854 F.3d 68 (1st Cir. 2017), 16-1306, Germanowski v. Harris

Docket Nº:16-1306
Citation:854 F.3d 68
Opinion Judge:KAYATTA, Circuit Judge.
Party Name:HEIDI GERMANOWSKI, Plaintiff, Appellant, v. PATRICIA HARRIS, individually and in her capacity as Register of Deeds; COMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS, Defendants, Appellees
Attorney:Andrea F. Nuciforo, Jr. and Nuciforo Law Group LLC on brief for appellant. Heather A. Valentine, Assistant Attorney General, Government Bureau, and Maura Healey, Attorney General of Massachusetts, on brief for appellees.
Judge Panel:Before Howard, Chief Judge, Torruella and Kayatta, Circuit Judges.
Case Date:April 12, 2017
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
SUMMARY

Plaintiff filed a complaint against Defendants, her former employer and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, alleging that Defendants violated her rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), discriminated against her on the basis of a covered impairment, illegally required her to participate in prohibited political activity, and wrongfully terminated her with actual malice. The district... (see full summary)

 
FREE EXCERPT

Page 68

854 F.3d 68 (1st Cir. 2017)

HEIDI GERMANOWSKI, Plaintiff, Appellant,

v.

PATRICIA HARRIS, individually and in her capacity as Register of Deeds; COMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS, Defendants, Appellees

No. 16-1306

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

April 12, 2017

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF MASSACHUSETTS. Hon. Mark G. Mastroianni, U.S. District Judge.

Andrea F. Nuciforo, Jr. and Nuciforo Law Group LLC on brief for appellant.

Heather A. Valentine, Assistant Attorney General, Government Bureau, and Maura Healey, Attorney General of Massachusetts, on brief for appellees.

Before Howard, Chief Judge, Torruella and Kayatta, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 69

KAYATTA, Circuit Judge.

Heidi Germanowski challenges the district court's order dismissing claims that her former employer violated her rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (" FMLA" ), 29 U.S.C. § § 2611-2654. According to Germanowski, the facts pleaded in her complaint plausibly allege that her supervisor fired her because she sought leave protected by the FMLA. We disagree and thus affirm.

I.

Because this appeal follows a dismissal pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, we accept as true all well-pleaded facts in Germanowski's complaint and draw all reasonable inferences in her favor. See Carrero-Ojeda v. Autoridad de Energía Eléctrica, 755 F.3d 711, 712 (1st Cir. 2014).

Germanowski worked at the Berkshire Middle District Registry of Deeds for more than a decade, ascending the ranks from Recording Clerk to First Assistant Register. For much of her tenure, Germanowski worked alongside Patricia Harris, a defendant in this action. They enjoyed a strong friendship in addition to a collegial working relationship. But sometime after Harris became Germanowski's supervisor in January 2013, their relationship began to deteriorate, culminating in Germanowski's termination in February 2015.

According to the complaint, the trouble started a little over a year after Harris became Register. Germanowski, then serving as First Assistant Register, began experiencing stress and anxiety accompanied by fatigue, hair loss, aches, and gastrointestinal pain. She sought medical attention, visiting her primary care physician and other healthcare providers. She kept Harris abreast of her symptoms and physician visits.

A few months later, in June 2014, Harris allegedly began pressuring Germanowski to support William Galvin, the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, in his upcoming bid for reelection. Germanowski twice refused Harris's requests to make financial contributions to Secretary Galvin's campaign committee. Around the time of Germanowski's second refusal, Harris reassigned certain tasks from Germanowski to other employees and boxed her out of management meetings and decisions. Harris also redoubled her efforts to extract a financial contribution from Germanowski, cautioning that " it would look bad" if she declined to make a contribution and demanding that she defend her decision. Fearing that her continued employment was contingent upon making a contribution, Germanowski ultimately caved to

Page 70

the pressure in August 2014 and contributed.

The following month, Germanowski visited her gynecologist and complained of uncontrollable crying, weight loss, anxiety, and other symptoms of stress. The gynecologist diagnosed Germanowski with anxiety disorder. Once again, Germanowski apprised Harris that she was seeking medical care and reported her symptoms.

Weeks after the diagnosis, in October 2014, Germanowski suffered a nervous breakdown while working. Harris drove Germanowski home, notwithstanding Germanowski's protests that Harris was the cause of her stress and anxiety. Germanowski saw her primary care physician, who prescribed medication and instructed her to contact a therapist. Over the following week, Germanowski tried to connect with Harris to discuss her absence from work and arrange coverage of her responsibilities. When they finally connected, " Harris accused Germanowski of disloyalty, and . . . of inappropriately informing staff members about Germanowski's condition." According to the complaint, these accusations worsened Germanowski's physical and emotional state.

