Goddard v. Allegiance Administrators, LLC, 011921 OHSDC, 2:19-cv-1506

Docket Nº2:19-cv-1506
Opinion JudgeALGENON L. MARBLEY, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Party NameALEXANDRIA GODDARD Plaintiff, v. ALLEGIANCE ADMINISTRATORS, LLC, et al., Defendants.
Judge PanelJolson, Magistrate Judge
Case DateJanuary 19, 2021
CourtUnited States District Courts, 6th Circuit, Southern District of Ohio

ALEXANDRIA GODDARD Plaintiff,

v.

ALLEGIANCE ADMINISTRATORS, LLC, et al., Defendants.

No. 2:19-cv-1506

United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Eastern Division

January 19, 2021

Jolson, Magistrate Judge

OPINION & ORDER

ALGENON L. MARBLEY, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter is before the Court on multiple motions. Defendants Allegiance Administrators, LLC (“Allegiance”), National Administrative Service Co. (“National”) and Dimension Services Corp. (“Dimension” or “Company”) move for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 32). Plaintiff Alexandria Goddard filed an Opposition to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (“Opposition Brief”), to which she attached several exhibits. (ECF No. 33). Defendants responded by filing a motion to strike various statements, arguments, and exhibits that she included. (ECF No. 36). Additionally, Ms. Goddard filed a Motion to File a Sur-Reply in Response to Defendants' Reply in Support of their Motion for Summary Judgment, to which she attached two additional exhibits. (ECF No. 38). Defendants opposed this motion and again moved to strike the exhibits. (ECF No. 39). For the reasons outlined below, the Court GRANTS Ms. Goddard's Motion to File Sur-Reply [#38]; DENIES Defendants' Motion to Strike [#36]; DENIES Defendants' Motion to Strike [#39]; and DENIES Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment [#32].

II. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Alexandria Goddard was an Agent Dealer Services Representative for Dimension Services Corp. from July 2016 through early 2018. She worked at their Dublin, Ohio facility, located at 5500 Frantz Road.

Ms. Goddard reports that she has suffered from chronic back pain since 2010, following a spinal fusion surgery. (ECF No. 33, Ex. A Declaration). Toward the end of 2017, her back pain worsened, and she was “treated with pain medication to the extent that it became problematic for her.” (ECF No. 33 at 3). She reports that she experienced depression and anxiety and anticipated a need for an additional spinal surgery. (Id.). During this period, Ms. Goddard took steps to determine her eligibility for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA” or “Act”).

Ms. Goddard sent an email to Michelle DeFouw, Chief of Staff at Dimension, on February 8, 2018 to inquire about taking FMLA leave, as her manager directed her to do. (Blackburn Aff. at ¶ 12; Goddard Dep. at 107-08). When Ms. Goddard did not receive a response, she sent another email to Ms. DeFouw one week later, on February 15, 2018, stating that she had “an immediate need for FMLA.” (DeFouw Dep., Ex. A-2). Ms. DeFouw responded that day and instructed her to contact Sally Mason, Ms. DeFouw's administrative clerk. (DeFouw Dep. at 16). Ms. Goddard then contacted Ms. Mason, who responded via email, attached an FMLA notice and directed Ms. Goddard to fill out the Certification of Health Care Provider section. (DeFouw Dep. Ex. B). The Notice included a check mark next to the line: “[You] are eligible for FMLA leave.” (Id.) Under the “Rights and Responsibilities” section, the Notice also stated that Ms. Goddard must return the completed form by March 2, 2018 “in order for us to determine whether your absence qualifies as FMLA leave.” (Id.).

Separate from this inquiry, Ms. Goddard had scheduled a one-day absence from work on February 19, 2018 for a tooth extraction. (Goddard Dep. at 102, 132). The next day, Ms. Goddard sent an email and text message to Nicole Blackburn-Tiell, Dimension's Vice President of Administration, on February 20th, explaining that she would be absent due to complications from the extraction. (Id. at 131-33). Though the record is unclear about the extent to which Ms. Goddard communicated with Dimension for the remainder of that week, she did not return to work and did not have pre-approval for her continued absence. (Goddard Dep. at 132, 201; Blackburn Aff. at ¶ 15). Dimension contends that Ms. Goddard's notification did not comply with its Attendance Policy, which states: Unless there are extenuating circumstances, as determined by the Company, an employee must call and personally speak to the appropriate supervisor or manager about the reason for the employee's absence no later than third minutes prior to the employee's scheduled start time. . . . Notification to the Company of an employee's unscheduled absence via text messages or emails is not sufficient and will be considered absences without leave, which may warrant discipline including termination.

(ECF No. 32 at 8; Goddard Dep. Ex. 3).

