in progress, Hokky said sarcastically, "Oh, did we fail to tell you about the meeting?" and everyone sniggered.

Haley submitted her letter of resignation on September 11, 2001. Haley filed this suit in district court on September 6, 2002, alleging that Alliance had violated the FMLA, by (1) denying or interfering with her protected FMLA right to be restored to her pre-leave job and (2) retaliating against her for using approved leave under the FMLA. Haley sought back pay. Alliance filed its motion for summary judgment on August 22, 2003. The district court entered a final judgment on December 8, 2003, in favor of Alliance, finding there was no genuine issue of material fact as to constructive discharge and Alliance was entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The court's written ruling made clear it did not consider evidence of Alliance's intent. Haley timely appealed.


This Court reviews a district court's grant of summary judgment de novo, applying the same standards as the district court. Priester v. Lowndes County, 354 F.3d 414, 419 (5th Cir. 2004); see also Bodenheimer v. PPG Indus., Inc., 5 F.3d 955, 956 (5th Cir. 1993) (holding same in employment discrimination case). Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c), summary judgment is proper when the "pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment

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as a matter of law." FED.R.CIV.P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). When making its determination, the court must draw all justifiable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. Bodenheimer, 5 F.3d at 956.

Under the FMLA, an eligible employee is entitled to take up to 12 work weeks of leave in a 12-month period when, e.g., the employee has a serious health condition that makes her unable to perform the duties of her position. 29 U.S.C. § 2612(a) (1) (D); Bocalbos v. Nat'l W. Life Ins. Co., 162 F.3d 379, 383 (5th Cir. 1998). After a qualifying absence, the employer must restore the employee to the same position previously held by the employee before taking leave under the FMLA or a comparable position, with equivalent pay, benefits, and working conditions. 29 U.S.C. § 2614(a) (1); Chaffin v. John H. Carter Co., Inc., 179 F.3d 316, 319 (5th...

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