Thompson v. Chase Bankcard Serv., Inc.

Decision Date23 August 2010
Docket NumberCase No. 2:09-CV-293
Citation737 F.Supp.2d 860
PartiesPaulette THOMPSON, Plaintiff, v. CHASE BANKCARD SERVICES, INC., Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of Ohio

Kendall D. Isaac, Columbus, OH, for Plaintiff.

Angelique Paul Newcomb, Eve Melinda Ellinger, Susan Porter, Schottenstein Zox & Dunn, Columbus, OH, for Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

JOHN D. HOLSCHUH, District Judge.

Plaintiff Paulette (Thompson) Rutledge, an African-American female, filed suit against her former employer, Chase Bankcard Services ("Chase"), alleging retaliatory discharge in violation of the Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq., disability discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. and Ohio Rev. Code § 4112, and race discrimination in violation of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. and Ohio Rev. Code § 4112. This matter is currently before the Court on Defendant's motion for summary judgment. (Doc. # 16.) For the following reasons, Defendant's motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

I. Background and Procedural History

Plaintiff Paulette (Thompson) Rutledge began working for Bank One, Chase's predecessor,1 on January 5, 1998 as a financial services advisor: a customer service position where she took incoming phone calls from credit card customers. (Thompson Dep. 164, 168, 196, doc. # 18.) Around April of 1999, Plaintiff was hired as an advisor in the new "dispute by phone" department where she handled calls from credit card customers who were disputing charges or complaining of billing errors. ( Id. 202-05, 209-10.) In August of 2004, Plaintiff was promoted to senior chargeback advisor, a position where she continued to take regular customer calls, began taking "escalated" calls where the customer asked to speak to a supervisor, and also answered chargeback advisors' questions when those advisors were seeking guidance. ( Id. 220-24; Weatherwax Dep. 11, 35-37, doc. # 19.) In her "dispute by phone" department, Plaintiff reported to a "Team Manager," and that manager's supervisor, the "Team Leader." (Thompson Dep. 174-75, 212; Weatherwax Dep. 8.) Plaintiff performed well in her position as a senior advisor and "met expectations" in her annual review in August 2005. (Thompson Dep. 220; Ex. 21, doc. # 18-4.)

In November 2005, Plaintiff's godmother, who was an important part of her life after her mother passed away, died of congestive heart failure. (Thompson Dep. 158.) Plaintiff's Team Leader at that time, Kathy Kaskocsak, allowed Plaintiff to take bereavement leave even though her godmother was not a blood relative. ( Id. 230-31.) In February 2006, Plaintiff suffered another major loss when her younger brother passed away. ( Id. 158-59.) These deaths profoundly affected Plaintiff and Chase recommended that she take a leave of absence and contact the Employee Assistance Program ("EAP") for counseling. ( Id. 156-57, 231, 236.) Plaintiff did so and went on short-term disability leave from March 3 through April 20, 2006, during which time she received professional mental health counseling through an EAP referral, and worked through her struggle with depression. ( Id. 156-58, 228-33; Ex. 24, doc. # 18-4.)

During this same time period, over 2005 and 2006, Plaintiff was also experiencing heart palpitations, trembling hands, and an inability to focus. (Thompson Dep. 133-34.) Her family physician suspected that she had an overactive thyroid some time in 2005 and referred her to a specialist when her symptoms did not improve in 2006. ( Id. 233, 237.) When Plaintiff's doctor asked about what kind of stress she might she might be under, in an attempt to uncover the cause of her heart palpitations, Plaintiff told him about the stress of her job as a senior chargeback advisor, taking back-to-back escalated calls. ( Id. 233-34.) Plaintiff's doctor thereafter suggested that she work in a less stressful position. ( Id. 237.) She discussed this issue with her counselor who noted that although Plaintiff was ready to return to work in April 2006, she was concerned about returning to the same stressful position. ( Id. 233-34; Ex. 24, doc. # 18-4.) From the record, it appears that Plaintiff was concerned about the stress of her job due in part to her doctor's concerns, and also in part to her struggle with depression and anxiety following the deaths of these two close family members. (Exs. G, H to DiRenna Dep., docs. 20-2, 20-3; Thompson Dep. 237.)

Before Plaintiff returned to work in April 2006, she contacted Andrea Clark, her Human Resources ("HR") Business Partner, to find out if she could transfer to a less stressful position, without direct customer interactions. ( Id. 237.) Clark informed Plaintiff that there were no positionsin Card Services that did not involve customer contact except for janitorial work. ( Id. 237-38.) Consequently, Plaintiff returned to work as planned, in her position as a senior chargeback advisor, but began applying for other positions internally at Chase. According to Plaintiff, there were research and investigation positions which did not require customer contact. ( Id. 236-40.) Plaintiff was not interviewed for these positions, and despite this search for a less stressful job, she continued to perform well as a senior chargeback advisor, again "meeting expectations" in her annual review in August 2006 and receiving a nomination for Employee of the Month in November 2006. ( Id. 240, 225-26, 258-60; Exs. 23, 28, doc. # 18-4.) However, Plaintiff's August 2006 review did note that she was working on "using more courteous phrases," and showing "more empathy" to card members. (Ex. 23, doc. # 18-4.)

