Nocella v. Basement Experts of America, 3:04 CV 7447.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Ohio
Citation499 F.Supp.2d 935
Docket NumberNo. 3:04 CV 7447.,3:04 CV 7447.
PartiesSarah NOCELLA, Plaintiff, v. BASEMENT EXPERTS OF AMERICA, Defendant.
Decision Date29 June 2007
499 F.Supp.2d 935
Sarah NOCELLA, Plaintiff,
No. 3:04 CV 7447.
United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Western Division.
June 29, 2007.

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Thomas A. Sobecki, Toledo, OH, for Sarah Nocella.

Jeffrey J. Perkins, Martin J. Holmes, Jr., Michael R.C. Goulding, Peter Alan DeWhirst, Shindler, Neff, Holmes, Schlageter & Mohler, Toledo, OH, for defendants.


KATZ, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on a motion for summary judgment filed by Defendants Basement Experts of America, Inc. and James Quigley, III (collectively, "Defendants"). Doc. 60.

I. Background

Defendant Basement Experts employed Plaintiff Sarah Nocella at its Maumee, Ohio facility on December 9, 2002 until her termination on October 24, 2005. Plaintiff notified Defendants that she was pregnant in January of 2005. On July 15, 2005, Plaintiff, nearing her delivery date (the baby was born on July 23, 2005), began a period of leave protected by the Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"). She requested 10 weeks, which would have set her return date for September 28, 2005.

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When she began her protected leave, Plaintiff was the facility's Office Manager. Her duties in that capacity included supervising other employees, including Rebecca Potts and Shelly Timofeev, whom Plaintiff also played a part in interviewing and hiring. Plaintiff also claims to have had supervisory duties over certain employees in the company's Detroit area, Grand Rapids, and St. Louis offices, but that fact is disputed. A portion of Plaintiffs duties (described both as 25% and as "a very small part") was to serve as an assistant to her immediate supervisor, Kraig Mackett. Doc. 63 at 4; Doc. 70 at 4. While Plaintiff was on leave, Mackett resigned his employment with Basement Experts. Quigley decided not to hire a replacement for Mackett and to absorb most of Mackett's work himself. Meanwhile, Plaintiffs duties were being handled by Potts and Timofeev, both of whom Plaintiff had instructed and trained before beginning her leave period.

On September 19, 2005, Defendant Quigley sent Plaintiff a letter informing her that, due to Mackett's resignation and the decision not to hire a replacement, her position as Office Manager was also terminated. This arrangement was convenient for the company because Potts and Timofeev continued to perform the other approximately 75% of the duties of the position of Office Manager that did not involve assisting Mackett. The letter indicated that Defendants would locate another position for her upon her return. The letter further instructed Plaintiff to return to work at the expiration of 12 weeks, instead of the earlier-determined 10 weeks, stated and incorrectly measured as October 18, 2005. Twelve weeks after July 15 would have been October 7, 2005. Nevertheless, Plaintiff was asked to wait and she returned to the facility on October 17, 2005, more than 13 weeks after her leave began on July 15, but only after attempting to return to work but being prevented from doing so on October 3, 2005.

When Plaintiff returned to work, she was assigned a project under the company controller that involved reviewing all of the company's employees' records to ensure compliance with an October, 2005 investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor that found Basement Expert employee records to be lacking the required 1-9 information. The job involved working in the accounting department backroom without access to a computer or phone at her desk.

On Thursday October 20, 2005, only her fourth day back from leave, Plaintiff had an emotional experience at work. First, she received a letter from Quigley explaining the importance of the 1-9 compliance project and explaining why it was imperative that she perform her work in the accounting department instead of at her former workspace. Plaintiff testified that Quigley's assistant told her that "people were going to start losing their jobs" if Plaintiff tried to work at her former desk instead of the accounting department desk. Upset and dissatisfied with the way she felt the company had been treating her since her leave period, Plaintiff left work to see her father. Defendants claim that Plaintiff was seen crying, shredding a few documents (which Plaintiff denies), and gathering some personal items from her desk before leaving.

Plaintiff came to work the next day, Friday, October 21, 2005, but Quigley's assistant informed Plaintiff that Quigley wanted Plaintiff to go home and return to meet with him on Monday at 11:00 AM. On Monday, October 24, 2005, Plaintiff met with Quigley, Quigley's assistant, and another employee. Plaintiff denied shredding documents. Defendant Quigley then fired Plaintiff. Quigley testified to the

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reasons for the filing as follows: "Because she was observed shredding some documents," "Because she completed zero work during that week, and if she did, it was missing," and "Because she, as far as I was concerned, had quit on Thursday and walked out with all her personal stuff." Quigley Dep. at 10; Doc. 63 at 12. Plaintiff and Quigley's assistant testified that Plaintiffs personal belongings that were left at work were later mailed to her by Quigley's assistant. Doc. 63 at 12; Nocella Dep. at 147; Spencer Dep. at 26-27.

Plaintiff filed this lawsuit on November 28, 2005, claiming that Defendants violated her rights under the FMLA, 29 U.S.C. § 2601, as well as Ohio's pregnancy protection statute, Ohio Rev.Code § 4112.99, and Ohio public policy. Defendants filed for summary judgment April 13, 2007. For the reasons enumerated herein, Defendants' motion for summary judgment is hereby granted in part, and denied in part. Doc. 60.

II. Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is appropriate where "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." FED.R.CIV.P. 56(c). The moving party bears the initial responsibility of "informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any,' which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). The movant may meet this burden by demonstrating the absence of evidence supporting one or more essential elements of the non-movant's claim. Id. at 323-25, 106 S.Ct. 2548. Once the movant meets this burden, the opposing party "must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986) (quoting FED.R.CIV.P. 56(e)).

Once the burden of production has so shifted, the party opposing summary judgment cannot rest on its pleadings or merely reassert its previous allegations. It is not sufficient "simply [to] show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986). Rather, Rule 56(e) "requires the nonmoving party to go beyond the pleadings" and present some type of evidentiary material in support of its position. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324, 106 S.Ct. 2548; see also Harris v. General Motors Corp., 201 F.3d 800, 802 (6th Cir.2000). Summary judgment must be entered "against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548.

"In considering a motion for summary judgment, the Court must view the facts and draw all reasonable inferences therefrom in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party." Williams v. Belknap, 154 F.Supp.2d 1069, 1071 (E.D.Mich.2001) (citing 60 Ivy Street Corp. v. Alexander, 822 F.2d 1432, 1435 (6th Cir.1987)). However, "`at the summary judgment stage the judge's function is not himself to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter,'" Wiley v. U.S., 20 F.3d 222, 227 (6th Cir.1994) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249, 106 S.Ct. 2505); therefore, "[t]he Court is not required or permitted ... to

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judge the evidence or make findings of fact." Williams, 154 F.Supp.2d at 1071. The purpose of summary judgment "is not to resolve factual issues, but to determine if there are genuine issues of fact to be tried." Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc. v. Am. Eagle Outfitters, Inc., 130 F.Supp.2d 928, 930 (S.D.Ohio 1999). Ultimately, this Court must determine "whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52, 106 S.Ct. 2505; see also Atchley v. RK Co., 224 F.3d 537, 539 (6th Cir.2000).

III. Discussion

A. FMLA reinstatement and entitlement

"The FMLA `accommodates the important societal interest in assisting families by establishing minimum labor standard[s] for leave.' H.R.Rep. No. 103-8(I), 103d Cong., 1st Sess.1993, at *21." Cavin v. Honda of Am. Mfg., Inc., 346 F.3d 713, 719 (6th Cir.2003). The FMLA provides that

an eligible employee shall be entitled to a total of 12 workweeks of leave during any 12-month period for one or more of the following:

(A) Because of the birth of a son or daughter of the employee and in order to care for such son or daughter.

29 U.S.C. § 2612(a)(1). Furthermore,

any eligible employee who takes leave under section 2612 of this title for the intended purpose of the leave shall be entitled, on return from such leave

(A) to be restored by the employer to the position of employment held by the employee when the...

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