Blake v. City of Montgomery, Case No. 2:19-cv-243-RAH

CourtUnited States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Middle District of Alabama
Citation492 F.Supp.3d 1292
Docket NumberCase No. 2:19-cv-243-RAH
Parties Kyle BLAKE, Plaintiff, v. The CITY OF MONTGOMERY, ALABAMA, Defendant.
Decision Date06 October 2020

492 F.Supp.3d 1292

Kyle BLAKE, Plaintiff,

Case No. 2:19-cv-243-RAH

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division.

Signed October 6, 2020

492 F.Supp.3d 1297

Julian Lenwood McPhillips, Jr., McPhillips Shinbaum, L.L.P., Kyle David Sawyer, Attorney at Law, Montgomery, AL, for Plaintiff.

Kyle Blake, Pike Road, AL, pro se.

Brittney F. Jones, Stacy Lott Bellinger, Christopher Ryan East, City of Montgomery Legal Dept., Montgomery, AL, for Defendant.



Does telling your employer that, due to burnout, you "couldn't do it anymore" and that you "would turn [your] stuff in if [you] needed to" support a claim under the Family Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq. ("FMLA") when your employer ultimately accepts these statements as your voluntary resignation from your job? (Doc. 29-1 at 54, 82.) Plaintiff Kyle Blake claims that it does, and this lawsuit tests the legitimacy of that position.


Blake formerly was employed as a paramedic by the City of Montgomery ("the City") in its fire department ("the Department"). Blake began his employment with the Department in 2012, (Doc. 29-1 at 27), and became a certified paramedic in 2014, (Doc. 32-1 at 20). Prior to the events of August 22, 2018, Blake was an otherwise exemplary firefighter and paramedic. (See Doc. 32-1 at 19, 23-24.)

A. The Handbook and Previous FMLA Leave

As an employee of the City, Blake received a copy of the City of Montgomery Employee Handbook and a separate document titled "City of Montgomery Benefits and Policies." (Doc. 29-1 at 45-47; Doc. 32-8.) The handbook provided, inter alia , that merit employees like Blake had certain protections, including a right to a hearing regarding disciplinary action. (Doc. 32-8 at 6-7.) The handbook also contained instructions about the City's Employee Assistance Program ("EAP"), which was established to help employees who are "experiencing medical/behavioral problems." (Doc. 32-8 at 2.) As described in the handbook, managers and other supervisors could refer an employee to the EAP to improve "job performance or job management issues." (Doc. 32-8 at 2.)

The employee handbook also contained instructions regarding how employees must request FMLA leave. (Doc. 32-8 at 8.) To request FMLA leave, an employee must "give 30 days’ advance notice to their supervisors," or "(i)f the need for leave is unforeseeable ... employees must inform the department head as soon as they are aware of the need for leave, but no less than five business days from the beginning of their absence, unless an emergency situation exists ... in which case the department head must be informed as soon as practicable." (Doc. 32-8 at 8.) The policy further provided that "(e)mployees will receive a Request for Family and Medical

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Leave form to complete and submit to the department head." (Id. )

Blake never requested assistance from the EAP. (Doc. 29-1 at 48.) Blake however did invoke the FMLA leave-request procedures in February 2018 when he took FMLA leave for carpal tunnel surgery. (Doc. 29-1 at 49.) To do so, he informed the Department and completed the appropriate FMLA paperwork. (Doc. 29-1 at 49.)

B. Blake's Work Hours

Blake and other paramedics had to work significantly more hours than other personnel at the Department. While a regular firefighter might make "between 14 and 38 runs" per month, paramedics like Blake made "between 350 to 400 runs" per month. (Doc. 29-1 at 42-43.)

Due to short staffing, Blake and other paramedics often were required to work 48-hour shifts, which were contrary to the rules and regulations of the Department. (Doc. 32-7; Doc. 33 at 3.) The staffing issues were so dire that The Montgomery Advertiser published an article on September 6, 2018, that quoted a city representative as saying that the City was aware of the fatigue issues among its EMT personnel who were having to work double shifts. (Doc. 32-3.)