After returning to work from her short-term leave, Plaintiff was formally diagnosed with Graves' disease in July 2006. (Thompson Dep. 236.) Graves' is an autoimmune disease that affects the thyroid gland and according to Plaintiff, causes her mind to race, her heart to palpitate, and her eyes to twitch when symptoms flare up. ( Id. 132-35, 137, 144.) Plaintiff applied and was approved for her first period of intermittent FMLA leave from July 20, 2006 through January 20, 2007. ( Id. 184-85.) Plaintiff requested this leave so that she could attend medical appointments related to her Graves' disease. ( Id.) Plaintiff understood that FMLA leave was to be used to cover appointments with healthcare professionals and not used for personal errands or other business. ( Id. 186-87.) Plaintiff was to inform her immediate supervisor, the Team Manager, either by calling in or sending an email, whenever she was taking an absence covered by her FMLA leave. ( Id. 180, 185-86.) Plaintiff began taking medication for her condition in 2006 and has reported that her Graves' disease is controlled through medication. ( Id. 135.)

Around December 2006 or January 2007, Plaintiff began reporting to a new Team Manager, Dawn Weatherwax. ( Id. 261.) Plaintiff had a good relationship with Weatherwax, who met with Plaintiff monthly to review the quality of a random sampling of her calls with customers. ( Id. 264-67.) Plaintiff was rated on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the best, and was required to maintain a quality rating of 3 or else face progressive counseling or other disciplinary action. ( Id. 265.) On June 6, 2007, Weatherwax met with Plaintiff to discuss her unacceptable quality scores for the months of March and April, and also to discuss her tardiness on four occasions. ( Id. 266, 271; Exs. 29, 30, doc. # 18-4.) In both March and April 2007, Plaintiff received a 1 out of 5. (Ex. 30, doc. # 18-4.) Plaintiff was counseled on specific calls and on the importance of paying attention to detail, being empathetic, and building rapport with card members. ( Id.; Weatherwax Dep. 46-47.) Plaintiff was aware that she had to maintain a minimum quality rating of 3 going forward, or else face disciplinary action such as receiving a written warning. (Ex. 30, doc. # 18-4.) Plaintiff did improve the quality of her calls thereafter. (Weatherwax Dep. 27, 33.)

In June 2007, after a year of testing and unexplained pain and illness, Plaintiff's son was formally diagnosed with Crohn's disease. (Thompson Dep. 147-48.) Crohn's disease causes inflammation of the digestive tract and results in severe abdominal pain and complications with digestion. ( Id. 147-49, 175.) Her son's illness sometimes caused Plaintiff to be late for work and in fact, after she was counseled on her tardiness on June 6, 2007, Plaintiff informed Team Leader Kaskocsak that her "tardies" were due to her son's illness.( Id. 175, 181; Ex. 29, doc. # 18-4; Kaskocsak Dep. 18-19.) Kaskocsak was sympathetic, as her husband also has Crohn's disease, and informed Plaintiff that she could apply for FMLA leave to cover absences due to her son's illness. (Thompson Dep. 176-78; Kaskocsak Dep. 18, 20-21.) Plaintiff took this advice and was approved for intermittent FMLA leave to care for her son from June 28 through December 28, 2007. (Thompson Dep. 179-80.) Plaintiff followed the reporting protocol for use of FMLA leave by notifying Weatherwax, via phone or email, when she would be absent due to her use of FMLA time. ( Id. 185-86.) Weatherwax knew that Plaintiff had begun using FMLA time to care for her son. (Weatherwax Dep. 62.)

In July 2007, Plaintiff applied for a second period of intermittent FMLA leave to cover her own illness from July 22, 2007 through January 22, 2008. (Thompson Dep. 273-74; Ex. 31, doc. # 18-5.) Before she received approval of this request from Chase's Disability Management Services ("DMS") office located in Chicago, Illinois, Plaintiff attempted to use her FMLA time inappropriately on July 20th to cover an absence when she was sent home from work for a dress code violation. (Thompson Dep. 274-75, 278-79; Ex. 31, doc. # 18-5.) On July 25, 2007, Weatherwax met with Plaintiff to discuss the appropriate use of FMLA time and the Bank's dress code policy, due to this incident on July 20...

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