Gillman v. Okaloosa Cnty. Fla.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Northern District of Florida
Citation58 F.Supp.3d 1305
Docket NumberCase No. 3:13cv61–MCR/EMT.
PartiesMonica GILLMAN, Plaintiff, v. OKALOOSA COUNTY FLORIDA, Defendant.
Decision Date30 September 2014

James Garrity, Marie A. Mattox, Marie A. Mattox PA, Tallahassee, FL, for Plaintiff.

Brian J. Perreault, Margaret Hood Mevers, Lydecker Diaz, Miami, FL, for Defendant.


M. CASEY RODGERS, Chief Judge.

After sustaining an on-the-job-injury and being terminated from her employment, Plaintiff Monica Gillman brought suit against her former employer, Okaloosa County, Florida (County), alleging interference with her rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), see 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq., as well as retaliation for exercising her FMLA and state law workers' compensation rights, see Fla. Stat. § 440.205. Pending before the Court is the County's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 33). Having fully considered the arguments of the parties and the record, the Court finds that the motion is due to be granted.


The facts as set forth below are largely undisputed.1 Plaintiff Monica Gillman was employed as a correctional officer in Okaloosa County's jail facility from May 2004 until she was terminated in February 2012. As a correctional officer, her duties included supervising inmates, inspecting cells, conducting inmate searches, and transporting inmates. These duties often required Gillman to lift heavy objects (in excess of 100 pounds), to use her hands and thumbs, and involved close interaction with inmates, all of which required physical strength.

On April 2, 2011, Gillman sustained an on-the-job injury when her right hand became lodged in a hydraulic door. Gillman was transported to the hospital, where she was treated for a crush injury to her right thumb. As a result of her injury, Gillman was unable to perform many of the basic functions of her job, including tasks that required hand and finger manipulation. The day after her injury, Gillman was medically cleared to work only “light duty” with limited use of her right hand. Gillman's workers' compensation medical treatment report dated April 6, 2011, stated she was restricted to “no lifting, pushing or pulling with right hand until cleared by orthopedics.” (Doc. 36–6, at 3). Gillman was placed on workers' compensation and concurrent FMLA leave. Gillman remained on leave until May 4, 2011, when she returned to work full time.2 Gillman worked full time until she was scheduled for surgery on August 23, 2011. She then took concurrent FMLA leave and workers' compensation benefits. Six weeks after surgery, she was medically released to work “light duty.” The record shows that after this, that Gillman requested to return to light duty on more than one occasion and each time was told there was no light duty position available, based on the determination of the County's Jail Chief, Paul Lawson, so she remained on FMLA leave. On February 14, 2012, the County was notified that Gillman was scheduled for another surgery and was being placed on a “no work” status. Gillman underwent a second surgery in February 2012, and did not provide any expected timeframe for when she would be medically cleared to return to full-time work.

The term “light duty” is used by Gillman to refer to “an employee [who] is working at less than full capacity.” (Doc. 39, at 1.) The County presented evidence through several employees that it does not have, and never has had, a “light duty” policy for its employees, nor does it have a “light duty” correctional officer position. Instead, light duty may be permitted on a case-by-case basis when possible operationally, based on whether it is available given the demands and requirements of individual departments and whether the officer is capable of performing the duties in light of the medical restrictions. The record indicates that “there is a practice of providing light duty when and where possible operationally” (doc. 34–5, at 3), but not a policy requiring it. Lawson said a correctional officer might be assigned office work as light duty where a position was vacant. Thus, the County has from time to time employed correctional officers in capacities that are less physically demanding than the standard correctional officer position, but not all employees who request light duty work are granted the request, and no official policy requires it. Also, under the County's Leave Policy, [a]t the end of six (6) months continued lost time for an on-the-job injury, annual and sick leave accrual will cease,” at which time [t]he affected department may refill the position.”