Germanowski informed Harris that she had begun treatment with both a psychiatrist and a therapist. She then tried to return to work on October 20, two and a half weeks after her nervous breakdown, but Harris suggested another week of rest. They met at the conclusion of that week and agreed to Germanowski's return to work the following day, October 28.

The next several weeks were uneventful. In early December, however, Harris asked a question of Germanowski in the presence of another employee. Germanowski alleges that the question was " intended . . . to embarrass and humiliate Germanowski, and to have significant emotional and physical consequences for Germanowski," and that it did so. Germanowski's complaint does not reveal what the question was.

Later that month, on Christmas Day, Germanowski received a sport pistol from her husband as a gift. She told Harris, who was familiar with Germanowski's sport shooting hobby. Approximately one month later, on January 28, 2015, Harris called Germanowski's husband to express her discomfort with the gift and ask whether Germanowski carried it to work. Germanowski's husband emphasized during their telephone conversation that Germanowski posed no danger to herself or others and denied that his wife carried the pistol at work.

The next day, Harris accused Germanowski of having an affair. According to the complaint, the accusation--which lacked any factual basis--was " made . . . to provoke a response from Germanowski" and " had its intended effect." The complaint does not describe that effect. It does allege that, later the same day, Harris left Germanowski two voicemails directing her not to come to work the following day, Friday, January 30. When Germanowski went to the Registry building on the morning of January 30 to drop off keys to a basement storage room, a court security officer denied her access to the building. Germanowski claims that Harris told the officer and others than she posed a safety threat.

Two days later, on Sunday, February 1, Harris sent Germanowski a text message indicating that they needed to speak that day because Harris would not have time to do so on Monday or Tuesday. It is unclear from the complaint whether they connected that day or whether Germanowski reported to work the following day. But on the afternoon of Monday, February 2,

Page 71

Harris left word with Germanowski not to come to work on February 3.

At this point, Germanowski feared that her employment was " in jeopardy." She sent an email to Harris on February 3 stating " that she would be out sick for the week, and that she was scheduled to see her doctor." Two days later, on February 5, Germanowski saw her psychiatrist, who gave her a letter advising her to take a leave of absence in order to pursue treatment. Germanowski does not allege that she provided this letter to anyone at the Registry or that anyone at the Registry otherwise obtained it.

The next day, February 6, Germanowski received a voicemail message from the chief court officer. The message stated that Germanowski was terminated effective immediately. Moments later, Germanowski received a written termination notice from Harris via email.

Germanowski brought this lawsuit against Harris (individually and in her official capacity) and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, alleging in a five-count complaint that the defendants violated the FMLA as well as Massachusetts statutory and common law. According to the complaint, the defendants violated Germanowski's FMLA rights, discriminated against her on the basis of a covered impairment, illegally required her to participate in prohibited political activity, and wrongfully terminated her with actual malice.

In subsequent course, the district court granted a motion by the defendants to dismiss the case under Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The court dismissed on Eleventh Amendment grounds all of Germanowski's FMLA claims against the Commonwealth as well as those FMLA claims against Harris in her official capacity seeking monetary damages. It then considered the remaining FMLA claims against Harris and dismissed them because Germanowski's complaint failed to allege facts stating, or supporting the inference, that Harris knew or had reason to know at the time of Germanowski's termination that Germanowski intended to take FMLA-protected leave. Because Harris lacked such knowledge, the district court reasoned, it was implausible that Harris acted on account of it when terminating Germanowski. Having dismissed Germanowski's FMLA claims with prejudice, the district court declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state law claims and dismissed them without prejudice. This appeal followed.

II

.

A

.

Germanowski appeals the portion of the district court's order dismissing certain FMLA claims against Harris not barred by the Eleventh Amendment. She also asks this court to order reinstatement of her state law claims upon reversing the dismissal of her FMLA claims. " We review orders granting motions to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) de novo, applying the same criteria as the district court." Carrero-Ojeda, 755 F.3d at 717 (emphasis omitted). In undertaking this review, we ask whether the well-pleaded factual allegations, viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, state a claim for which relief can be granted. See Ocasio-Hernández v. Fortuño-Burset, 640 F.3d 1, 7 (1st Cir....

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP