Schobert v. CSX Transp. Inc.

Decision Date30 November 2020
Docket NumberCase No. 1:19-cv-76
Citation504 F.Supp.3d 753
Parties Anthony SCHOBERT, et al., Plaintiffs, v. CSX TRANSPORTATION INC., Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of Ohio

Elizabeth S. Tuck, The Tuck Firm, LLC, Tod Joseph Thompson, Tod J. Thompson, Attorney at Law, Cincinnati, OH, Joseph F. Albrechta, Fremont, OH, for Plaintiffs.

Elizabeth L. Dicus, Jones Day, Lindsay M. Cogley, JPMorgan Chase, Columbus, OH, Donald J. Munro, Pro Hac Vice, Nikki L. McArthur, Pro Hac Vice, Thomas R. Chiavetta, Pro Hac Vice, Jones Day, Washington, DC, for Defendant.



This cause is before the Court on three pending Motions, including: (i) Defendant CSX Transportation ("CSXT"), Inc.’s combined Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, Motion for Summary Judgment, and/or Motion to Stay (Doc. 15); (ii) Plaintiffs Anthony Schobert's and John York's First Motion to Amend/Correct Complaint Pursuant to Civil Rule 15(a)(2) (Doc. 20); and (iii) PlaintiffsMotion for Discovery Pursuant to Rule 56(d) (Doc. 21).

For the reasons below, the Court DENIES PlaintiffsMotion for Leave to Amend (Doc. 20), GRANTS CSXT Judgment on the Pleadings as to Part I.A of its Motion (Doc. 15, #126–291 ), GRANTS IN PART AND DENIES IN PART CSXT's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings as to Part I.B of its Motion (id. at #130-34), DENIES CSXT Judgment on the Pleadings as to Part I.C of its Motion (id. at #135), GRANTS PlaintiffsMotion for Discovery (Doc. 21), DEFERS ruling on CSXT's Motion for Summary Judgment as to Parts II.A through II.C (Doc. 15 at #136–41), DENIES CSXT Summary Judgment as to Part II.D of its Motion (id. at #142–44), and DENIES CSXT's request for stay, which it advanced in Part III of its Summary Judgment Motion (id. at #145–48).


Plaintiffs Anthony Schobert ("Schobert") and John York ("York") (collectively "Plaintiffs") take issue with how CSXT conducted certain FMLA-related investigations during the 2017–18 holiday season. Plaintiffs make several allegations on behalf of themselves and fourteen putative classes of current and former CSXT Train and Engineer employees, all related to those events. (See Compl., Doc. 1, #1–26).

While the specifics vary (not surprisingly, given fourteen separate putative classes), the Complaint generally alleges that CSXT violated: (1) the Family Medical Leave Act (Count I); (2) the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (Count II); and (3) the Rehabilitation Act (Count III), each in a variety of ways. (See id. at ¶¶ 154–71, #22–24). CSXT attacks each of the three counts on the merits, either by way of judgment on the pleadings or on summary judgment, and also seeks a stay of further proceedings to the extent any claims survive. Plaintiffs responded both on the merits of CSXT's arguments and also by requesting: (1) leave to amend their Complaint; and (2) an opportunity to conduct additional discovery before responding more fully to some of CSXT's summary judgment arguments. Given the interplay among the various pending motions, the Court will begin by discussing the factual backdrop against which the motions arise (based on the allegations in the Complaint) and describe each of the motions in greater detail, before turning to its analysis of each.

A. Schobert And York, Two Locomotive Engineers, Take FMLA Leave Around The 2017–18 Winter Holidays.

CSXT is a rail carrier operating nationwide and employing more than 32,000 people. (Compl. at ¶ 7, #2). Schobert is, and York was, one of those employees. (Id. at ¶¶ 52, 94, #9, 14). Schobert first joined CSXT in 2003 and has been a locomotive engineer since 2012. (Id. at ¶ 52, #9). York began working with CSXT in 2001 and was a locomotive engineer from 2011 until his termination in 2018. (Id. at ¶ 94, #14). Locomotive engineers are part of a larger group of employees, Train & Engineer Employees ("T&E Employees"), which includes engineers, conductors, and switchmen, all of whom work pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement. (See Compl. at ¶ 38, #7). Instead of working a typical nine-to-five schedule, T&E Employees are "called up within two hours’ notice for multiple-day shifts that include overnight stays[.]" (Id. at ¶ 31, #5). They "do not work a regular workday or Monday through Friday," but are "on call" most hours of most days. (Id. at ¶¶ 12, 31, #3, 5).

For Schobert and York, the on-call nature of their job is complicated by their alleged disability status, which they assert entitles them to intermittent FMLA leave. (See Compl. at ¶¶ 55–56, 97–98, #9, 15). Roughly six years ago, Schobert suffered an injury that resulted in a "continuing disability of the spine," allegedly causing him "intermittent neck and back pain." (Id. at ¶¶ 55-56, #9). He further alleges that, during painful flare-ups, he is unable to work. (Id. at ¶ 56, #9). York suffered a knee injury approximately five years ago, which flares up from time to time and allegedly impairs his "ability to walk." (Id. at ¶¶ 97–98, #15). As part of addressing their respective conditions and flare-ups, Schobert and York sought, and they assert CSXT approved, pre-certified intermittent FMLA leave, which permits them time off to seek treatment. (See id. at ¶¶ 57–59, 99–101, #9, 15).

In late December 2017, Schobert experienced a flare-up that allegedly rendered him unable to work, but because it was Christmastime he was unable to get an appointment with his doctor until December 26, 2017. (Id. at ¶¶ 73–74, #12). Accordingly, he took four days of FMLA leave. (Id. ). Separately, York's knee began to cause him problems around New Year's Eve, so he took two days of FMLA leave starting on December 30th. (See id. at ¶¶ 112–13, #17). While neither Plaintiff specifically alleges that he returned to work after his FMLA leave concluded, the Complaint indicates that they both did.

During the first few weeks of 2018, CSXT began investigating whether its employees who took FMLA leave during the winter holidays had done so improperly, i.e., merely to avoid being called into work on those holidays. (See id. at ¶ 37, #6).

CSXT undertook this broad-sweeping inquiry because, according to a CSXT notice that Plaintiffs cite in their Complaint, the company had noticed "disruptions to its operations on holidays and weekends due to crew unavailability." (Id. at ¶ 24, #4 (purporting to quote a CSXT employee notice)). As part of that investigation, in early-to-mid January 2018, CSXT placed both Schobert and York on administrative leave without pay pending a disciplinary hearing on whether they inappropriately used FMLA leave. (See id. at ¶¶ 76–79, 115–17, #12, 17).

Eventually, Schobert and York each had a hearing pursuant to the T&E Employees’ collective bargaining agreement with CSXT. Schobert alleges that, at his hearing, CSXT accused him of misusing FMLA leave and lying to his employer. (Id. at ¶ 80, #13). He further claims that CSXT supported its accusation with only minimal evidence, consisting solely of the coincidental timing between his leave and the 2017 Christmas holiday. (Id. at ¶¶ 81–82, #13). Luckily for Schobert, he was "exonerated" because he "happened to bring documentation of his treatment," namely the December 26, 2017 appointment, to his disciplinary hearing. (Id. at ¶ 85, #13). Without expressly pleading as much, the Complaint seems to suggest that CSXT reinstated Schobert to his pre-leave position, as Schobert does not make any allegation to the contrary or assert that he was subject to additional discipline.

York was not so fortunate. Unlike Schobert, York did not provide any corroborating documents to substantiate his need for FMLA leave. So, at York's hearing, CSXT again cited the coincidental timing between FMLA leave and the holiday season to assert that its employee had wrongfully taken FMLA leave. CSXT's belief that York had misused leave led CSXT to find that York committed an act of dishonesty, a terminable offense under the T&E Employees’ collective bargaining agreement. CSXT thus fired York on February 24, 2018. (See id. at ¶¶ 118–23, #17–18).

B. Schobert And York Sue CSXT Over Their FMLA Policies, The FMLA Investigations, And The Adverse Employment Actions That Followed.

Schobert's disciplinary hearing and York's termination led them to jointly sue CSXT (on behalf of fourteen putative classes of employees). Based on the Complaint, it appears that Plaintiffs’ grievances with CSXT and its FMLA leave policies had been festering for some time before Plaintiffs initiated this suit. For example, Schobert and York allege that, dating back to at least 2016 and continuing through at least 2017, CSXT "issued multiple company-wide Notices accusing employees who take FMLA of routinely abusing their leave." (Compl. at ¶ 20, #4). Plaintiffs assert that these notices "threatened employees with discipline[,]" "intended to and did cause animosity" between and among employees, "chilled employees’ use of FMLA intermittent leave[,]" and "caused [employees] not to use FMLA leave when they needed it." (See id. at ¶¶ 19–28, #4–5). Plaintiffs say this left them and other T&E Employees who need FMLA leave in an untenable position—either take leave in conjunction with other days off and risk discipline or not take leave at all. (See id. at ¶ 28, #5).

Schobert and York also take issue with several of CSXT's policies more broadly, which they claim violate the FMLA outright. First, they allege that CSXT improperly calculates employees’ FMLA time because it measures leave "in increments of 1/100 of a week, or 1.68 hours," not in an increment less than one hour as required by law. (Id. at ¶¶ 9–10, #2–3 (citing [29] C.F.R. § 825.205)).

Plaintiffs’ second FMLA allegation concerns the way that CSXT allocates extra pay to T&E Employees. Schobert and York, in their roles as locomotive engineers, could work for "guarantee" pay, which they would earn for remaining "on-call" to come in and operate a train, even if they are never actually called to do so. (See i...

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