Blankenship v. Buchanan General Hosp., No. CIV A 1:96CV00182.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Western District of Virginia)
Writing for the CourtGlen M. Williams
Citation140 F.Supp.2d 668
PartiesDelois BLANKENSHIP, Plaintiff, v. BUCHANAN GENERAL HOSPITAL, Defendant.
Docket NumberNo. CIV A 1:96CV00182.
Decision Date23 February 2001
140 F.Supp.2d 668
Delois BLANKENSHIP, Plaintiff,
v.
BUCHANAN GENERAL HOSPITAL, Defendant.
No. CIV A 1:96CV00182.
United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Abingdon Division.
February 23, 2001.

Page 669

Edward Gaines, Jr., Bressler, Curcio & Stout, Bristol, VA, for plaintiff.

Robert Julius Breimann, Street, Street, Street, Scott & Bowman, Grundy, VA, for defendant.

ORDER

GLEN M. WILLIAMS, Senior District Judge.


This case is before the court on the objections filed by the defendant to the report of Magistrate Judge Pamela Sargent dated January 19, 2001. The gist of the defendant's argument in support of its objection to the report appears to be that the plaintiff was an employee at will and that the defendant had the right to fire for any reason. The Magistrate Judge has found that there are genuine issues of material fact as to whether in firing the plaintiff, the defendant violated the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). It appears that if the court agreed with the defendant that employers could fire any person who is an employee at will regardless of whether it violated a federal statute. In other words, the Virginia doctrine of employee at will cannot supersede federal laws prohibiting discrimination.

The court hereby adopts the findings of fact and the recommended decision of Magistrate Judge Pamela Sargent and the said report is hereby adopted completely. The objections filed by the defendants are hereby overruled.

The Clerk is directed to send certified copies of this Order to counsel of record.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

SARGENT, United States Magistrate Judge.

The plaintiff, Delois Blankenship, ("Blankenship"), filed this action seeking damages from her former employer, Buchanan County General Hospital, Inc., ("the Hospital"), for alleged violations of the Family Medical Leave Act, ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C.A. §§ 2601-2654 (West 1999). Jurisdiction over this matter is based upon 28 U.S.C.A. § 1331 (West 1993). This matter is before the court on the Hospital's

Page 670

motion for summary judgment filed November 9, 2000. (Docket Item No. 23.) The Affidavits of Brenda Yates and John O'Keefe, which were executed in September 2000, have been filed in support of the Hospital's motion. (Docket Item Nos. 29, 30.) Blankenship also has filed an affidavit in support of her opposition to the motion. (Docket Item No. 26.) This case is before the undersigned magistrate judge by referral pursuant to 28 U.S.C.A. § 636(b)(1)(B) (West 1993). As directed by the order of referral, the undersigned now submits the following report and recommended disposition.

I. Factual Background

The factual background of this case was set out previously in the court's February 3, 1998, Memorandum Opinion. (Docket Item No. 17.) These facts will not be repeated here, unless relevant to the current motion before the court.

Blankenship last worked for the Hospital on August 28, 1994, as a full-time dietary aide. On August 29, 1994, Blankenship began a period of leave from this position as a result of severe stress and depression based on the then recent death of her mother. Blankenship alleges that she intended to utilize accumulated paid vacation and sick leave through September 19, 1994. Blankenship alleges that, on September 19, 1994, she requested additional leave under the FMLA by partially completing an Employee Request for Family or Medical Leave form. Blankenship states that she signed the second page of this form and dated it September 19, 1994, assuming that the 12 weeks of leave permitted by the FMLA would begin on that date.

Blankenship alleges that she did not see a completed copy of this form until late October 1994. This completed copy listed August 28, 1994, as the start date of Blankenship's FMLA leave. Blankenship sought clarification from the Hospital, and she was informed that her FMLA leave time had begun on August 28, 1994. Blankenship alleges that she spoke with Brenda Yates, ("Yates"), the Hospital's Human Resources Director, in early November 1994 and that Yates informed her that her FMLA leave ended on November 28, 1994, at which time she would be expected to return to work.

On November 21, 1994, 12 weeks after August 28, 1994, the Hospital terminated Blankenship's employment. Yates notified Blankenship by letter dated November 21, 1994, that her employment had been terminated because she had failed to return to work upon the expiration of her FMLA leave. Yates and John O'Keefe, ("O'Keefe"), District Manager for ARA Food Services, Inc., now claim that they intended to terminate Blankenship's employment on August 29, 1994, based on allegations that she had attempted to steal food from the Hospital's kitchen on August 28, 1994.1 While neither allege that Blankenship's employment was actually terminated based on these allegations of theft, both allege that Blankenship's employment would have been terminated based on these allegations, if she had returned from FMLA leave. O'Keefe also now states that he has learned that Blankenship falsely stated that she had never been convicted of a crime on her employment application.2 O'Keefe claims that

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had this information been known to him, he would have never hired Blankenship. He also claims that he would have immediately terminated Blankenship's employment when this information became known to him.

Blankenship has denied that she ever engaged in any theft or attempted theft of any property from the Hospital. Blankenship also has stated that no one from the Hospital ever informed her that she had been accused of theft or that she would be terminated as a result of such allegations. Blankenship states that she first learned of these allegations during a discovery deposition taken as a result of this case.

II. Analysis

As stated above, this case is before the court on the Hospital's motion for summary judgment. To prevail on its motion for summary judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c), the Hospital must demonstrate that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 327, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). In considering the Hospital's motion, the court must view the underlying facts and all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to Blankenship. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986).

The Hospital argues that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on Blankenship's FMLA claims because it intended to terminate Blankenship's employment as soon as she returned from leave based on allegations that she had been involved in an attempted theft of Hospital property. The Hospital argues that the FMLA gave Blankenship no greater rights while she was on FMLA leave than she would have otherwise possessed had she not been on leave. Thus, the Hospital argues that Blankenship should not be allowed to pursue a FMLA claim based on the Hospital's failure to reinstate her at the conclusion of her leave period when it had decided to terminate her. While it appears that the Fourth Circuit has not addressed this specific issue, the Hospital cites the Eleventh Circuit's opinion in O'Connor v. PCA Family Health Plan, Inc., 200 F.3d 1349 (11th Cir.2000), in support of its arguments. Because I find important distinctions between the facts of the O'Connor case and this one, and because I believe that there remain genuine issues as to material facts in this case, I recommend that the court deny the Hospital's motion for summary judgment.

The FMLA provides eligible employees of a covered employer the right to take unpaid leave for a period of up to 12 work weeks in any 12-month period for a serious medical condition. See 29 U.S.C.A. § 2612(a)(1)(D) (West 1999); 29 C.F.R. § 825.100 (2000). The FMLA also provides that eligible employees have the right to be reinstated to their previous position or an equivalent position upon their return from leave. See 29 U.S.C.A. § 2614(a) (West 1999). The FMLA makes it unlawful for an employer to interfere with, restrain or deny the exercise of these rights. See 29 U.S.C.A. § 2615(a)(1) (West 1999). Employee claims brought under this provision are referred to as "interference" claims. See O'Connor, 200 F.3d at 1352.

The FMLA also contains two provisions that prevent retaliation by employers. See Dodgens v. Kent Mfg. Co., 955 F.Supp. 560, 564 (D.S.C.1997). First, the FMLA makes it unlawful for an employer "to discharge or in any other manner discriminate" against an employee who opposes any practice made unlawful by the FMLA. See 29 U.S.C.A. § 2615(a)(2) (West 1999). Second, the FMLA makes it unlawful for

Page 672

an employer "to discharge or in any other manner discriminate" against an employee who has filed a charge or has given or is about to give information or testimony regarding any inquiry or proceeding related to any right provided by the FMLA. See 29 U.S.C.A. § 2615(b) (West 1999). While the FMLA does not specifically provide that it is unlawful to discharge an employee in retaliation for requesting or receiving FMLA leave, the regulations interpreting the FMLA provide that "[a]n employer is prohibited from discriminating against employees or prospective employees who have used FMLA leave.... [E]mployers cannot use the taking of FMLA leave as a negative factor in employment actions, such as hiring, promotions, or disciplinary actions...." 29 C.F.R. § 825.220(c) (2000). Based on this, the courts have recognized that the FMLA also provides a cause of action for retaliatory discharge for receiving FMLA leave. See O'Connor, 200 F.3d at 1352; Hodgens v. General Dynamics Corp., 144 F.3d 151, 159-60 (1st Cir.1998); Dodgens, 955 F.Supp. at 565; see also Cline v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 144 F.3d 294, 301 (4th Cir.1998) (finding that substantial evidence supported the jury's finding that employer terminated employee in retaliation for...

