Stein v. Atlas Indus., Inc.

Decision Date23 June 2017
Docket NumberCase No. 3:15CV00112
PartiesRobert C. Stein, Plaintiff, v. Atlas Industries, Inc., Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Ohio

This case arises out of defendant's alleged wrongful termination of plaintiff, one of its long-term employees. Defendant Atlas Industries, Inc. maintains it terminated plaintiff Robert Stein because of his failure to comply with the company's no call/no show attendance policy. Plaintiff, however, alleges his termination violated the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), and Ohio Revised Code.

Jurisdiction is proper pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1367.

Pending is defendant's motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 68).1

For the reasons that follow, I grant the motion.

A. Plaintiff's Employment withDefendant and Workplace Injury

Plaintiff Robert C. Stein was an employee of defendant Atlas Industries, Inc. for nearly twenty years. Plaintiff started his career at defendant's Fremont, Ohio plant on August 5, 1996. During his employment, plaintiff received positive performance evaluations and regular wage increases and had a nearly nonexistent disciplinary record. Plaintiff started as a Drill Operator, and after completing defendant's machinist apprenticeship program, defendant promoted him to Journeyman Machinist.

On December 23, 2013, plaintiff injured his left knee at work when he stepped off a platform to get a drill, caught his foot on a table, and twisted his knee. Plaintiff reported his injury that day and sought medical treatment on January 8, 2014. Mark Toepee, the Plant Manager, told plaintiff there would be no issue with his treatment and did not prohibit plaintiff from seeking that treatment. Following the January 8, 2014 appointment, plaintiff was released to work with the followingrestrictions: no lifting, no bending, no twisting, no turning, no lifting 30-40 pounds, no kneeling, and no squatting.

According to defendant, plaintiff was placed on light duty, where he worked within his restrictions through May 13, 2014. During that time, defendant maintains that Mr. Toepee granted each of plaintiff's accommodation requests. Defendant also maintains that it never disciplined plaintiff for any reason, nor did it tell plaintiff he could not work because light duty assignments within his restrictions were not available.

Plaintiff presents a different version of the facts relevant to this time period. According to plaintiff, defendant failed to adhere to plaintiff's restrictions. Plaintiff asserts defendant expected him to perform his normal job and ignored his complaints about performing tasks outside his restrictions. On one occasion, plaintiff asserts Mr. Toeppe told plaintiff that there were no jobs that could meet his restrictions and that plaintiff would not be sitting around on the job.

On May 13, 2014, plaintiff had surgery for a torn meniscus, rendering him totally unable to work and eligible for FMLA leave, which defendant approved. After surgery, plaintiff regularly followed up with his physician and waited to receive his release to return to work. From the date of plaintiff's surgery through July 18, 2014, defendant provided plaintiff FMLA leave. While on medical leave, plaintiff also received workers' compensation benefits.

B. Defendant's Policies and ProceduresRegarding Absences and Sick Leave

Article IX, Section 6 of defendant's Associate Handbook provides defendant's sick leave policy. It makes clear that an employee returning from leave for an illness or injury must be availablefor assignment on the first regular workday following his or her medical release to return to work. Specifically, Article IX, Section 6 states:

An associate unable to report to work for more than four (4) consecutive workdays because of his illness or injury may be granted a sick leave. When the Company approves a sick leave, that absence is for a specific period of time based on medical verification by the associate's physician, indicating that the associate is physically unable to perform work due to illness or injury.
An associate on sick leave is expected to notify the Company in advance of his expected date of return and before returning to work to report to their plant office with a statement from his physician stating that he is physically able to resume work. He is required to be available for assignment on the first scheduled regular workday following expiration of his leave.

(Doc. 68, 1-2) (emphasis added).

Of note, Article IX, Section 3 of the Handbook provides that FMLA leave runs concurrent to sick leave.