C. The Resignation Event

On August 21, 2018, Blake began work on his regularly scheduled 24-hour shift, from 8:00 A.M. to 8:00 A.M. (Doc. 29-1 at 52-53.) The following morning, prior to finishing his assigned shift, the supervisor for the next shift, District Chief B.S. Hackett, informed Blake that he had to work the next 24-hour shift (an overtime shift) also. (Doc. 29-1 at 54.) In response, Blake told Hackett that he "couldn't do it anymore" and "[t]hat I would turn my stuff in if I needed to, something like that." (Doc. 29-1 at 54, 82.) Blake concedes that his statements to Hackett meant that he was leaving his employment with the Department:

Q. Then why mention turning your gear in?

A. Because that's what you do when you leave.

Q. When you leave?

A. Uh-huh (positive response).

Q. When you leave employment or when you leave for the day?

A. When you leave employment, you turn your stuff in.

(Doc. 29-1 at 82.)

Blake obtained coverage for the overtime shift before he left for home. (Doc. 29-1 at 59.) According to an affidavit1 submitted by Lt. Justin Smith, another paramedic, Smith agreed to work Blake's overtime shift, and according to Smith, "(i)t is understood that if we are held overtime and we can find someone of equal rank to cover that shift then we will not be penalized or reprimanded for doing so." (Doc. 39-3 at 1.) Smith also "informed Chief Hackett that Lt. Blake was severely burned out due to the burdensome number of runs, the repeated 48 hour shifts and lack of downtime to rest in between." (Doc. 39-3 at 1.)

Hackett then drafted a memorandum summarizing the events of that morning. (Doc. 32-1 at 1.) The memo explained that Blake had tendered his resignation but staff believed that Blake's resignation was not a permanent decision since Blake had

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been "severely burned out lately." (Doc. 32-1 at 1.) The memo contained Hackett's personal opinion that Blake was not past a "point of no return" and that once Blake settled down, the command staff would move Blake to a less taxing position that week. (Doc. 32-1 at 1.) The memo concluded with a statement that Hackett expected to speak with Blake again that afternoon. (Doc. 32-1.)

Blake attempted to call Hackett later that morning to inform him that he was not being rude or disrespectful earlier that morning. (Doc. 29-1 at 60-61; Doc. 29-4 at 1.) Because Hackett was pre-occupied with other matters, Blake left a message requesting that his apology be passed on to Hackett. (Doc. 29-1 at 61; Doc. 29-4 at 1-2.)

Blake called again later that afternoon and finally spoke with Hackett. (Doc. 29-1 at 62.) During their conversation, Hackett said that he was unaware that Blake had "gotten burned out that bad" but he reassured Blake that he was "not past the point of no return." (Docs. 29-1 at 62-63.) Blake however did not retract his prior statements; instead, he said that he needed to speak with his wife to "figure this out." (Doc. 29-1 at 63.) At some point during the conversation, the term "burnout" was used, but Blake did not otherwise state that he was experiencing any mental health or other medical issues. (Doc. 29-1 at 72.)

Blake left the conversation unsure as to whether, if he reported to work two days later on August 24 for his next scheduled shift, he still had a job with the Department. (Doc. 29-1 at 65.) But he believed that if he showed up, the Department would work something out, such as giving him a break by taking him out of the paramedic rotation. (Doc. 29-1 at 65.) Blake also thought the Department would refer him to the EAP as outlined in the handbook. (Doc. 29-1 at 74.)

Later that day, Hackett and Assistant Fire Chief R.H. Bozeman spoke about Blake and his situation. (Doc. 39-1 at 3.) During the conversation, Bozeman instructed Hackett not to contact Blake because Blake would not be allowed back to work. (Doc. 39-1 at 3.)

The next day, Bozeman contacted Blake and told him that his verbal resignation had been accepted and that he needed to turn in his gear to the Department's supply division. (Doc. 29-1 at 68.) While Blake claims that he was surprised by the call, he responded with "10-4 Chief" before Bozeman ended the phone call. (Doc. 29-4 at 2.)

Bozeman and Blake spoke again later that evening, during which Bozeman confirmed that Blake should turn in his gear the next day but that Blake could request a meeting with Chief Jordan if he wanted to. (Doc. 32-1 at 5.) Following the call, Bozeman sent a memorandum to E.D. Gauntt, Chief of Operations, stating that Blake had tendered his resignation to Hackett and that Bozeman had spoken with Blake to inform him that he needed to turn in his equipment. (Doc. 32-1 at 14.)

Despite the call with Bozeman, Blake nevertheless decided that he would simply return to work the next day because, otherwise, a failure to report would guarantee his "termination/resignation." (Doc. 29-4 at 2.) When Blake returned to work, he was instructed not to get on the truck for duty, that he should turn in his gear, and that he should leave the property....

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