Paris v. Sanderson Farms, Inc., 101813 FED5, 13-20239

Docket Nº:13-20239
Opinion Judge:JERRY E. SMITH, Circuit Judge:
Party Name:ANNIESA L. PARIS, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. SANDERSON FARMS, INCORPORATED; SANDERSON FARMS, INCORPORATED (FOODS DIVISION), Individually and Doing Business as Sanderson Farms, Incorporated; SANDERSON FARMS, INCORPORATED (PRODUCTION DIVISION); SANDERSON FARMS, INCORPORATED (PROCESSING DIVISION), Defendants-Appellees
Judge Panel:Before JOLLY, SMITH, and CLEMENT, Circuit Judges.
Case Date:October 18, 2013
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
 
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ANNIESA L. PARIS, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

SANDERSON FARMS, INCORPORATED; SANDERSON FARMS, INCORPORATED (FOODS DIVISION), Individually and Doing Business as Sanderson Farms, Incorporated; SANDERSON FARMS, INCORPORATED (PRODUCTION DIVISION); SANDERSON FARMS, INCORPORATED (PROCESSING DIVISION), Defendants-Appellees

No. 13-20239

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

October 18, 2013

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas USDCNo. 4:11-CV-3119

Before JOLLY, SMITH, and CLEMENT, Circuit Judges.

JERRY E. SMITH, Circuit Judge:[*]

Anniesa Paris, a former employee of Sanderson Farms, Inc. ("Sanderson Farms"), appeals a summary judgment dismissing her discrimination and retaliation claims. We affirm.

I.

In 2008, Paris began working at Sanderson Farms' poultry processing plant as a personnel clerk and was shortly thereafter promoted to the position of employee records clerk. Sanderson Farms has its own Family and Medical Leave Act Policy for Salaried Employees ("the Policy") for handling employee leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"). The Policy permits employees to take up to thirteen weeks' leave annually, rather than the twelve weeks provided by the statute. The Policy imposes certain protocols employees must follow before1 and during2 their leave. The Policy also specifies that "an employee[] who fail[s] to return after exhausting their thirteen weeks of FMLA leave will be subject to discharge" unless Sanderson Farms grants an extension.3

On October 19, 2009, Paris took FMLA leave to undergo and recover from a surgical procedure; she returned to work on November 16. Paris claims that, during her leave, her supervisor, Richard Warner, harassed her regarding her leave.4 In December, Sanderson Farms terminated Warner for poor job performance, including for issuing Paris's improper write-ups. Also in December, Sanderson Farms received a demand letter from a former employee, Revena Carroll, alleging claims of discriminatory and retaliatory discharge and claiming that Paris had witnessed an incident related to Carroll's claims against Sanderson Farms.5

Paris began a second FMLA leave on December 17 after receiving treatment at the emergency room. Her treating physician, Gerald Salinas, submitted a completed FMLA certification on December 30 saying that Paris would be out of work for "two to three weeks" to give Salinas a chance to determine the cause of her symptoms.

On January 8, 2010, Orman called Paris to see whether she planned to return to work or would need additional leave. Because Paris did not know when she would return, Ormon told her that she would need to submit an updated FMLA certification to cover any additional leave. On January 22, Paris submitted an FMLA certification signed by Salinas, indicating a return date of January 25.

Paris did not return to work on January 25 but instead submitted a note from Salinas indicating that Paris needed to remain out of work "until she's released by the Gastroenterologist." That same day, Veronica Campbell, who was Warner's replacement, sent a certified letter to Paris that indicated (1) Paris needed to send a new certification to cover any leave beyond January 25, and (2) Salinas's note was insufficient documentation. Two days later, Salinas submitted an updated FMLA certification stating that Paris could not return to work until after she saw a gastroenterologist on March 18.

Paris's FMLA leave expired in February.6 On February 22, Salinas submitted a note stating that Paris "is still waiting to see GI [on] 3/18/10 and is still off work." On February 26, Ormon requested Paris's leave be extended to March 18. Sanderson Farm's Executive Committee approved the extension.

Paris saw her gastroenterologist, Anupama Duddempudi, on March 18, then called Campbell to say she would be unable to return to work at that time. On March 23, Salinas sent Sanderson Farms a note stating Paris was "excused from work until Gastroenterologist, Dr. Duddempudi, gives any indication that she can return." In response, on March 25, Campbell sent Paris a certified letter indicating (1) her extension had expired on March 18, and (2) her employment would be terminated unless she returned to work or request another extension by April 9.7

In the afternoon of Friday April 9, Salinas faxed Campbell a medical certification form indicating that Paris's expected date to return to work was "today, 4/09/10."8 Shortly after receiving that certification, Campbell forwarded it to Jennifer Buster, a Sanderson Farms Human Resources Manager.

Paris did not return to work on April 9. Having not heard from her, Buster decided that before taking any further action, Sanderson Farms should wait to see whether she came to work on Monday April 12. Paris claims she left messages for Campbell on April 2 to inform Campbell that she had a procedure scheduled for April 5, and on April 8 to inform Campbell that her paperwork would be delayed because her doctor was out of the country. Sanderson Farms disputes that Paris left those messages.9

Paris did not come to work on April 12. The next day, Buster spoke with Ormon and Campbell concerning Paris's employment status; after that conversation, Buster10 terminated Paris's employment. The parties disagree on the effec tive date of termination: Sanderson Farms claims it was April 9, 11 but Paris claims it was April 1.12

Paris sued, alleging that Sanderson Farms interfered with her rights under the FMLA and discriminated and retaliated against her by terminating her in violation of the FMLA, the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), and the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act ("TCHRA"). The district court granted summary judgment on all claims.

II.

We review a summary judgment de novo, "using the same standard as that employed by the district court under Rule 56." Kerstetter v. Pac. Scientific Co., 210 F.3d 431, 435 (5th Cir. 2000). Summary judgment is appropriate "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a).

Newman v. Guedry, 703 F.3d 757, 761 (5th Cir. 2012), cert. denied, 2013 U.S. LEXIS 5708 (U.S. Oct. 7, 2013) (No. 12-1437). We consider "all facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party when reviewing grants of motions for summary judgment." Murray v. Earle, 405 F.3d 278, 284 (5th Cir. 2005) (citation omitted).

A.

FMLA prohibits employers from "discharg[ing] or in any other manner dis-criminat[ing] against any individual" who takes FMLA leave or engages in other protected activity under the Act. 29 U.S.C. § 2615(a)(2) (2012); Bocalbos v. Nat'l W. Life Ins. Co., 162 F.3d 379, 383 (5th Cir. 1998). Where, as here, the employee has not offered direct evidence of discrimination, this court applies the familiar three-step burden-shifting analysis established in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 800-03 (1973).13

First, the employee must establish a prima facie case of discrimination. Second, if he does that, the burden shifts to the employer to provide a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the adverse action. Finally, if the employer meets its burden, the employee must show that the reason provided was a pretext for discrimination.

Sanderson Farm assumed Paris could establish a prima facie case, so we, like the district court, assume that. We next must inquire whether Sanderson Farms produced evidence demonstrating a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for terminating Paris. Sanderson Farms put forward evidence demonstrating it terminated Paris's employment when she failed (1) to return to work following her extended FMLA leave and (2) to submit...

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