Additionally, Article I, Section 10 establishes the procedure for reporting absences. Specifically, Article I, Section 10 states:

An associate who is unable to report to work is expected to inform his supervisor by calling the plant as early as possible and preferably before the start of their shift (but no later than one hour after start of your shift) on the first day of the absence and each day of absence until granted sick leave or a leave of absence. Be sure to tell your supervisor the reason for your absence or tardiness.
If you are absent three (3) or more consecutive days, due to illness, when you return to work, you must provide a statement from the doctor stating the following: a. treatment date(s), b. date(s) disabled, c. return to work date, d. doctor's signature. Any associate who is absent three (3) consecutive days without permission or without calling in will be automatically discharged and it will be noted in your permanent record.
Remember, it is your responsibility to be on the job and keep the Company advised when you are unable to work, whatever the reason. Your absence can create quite a hardship not only for your fellow associates, but for the Company as well.

(Id., 2) (emphasis added).

The Handbook also considers an absence for three consecutive workdays as an "intolerable offense" subject to dismissal. (Id.).

At the time of his hire, plaintiff reviewed defendant's Handbook, which included each of the above-listed policies, and plaintiff received updated versions of the Handbook throughout his employment. Further, plaintiff had taken medical leave multiple times in the past, showing his familiarity with the leave and absence policies.

Defendant claims it consistently enforces the no call/show policy by terminating employees who violate the policy.

C. Plaintiff's Termination

On Friday, July 18, 2014, plaintiff had an appointment with Dr. Nabil Ebraheim's physician assistant, Gregory Otto.

According to defendant, Mr. Otto released plaintiff to return to work. The work release was effective July 20, 2014 and listed an "office work only" restriction applicable through August 10, 2014. Defendant maintains that Mr. Otto listed "office work only" as the restriction in order to limit plaintiff from participating in work that required lifting, bending, and prolonged standing. Mr. Otto did not, defendant argues, intend for this restriction to require plaintiff to perform solely "office" work functions. Instead, Mr. Otto intended only to limit plaintiff generally to "sit-down-type work" within his particular job assignment upon his return to work on July 21, 2014-the first scheduled regular workday following expiration of his leave and the date defendant expected plaintiff's return.

Plaintiff says otherwise. According to plaintiff, at the July 18, 2014 appointment, Mr. Otto said, "Rob, I'm keeping you off until August 10th so they have—maybe have your shots approved.And if not, at that time, then maybe office work only. And when I say that, I say answering the phone only." (Doc. 72, 8). Then, Mr. Otto gave plaintiff a medical slip, which plaintiff took to the workers' compensation office. After leaving that appointment, it was plaintiff's understanding that he was not released to work until August 10, 2014.

Defendant received a medical report associated with plaintiff's workers' compensation claim indicating plaintiff was released to return to work with light duty restrictions on July 20, 2014. Defendant claims it intended to accommodate plaintiff's light duty restrictions in the same manner it had done after the work-related injury and before his surgery. Based on this information, defendant argues that plaintiff should have reported to work on July 21, 2014 to receive the light duty assignment defendant intended to give him.

Plaintiff, however, did not report to work or call in on Monday, July 21, 2014. And plaintiff did not report to work or call in for the next three days. From July 21, 2014, to July 24, 2014, plaintiff did not communicate with defendant at all about his medical condition or indicate that he intended to remain off work after the anticipated July 21, 2014 return date. Further, plaintiff did not provide defendant with any medical documentation to change his return date or discuss a continued need for medical leave beyond July 20, 2014.

On July 21, 2014, defendant's Human Resources Director, Kay Miller, contacted plaintiff's physician's office to confirm plaintiff received notice of his relea se to return to work. The physician's office provided Ms. Miller with a copy of plaintiff's return to work slip, which released him to work with restrictions effective July 20, 2014, and verified that plaintiff received the same document during his last visit with Mr. Otto. Then, Ms. Miller confirmed with defendant's ThirdParty Administrator for workers' compensation claims that there were no medical reports modifying plaintiff's medical leave to extend it beyond July 20, 2014.

On July 24, 2014, Mr. Toeppe called plaintiff at home and asked him to come to work to discuss his absences. On July 25, 2014, plaintiff met with Mr. Toeppe. First, Mr. Toeppe told plaintiff that work was available for him that fit his light duty restrictions. Then, Mr. Toeppe said that plaintiff was being terminated due to his violations of Section 10 of the Attendance Policy. Pla...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT