Roberts v. Gestamp W.Va., LLC, CIVIL ACTION NO. 2:19-cv-00854

Decision Date19 October 2020
Docket NumberCIVIL ACTION NO. 2:19-cv-00854
PartiesKASEY A. ROBERTS, Plaintiff, v. GESTAMP WEST VIRGINIA, LLC, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of West Virginia
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

The Court has reviewed the Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Document 31), Defendant Gestamp West Virginia, LLC's Motion for Summary Judgment (Document 33), the Response to Defendant Gestamp West Virginia, LLC's Motion for Summary Judgment (Document 35), Defendant Gestamp West Virginia, LLC's Response in Opposition to Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Document 36), the Reply Supporting Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Document 37), Defendant Gestamp West Virginia, LLC's Reply in Support of Its Motion for Summary Judgment (Document 38), and all attendant documentation. For the reasons stated herein, the Court finds that the Plaintiff's motion should be denied, and the Defendant's motion should be granted.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

This case was originally filed in the Circuit Court of Kanawha County, West Virginia. On December 4, 2019, the case was removed to the United States District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia. The complaint alleges that the Plaintiff was wrongfully discharged from his employment after missing work due to complications suffered as a result of an emergency appendectomy.

The Plaintiff received an emergency appendectomy on June 27, 2019. On that date, the Plaintiff messaged his supervisor via Facebook Messenger. Employees are generally required to report absences to a call-in line at least thirty minutes prior to the start of the shift. The Plaintiff was not penalized for failing to call into the hotline on that occasion because it was an emergency situation. On June 28, 2019, the Plaintiff provided the Defendant with a doctor's excuse stating that he could not return to work for two weeks.

On July 10, 2019, the Plaintiff developed an infection and was admitted to the hospital. On July 11, 2019, the Plaintiff's physician faxed a Family and Medical Leave Act certification to his employer, taking him off work for an indefinite period of time due to the infection. On August 1, 2019, the Plaintiff's physician released him to return to work on August 12, 2019. The Plaintiff personally delivered his work excuse to the Defendant on August 1, 2019.

The parties agree that the Plaintiff was on leave pursuant to the Family and Medical Leave Act from June 27, 2019 to August 12, 2019. The Plaintiff returned to work on August 12, 2019, and worked full shifts until August 16, 2019, when he left work due to immense pain in the area of his surgery. He informed his supervisor that he was leaving work because he did not feel well and received a work excuse for that absence on August 16, 2019.

The Plaintiff was scheduled to work again on August 19, 2019, but did not report to work due to the continuance of his severe pain. He informed his supervisor of the situation via Facebook Messenger, stating "Not going to make it in today. I'm in so much pain and when I went to the hospital Friday, I really never got an answer of why I'm in a lot of pain, but I do havea work excuse for Friday." (Document 31-5 at 1.) The Plaintiff's supervisor did not respond to or acknowledge receipt of that message.

On August 20, 2019, the Plaintiff took an approved vacation day to visit his physician. During that visit, the Plaintiff was readmitted to the hospital because his physician believed that the infection had returned. That same day, the Plaintiff informed his supervisor through Facebook Messenger. The Plaintiff stated, "Hey," to which his supervisor responded, "What's up." (Document 31-5 at 1.) The Plaintiff then stated, "The doctor is admitting me back into the hospital. He thinks the infection is coming back. Have no idea how long I'll be in there." (Id.) The Plaintiff's supervisor likewise did not respond to or acknowledge the Plaintiff's messages sent on August 20, 2019.

The Plaintiff was scheduled to work August 21-23, 2019. However, the Plaintiff did not report to work on those dates and did not call the call-in hotline to report his absence. Instead, the Plaintiff relied on the Facebook message that he sent to his supervisor, Mr. Slater, on August 20, 2019. The Plaintiff was released from the hospital on August 23, 2019, but his physician did not release him to return to work until September 3, 2020. On previous occasions, the Plaintiff had dropped his doctor's excuse off at work immediately after receiving it. However, on this occasion, the Plaintiff did not provide the doctor's excuse during his absence. Thus, the Plaintiff was off work from August 26, 2019 through August 30, 2019, and did not contact his employer via the call-in line or provide a doctor's excuse. On August 28, 2019, the Defendant terminated the Plaintiff for "Job Abandonment" after not hearing anything from the Plaintiff for more than a week. The termination was effective as of August 21, 2019.

The Plaintiff 's doctor did not release him to return to work until September 3, 2019. On September 3, 2019, the Plaintiff reported to work, but learned that the Defendant had fired him for "Job Abandonment" because he had failed to report to work or advise the Defendant that he would be absent from work August 21-30, 2019. The Plaintiff indicated that he had a doctor's excuse. The HR Administrator asked the Plaintiff if he would like to speak with his supervisor, however, the Plaintiff declined and stated that he would clean out his locker and leave. The Plaintiff made no further attempt to get his job back.

Based on these allegations, the Plaintiff asserts claims for wrongful discharge and failure to accommodate in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and West Virginia Human Rights Act. The Plaintiff also asserts claims for interference with rights and retaliation for exercising rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and retaliatory discharge in contravention of substantial public policy of the State. The Plaintiff seeks compensatory damages, including lost wages and benefits; front pay; consequential damages; emotional distress and loss of dignity damages; annoyance and inconvenience damages; punitive damages; attorney fees and costs; interest and any further relief the Court deems appropriate.

On August 21, 2020, the Plaintiff filed a motion for partial summary judgment and the Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment. The Plaintiff and Defendant filed responses on September 4, 2020. The Plaintiff and Defendant further filed replies on September 11, 2020. The motions for summary judgment are, therefore, ripe for consideration.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

The well-established standard in consideration of a motion for summary judgment is that "[t]he court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute asto any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a)-(c); see also Hunt v. Cromartie, 526 U.S. 541, 549 (1999); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986); Hoschar v. Appalachian Power Co., 739 F.3d 163, 169 (4th Cir. 2014). A "material fact" is a fact that could affect the outcome of the case. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; News & Observer Publ'g Co. v. Raleigh-Durham Airport Auth., 597 F.3d 570, 576 (4th Cir. 2010). A "genuine issue" concerning a material fact exists when the evidence is sufficient to allow a reasonable jury to return a verdict in the nonmoving party's favor. FDIC v. Cashion, 720 F.3d 169, 180 (4th Cir. 2013); News & Observer, 597 F.3d at 576.

The moving party bears the burden of showing that there is no genuine issue of material fact, and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322-23. When determining whether summary judgment is appropriate, a court must view all of the factual evidence, and any reasonable inferences to be drawn therefrom, in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Hoschar, 739 F.3d at 169. However, the non-moving party must offer some "concrete evidence from which a reasonable juror could return a verdict in his favor." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256. "At the summary judgment stage, the non-moving party must come forward with more than 'mere speculation or the building of one inference upon another' to resist dismissal of the action." Perry v. Kappos, No.11-1476, 2012 WL 2130908, at *3 (4th Cir. June 13, 2012) (unpublished decision) (quoting Beale v. Hardy, 769 F.2d 213, 214 (4th Cir. 1985)).

In considering a motion for summary judgment, the court will not "weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter," Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249, nor will it make determinations ofcredibility. N. Am. Precast, Inc. v. Gen. Cas. Co. of Wis., 2008 WL 906334, *3 (S.D. W. Va. Mar. 31, 2008) (Copenhaver, J.) (citing Sosebee v. Murphy, 797 F.2d 179, 182 (4th Cir.1986). If disputes over a material fact exist that "can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party," summary judgment is inappropriate. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250. If, however, the nonmoving party "fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case," then summary judgment should be granted because "a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element . . . necessarily renders all other facts immaterial." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23.

When presented with motions for summary judgment from both parties, courts apply the same standard of review. Tastee Treats, Inc. v. U.S. Fid. & Guar. Co., 2008 WL 2836701 (S.D. W. Va. July 21, 2008) (Johnston, J.) aff'd, 474 F. App'x 101 (4th Cir. 2012). Courts "must review each motion separately on its own merits to determine whether either of the parties deserves judgment as a matter of law,"...

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