By February 20, 2012, Gillman had used approximately 180 days of continuous FMLA leave, and citing its Leave Policy, the County terminated Gillman's employment at its earliest opportunity under the Policy.3 According to the County, it chose to terminate and replace Gillman because she “could not perform [her] full job duties,” and because the County had been given no indication regarding if, or when, Gillman would be able to return to work. Jail Chief Lawson informed Gillman that she could re-apply to Okaloosa County once she obtained a full recovery, and he encouraged her to do so. At the time of her termination, Gillman did not inquire about any accommodations, did not request a light duty assignment, and did not file a complaint of any kind. Moreover, she did not inquire about the possibility of taking a leave of absence, which, if available, would have allowed her to remain employed beyond her termination date.4

In September 2012, approximately seven months after her termination, Gillman reapplied for her original position as Correctional Officer I with Okaloosa County. In October 2012, Gillman received a doctor's note clearing her for full duty work and provided the note to the County. This was the first time she had been cleared to work full time since August 2011. On November 16, 2012, the County extended Gillman an offer of employment for a correctional officer position (“Correctional Officer I”). This was the same correctional officer position Gillman had held prior to her injury, but it was at the entry level, which was at a lower rate of pay than what Gillman had earned on the date she was terminated. Although the record is unclear as to whether Gillman initially accepted the County's offer, the evidence is undisputed that she eventually turned down the opportunity and accepted an offer with Walton County instead.

Gillman then filed suit, alleging the County interfered with her FMLA rights and retaliated against her, in violation of FMLA and workers' compensation rights by not permitting her to work a light duty position intermittently, so she would not have exhausted her FMLA leave. The County moves for summary judgment.


Summary judgment is appropriate when “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). “The moving party bears the initial burden of informing the court of the basis for its motion and of identifying those materials that demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Rice–Lamar v. City of Ft. Lauderdale, 232 F.3d 836, 840 (11th Cir.2000) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986) ). A fact is “material” if it might affect the outcome of the case under the governing substantive law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). A dispute is “genuine” if the record taken as a whole could lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party. Id.

All the evidence and factual inferences reasonably drawn from the evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157, 90 S.Ct. 1598, 26 L.Ed.2d 142 (1970). Once a party demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, the nonmoving party must go beyond the pleadings through the use of affidavits, depositions, answers to interrogatories and admissions on file, and designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323–24, 106 S.Ct. 2548. Plaintiff's evidence must be significantly probative to support the claims. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249, 106 S.Ct. 2505. A mere scintilla of evidence in support of the nonmoving party's position will not suffice to demonstrate a genuine issue of material fact. Walker v. Darby, 911 F.2d 1573, 1577 (11th Cir.1990). Moreover, “the nonmoving party cannot create a genuine issue of material fact through speculation, conjecture, or evidence that is ‘merely colorable’ or ‘not significantly probative.’ Vega v. Invsco Group, Ltd., 432 Fed.Appx. 867, 869–70 (11th Cir.2011) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249–50, 106 S.Ct. 2505 ).


“The FMLA grants an eligible employee the right to take up to 12 workweeks of unpaid leave annually for any one or more of several reasons, including because of a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the functions of the position of such employee.” Hurley v. Kent of Naples, Inc., 746 F.3d 1161, 1166 (11th Cir.2014) (internal marks omitted). If an employer interferes with, restrains, or denies the exercise, or attempted exercise, of FMLA rights, the employee may bring a private civil action for damages or equitable relief. See Hurlbert v. St. Mary's Health Care Sys., Inc., 439 F.3d 1286, 1293 (11th Cir.2006) (citing 29 U.S.C. §§ 2615(a)(1) & 2617(a) ). The Eleventh Circuit has explained that § 2615(a) includes two types of FMLA claims: (1) “interference claims, in which an employee asserts that his employer denied or otherwise interfered with his substantive rights under the Act,” and (2) “retaliation claims, in which an employee asserts that his employer discriminated against him because he engaged in activity protected by the Act.” Id. (internal marks omitted). An...

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2 books & journal articles
  • Part Two: case summaries by major topic.
    • United States
    • Detention and Corrections Caselaw Quarterly No. 65, November 2015
    • 1 d0 Novembro d0 2015
    ...PERSONNEL U.S. District Court FMLA- Family Medical Leave Act LIGHT DUTY INJURY WORKERS COMPENSATION Gillman v. Okaloosa County Florida, 58 F.Supp.3d 1305 (N.D. Fla. 2014). A former county employee who had worked as a correctional officer and who had injured her hand and taken leave, brought......
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    • United States
    • Detention and Corrections Caselaw Quarterly No. 65, November 2015
    • 1 d0 Novembro d0 2015
    ...PERSONNEL: FMLA- Family Medical Leave Act, Light Duty, Injury, Workers Compensation Gillman v. Okaloosa County Florida, 58 F.Supp.3d 1305 (N.D. Fla. 2014). A former county employee who had worked as a correctional officer and who had injured her hand and taken leave, brought an action again......

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