Farkas v. Nra Grp. LLC

Decision Date26 July 2016
Docket NumberCIVIL ACTION NO. 1:15-CV-356
PartiesJODIE FARKAS, Plaintiff v. NRA GROUP LLC, individually and d/b/a NATIONAL RECOVERY AGENCY ("NRA"), et al., Defendants
CourtU.S. District Court — Middle District of Pennsylvania

individually and d/b/a NATIONAL RECOVERY AGENCY ("NRA"), et al., Defendants



July 26, 2016

(Chief Judge Conner)


Plaintiff Jodie Farkas ("Farkas") brings this civil action pursuant to the Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq., asserting claims for FMLA interference and retaliation.1 (See Doc. 1). Defendants move the court for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. (Doc. 19). The court will grant defendants' motion.

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I. Factual Background and Procedural History2

Farkas began her employment with defendant NRA Group, LLC, ("NRA"), on March 4, 2013 at NRA's Crossgate location. (Doc. 21 ¶ 1; see Doc. 1 ¶ 1; Doc. 21 ¶ 47). NRA operates as an accounts receivable management company which, inter alia, provides debt collection service and credit bureau reporting to its third party clients. (Doc. 21 ¶ 2). NRA hired Farkas to work as a "debt collector." (Id. ¶ 1). Her responsibilities include "taking inbound phone calls and making outbound phone calls" to assist NRA's clients in recovering unpaid debts. (Id. ¶ 6).

It appears from the Rule 56 record that Farkas's performance is measured against a weekly collection quota and that she is eligible for a bonus under certain circumstances, but neither party offers any elaboration on the quota or bonus structure. (See Docs. 1, 21). It is clear, however, that an employee who violates federal debt collection law or company policy may become ineligible for bonuses. (Doc. 21 ¶ 48). Farkas was disciplined three times during the early period of her employment: for failure to meet weekly performance goals in June 2013, failure to

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work scheduled hours in July 2013, and violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act ("FDCPA") in January 2014. (See Doc. 20, Ex. A, Farkas Dep. 99:17-100:21; Doc. 21 ¶ 54).

From October 2013 through May 7, 2014, Farkas was responsible for answering the "supervisor/takeover" line (the "supervisor line"). (Doc. 21 ¶ 7). In that capacity, Farkas would answer the supervisor line "when an irate consumer or individual would like to speak with a supervisor and ask directly to speak with a supervisor." (Id. ¶ 7). This designation did not authorize Farkas to hire, fire, or discipline employees, nor was she able to delegate assignments or engage in other traditional supervisory tasks. (See id. ¶ 8). Farkas received an additional $50.00 per pay period for her supervisor line responsibilities. (Id. ¶ 9).

Farkas began suffering from migraine headaches in August 2013. (Farkas Dep. 62:15-22). In October 2013, she received a doctor's diagnosis for her migraine condition. (Doc. 21 ¶ 11). Farkas approached NRA's office manager, defendant Zulaima Figueroa ("Figueroa"), on February 27, 2014 to request FMLA paperwork. (See id. ¶ 12). Thereafter, Farkas began recording any FMLA-related interactions with NRA employees in a journal. (See id. ¶¶ 13-15). Farkas completed the FMLA paperwork and returned it to defendant Alonzo Hankerson ("Hankerson"), NRA's human resources director, on March 3, 2014. (See id. ¶¶ 3, 16-17).

During their conversation on March 3, 2014, Hankerson told Farkas "that she could take off all 12 weeks of FMLA at once." (Id. ¶ 17). Farkas responded by explaining to Hankerson that her request was for intermittent FMLA leave. (See id. ¶ 18). Farkas testified that Hankerson suggested she seek out part time work since

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she "cannot control" her condition. (Doc. 20, Ex. A, Farkas Dep. 68:24-69:2). Farkas stated that Hankerson seemed "confused" and that his usually soft-spoken tone was "loud," (Doc. 20, Ex. A, Farkas Dep. 67:7-68:7, 69:14-71:4), but he ultimately advised that he would "look into how FMLA works and [would] get back to [her] if it was approved." (Doc. 21 ¶ 19). According to Farkas, Hankerson also suggested that she simply abandon her request and "just get a doctor's note every time [she] was going to call off," noting that Farkas has a daughter whom she may need to use FMLA leave to care for in the future. (See Doc. 20, Ex. A, Farkas Dep. 53:13-15, 142:15-19; see also id. 71:19-20). Hankerson investigated the availability of FMLA intermittent leave after his March 3, 2014 meeting with Farkas and granted her request the same day. (Doc. 21 ¶¶ 20-21). Farkas testified that she was never denied intermittent leave after Hankerson approved her request. (Id. ¶ 22).

On March 21, 2014, Farkas's direct supervisor, defendant Jessie Miles ("Miles"), warned Farkas that if she did not work forty hours that week, she would not be eligible for a bonus. (Id. ¶ 23). Farkas ultimately worked forty hours that week and did receive her bonus. (Id. ¶ 24; Doc. 20, Ex. A, Farkas Dep. 73:23-74:5). Some weeks, Farkas received a bonus despite not working forty hours. (See Doc. 21 ¶ 25; see also Doc. 20, Ex. A, Farkas Dep. 74:6-8). On March 25, 2014, Farkas called out of work on FMLA leave and spoke with Miles. (See Doc. 21 ¶ 27). According to Farkas, Miles "raised her voice loudly" and directed Farkas to call Figueroa from then on when Farkas needed to call out of work. (Id.) Three days later, Miles reproved Farkas for her payments being "low that week" and warned that Farkas may need retraining. (Id. ¶ 29). Farkas admits her payments were in fact low that

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week but she was not required to return to training. (Id. ¶ 30; see Doc. 20, Ex. A, Farkas Dep. 76:18-21).