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  • Moss v. City of Abbeville, Civil Action No. 8:09-cv-01859-PBH
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
    • 15 Julio 2010
    ...against any individual for opposing any practice made unlawful by this subchapter.' "); see Blankenship v. Buchanan Gen. Hosp., 140 F.Supp.2d 668, 672 (W.D.Va.2001) (explaining that courts, including the Fourth Circuit, have interpreted § 825.220(c) as creating a cause of action for retalia......
  • Dotson v. Pfizer, Inc., No. 07-1920.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • 4 Marzo 2009
    ...actions." Courts have recognized that the FMLA provides a cause of action for retaliation. Blankenship v. Buchanan Gen. Hosp., 140 F.Supp.2d 668, 671-72 Relying principally on a case from the Eleventh Circuit, Strickland v. Water Works & Sewer Bd., 239 F.3d 1199 (11th Cir.2001), Pfizer argu......
  • Stroder v. United Parcel Serv. Inc., No. 1:09CV335.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Middle District of North Carolina
    • 30 Agosto 2010
    ...by employers, and creat [e] entitlements for employees” (internal quotation omitted)); Blankenship v. Buchanan General Hospital, 140 F.Supp.2d 668, 673 (W.D.Va.2001). The separate prohibition against “retaliation” under the FMLA prohibits employers from discharging an employee or otherwise ......
  • Yashenko v. Harrah's Nc Casino Company, LLC, No. CIV.2:03 CV 226.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Western District of North Carolina
    • 20 Enero 2005
    ...taken the leave. See O'Connor v. PCA Family Health Plan, Inc., 200 F.3d 1349, 1354 (11th Cir.2000); Blankenship v. Buchanan Gen. Hosp., 140 F.Supp.2d 668, 673 (W.D.Va.2001); Leary v. Hobet Mining, Inc., 981 F.Supp. 452, 455 (S.D.W.Va.1997). The Fourth Circuit has not decided the question of......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
11 cases
  • Moss v. City of Abbeville, Civil Action No. 8:09-cv-01859-PBH
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
    • 15 Julio 2010
    ...against any individual for opposing any practice made unlawful by this subchapter.' "); see Blankenship v. Buchanan Gen. Hosp., 140 F.Supp.2d 668, 672 (W.D.Va.2001) (explaining that courts, including the Fourth Circuit, have interpreted § 825.220(c) as creating a cause of action for retalia......
  • Dotson v. Pfizer, Inc., No. 07-1920.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • 4 Marzo 2009
    ...actions." Courts have recognized that the FMLA provides a cause of action for retaliation. Blankenship v. Buchanan Gen. Hosp., 140 F.Supp.2d 668, 671-72 Relying principally on a case from the Eleventh Circuit, Strickland v. Water Works & Sewer Bd., 239 F.3d 1199 (11th Cir.2001), Pfizer argu......
  • Stroder v. United Parcel Serv. Inc., No. 1:09CV335.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Middle District of North Carolina
    • 30 Agosto 2010
    ...by employers, and creat [e] entitlements for employees” (internal quotation omitted)); Blankenship v. Buchanan General Hospital, 140 F.Supp.2d 668, 673 (W.D.Va.2001). The separate prohibition against “retaliation” under the FMLA prohibits employers from discharging an employee or otherwise ......
  • Yashenko v. Harrah's Nc Casino Company, LLC, No. CIV.2:03 CV 226.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Western District of North Carolina
    • 20 Enero 2005
    ...taken the leave. See O'Connor v. PCA Family Health Plan, Inc., 200 F.3d 1349, 1354 (11th Cir.2000); Blankenship v. Buchanan Gen. Hosp., 140 F.Supp.2d 668, 673 (W.D.Va.2001); Leary v. Hobet Mining, Inc., 981 F.Supp. 452, 455 (S.D.W.Va.1997). The Fourth Circuit has not decided the question of......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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