One week later, on February 26, 2018, Ms. Goddard was having what she described as a “nervous breakdown, ” and she went to Columbus Springs Hospital for medical help. (Goddard Dep. at 201). She began treatment in the Partial Hospitalization Program that same day, but did not initially notify anyone at Dimension that she would continue to be absent. (Id. at 145). Ms. Blackburn texted Ms. Goddard around noon that day, and Ms. Goddard responded several hours later, stating that she had been hospitalized. (Blackburn Aff. at ¶¶ 18-20; DeFouw Dep. Ex. D).

Dimension did not receive Ms. Goddard's Certificate of Healthcare Provider by the March 2, 2018 deadline. (Goddard Dep. at 130-31). On March 9, 2018, Ms. DeFouw notified Ms. Goddard that Dimension concluded she had “voluntarily terminated” her position with the company because Dimension had not received her FMLA Certification and because she had not communicated with the Company about her absence since February 28th. (DeFouw Dep. 68-69; Goddard Dep. Ex. F). Ms. Goddard immediately contacted both Ms. DeFouw and Ms. Blackburn to tell them she had not voluntarily terminated her position. (DeFouw Dep. Exs. G, H). She explained that she had given the paperwork to Columbus Springs Hospital staff and thought that it had been returned to Dimension. She also contacted the staff member at Columbus Springs Hospital responsible for completing FMLA medical certifications and again requested that her documents be sent to Dimension. (Goddard Dep. at 142). Dimension received Ms. Goddard's form at approximately 11:00 a.m. on March 9th. (DeFouw Dep. Ex. G). In the same communication, Columbus Springs Hospital notified Dimension that Ms. Goddard would remain under medical care until April 13, 2018.

Ms. DeFouw confirmed receipt of the fax later that afternoon via letter by email. (DeFouw Dep. Ex. J). In her letter, she also indicated for the first time that Dimension was no longer covered by the FMLA: Please note, this work site no longer has 50 employees within a 75-mile radius. Accordingly, this leave will not be designated under the Family Medical Leave Act. I've revised the attached notice to reflect the reason for lack of eligibility . . . The company is granting you three weeks of unpaid personal leave beginning on February 21, 2018. This leave will expire on March 15, 2018.

(Id.). When Ms. Goddard did not report to work on March 15, 2018, Dimension terminated her. Ms. Goddard learned of her termination when she was told that her medical insurance had been cancelled due to termination while she attempted to fill her prescriptions. (Goddard Decl. at ¶ 30).

She applied for unemployment benefits with the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (“ODJFS”) (DeFouw Dep. Ex. K). ODJFS held several hearings, including appeals, about Ms. Goddard's eligibility throughout the spring and summer of 2018. ODJFS ultimately determined that Dimension terminated Ms. Goddard without just cause. (Goddard Decl. at ¶ 33, Ex. 2).

Ms. Goddard later filed her Complaint in the Southern District of Ohio on April 19, 2019, and the parties engaged in discovery for over a year. Defendants moved for Summary Judgment on June 30, 2020. (ECF No. 32). On July 21, 2020, Ms. Goddard filed a Memorandum in Opposition to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (“Opposition”) (ECF No. 33) and attached several exhibits, including the Declaration of Alexandria Goddard (Ex. 2); transcripts from phone hearings of the Unemployment Compensation Review Commission (“Unemployment Commission”) (Exs. 3, 5); and a Declaration of Helen M. Robinson, Ms. Goddard's attorney (Ex. 7). Defendants then moved to strike certain statements, exhibits, and arguments in Ms. Goddard's Opposition. (ECF No. 36).

Defendants also filed a Reply in Support of their Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 37). Ms. Goddard subsequently requested the Court's permission to file a Sur-Reply so that she could address arguments and evidence that she says Defendants raised in the Reply for the first time. She attached two new exhibits to her proposed Sur-Reply. (ECF No. 38). Defendants opposed her Motion to File Sur-Reply and moved to strike the two additional exhibits, and the parties each filed one additional argument about the admissibility of these exhibits. (ECF Nos. 39, 40, 41). The Court first reviews Ms. Goddard's Motion to File a Sur-Reply before turning to Defendants' Motions to Strike and Motion for Summary Judgment.

III. MOTION TO FILE A SUR-REPLY

The rules of this Court provide for the filing of motions, memoranda in opposition, and replies and generally do not permit “additional memoranda beyond those enumerated . . . except upon leave of court for good cause shown.” S.D. Ohio Civ. R. 7.2(a)(2). Courts in the Southern District of Ohio, however, may permit a party to file a sur-reply without showing good cause if doing so does not result in prejudice toward the opposing party. Nat'l City Bank v. Aronson, 474 F.Supp.2d 925, 930 (S.D. Ohio 2007) (citing Burt v. Life Ins. Co. of N. Am., No. C-1-05-673, 2006 LEXIS 54630, at *9 (S.D. Ohio Aug. 7, 2006)). The Sixth Circuit also maintains a “strong preference that claims be adjudicated on their merits.” Coleman v. Shoney's Inc., 79 Fed....

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