Farkas also testified that, during an April 9, 2014 staff meeting, Miles informed "[a]pproximately 11 or 12" employees that all debt collectors, regardless of whether they "are out on FMLA or on regular work schedule[s]," must meet weekly goals. (Doc. 20, Ex. A, Farkas Dep. 77:17-78:9; Doc. 21 ¶ 32). According to her FMLA journal entries, Farkas met with Charlene Sarver ("Sarver"), assistant director of dialer and collections for NRA, to discuss Miles' statement. (See Doc. 20, Ex. A, Farkas Dep. Ex. 2, at 4; Doc. 21 ¶¶ 5, 33). Farkas further noted that Sarver, who had managerial authority over both Farkas and Miles, assured her that "none of [what Miles said] is correct." (Doc. 20, Ex. A, Farkas Dep. Ex 2, at 4; Doc. 21 ¶ 33).

On April 16, 2014, Craig Andrus ("Andrus"), NRA's training manager, approached Farkas to discuss twelve collections letters sent by Farkas which, according Andrus, violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act ("FDCPA"). (Doc. 21 ¶¶ 4, 36). Andrus explained to Farkas that she had failed to "change[] the callback dates on the letter[s]" as required by the FDCPA. (Id. ¶ 36). Farkas alleged in her complaint that she expressed concern to Andrus that his comments were in retaliation for her FMLA request and leave, (Doc. 1 ¶ 33), but Farkas did not testify to this fact during her deposition. (Doc. 20, Ex. A, Farkas Dep. 80:14-81:10). Farkas was not disciplined as a result of the interactions with Andrus and Miles. (See Doc. 21 ¶¶ 26, 28, 31, 35, 37).

Farkas met with both Sarver and Andrus on May 7, 2014. (See Doc. 1 ¶ 34; Doc. 10 ¶ 34). During the meeting, Farkas received three disciplinary reports. (Doc.

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21 ¶¶ 38, 42, 46). The first report pertained to an incident on March 17, 2014, when Farkas misled a customer to believe that setting up a payment arrangement would place his account in "good standing" such that the account would not be reported to the credit bureaus. (Id. ¶ 38). The second issued for failing to follow guidelines concerning management of a deceased consumer's account during a call on April 26, 2014. (See id. ¶ 42). Despite audio evidence confirming NRA's characterization of both conversations, (see id. ¶¶ 40, 44), Farkas disagreed with issuance of the disciplinary reports and refused to sign them. (Doc. 1 ¶ 34; see Doc. 21 ¶¶ 41, 45). Farkas submitted a rebuttal to the second report, expressing her belief that the discipline was "a form of punishment due to me taking FMLA." (Doc. 1 ¶ 34(b); Doc. 10 ¶ 34(b)). Sarver retracted the third disciplinary report, involving a May 1, 2014 phone call, when Farkas disputed its accuracy. (See Doc. 21 ¶ 46). Farkas testified that, during this meeting, Sarver told her: "I could have fired you way before you took your FMLA." (Doc. 20, Ex. A, Farkas Dep. 93:5-6).

Sarver concluded that Farkas's actions violated both NRA policy and the FDCPA. (See Doc. 21 ¶ 47). As a consequence, Sarver removed Farkas's supervisor line responsibilities and informed Farkas that she had the option to either change to a different shift or relocate from NRA's Crossgate office to the Paxton Street office. (Id.) Farkas testified that she recalled taking FMLA leave in the days preceding her May 7, 2014 meeting with Sarver and Andrus. (See Doc. 20, Ex. A, Farkas Dep. 92:3-8).

Farkas began working at NRA's Paxton Street location on approximately May 8, 2014. (See Doc. 20, Ex. A, Farkas Dep. 42:9-12). Thereafter, Farkas twice

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expressed an interest in resuming her supervisor line responsibilities to her new manager. (See id. 60:11-62:14). Farkas has not asked to be reassigned to that role since May 2014. (Doc. 21 ¶ 10; Doc. 20, Ex. A, Farkas Dep. 62:13-14). During her deposition, Farkas identified the last incident of perceived retaliation as "the write-up situation" on May 7, 2014. (Doc. 20, Ex. A, Farkas Dep. 50:11-14).

Farkas stated that she did not receive bonuses following her transfer in May 2014, (id. 44:15-18), but later clarified that she did receive "one small bonus" while at the Paxton Street location. (Id. 140:15-17). Farkas also testified that she began to experience anxiety in late 2014 because of "things that were going on at the job." (Doc. 24-1, Farkas Dep. 112:12-15). She explained that, in her view, "the overview of being demoted, transferred, having the supervisor line taken from [her, and] feeling embarrassed" contributed to her anxiety and panic attacks. (Id. 112:4-19; see Doc. 20, Ex. A, Farkas Dep. 115:1-7). She further...

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