United States District Court, Northern District of New York
February 3, 2000
IVA WOODFORD, PLAINTIFF,
COMMUNITY ACTION OF GREENE COUNTY, INC.; BOARD OF DIRECTORS OF COMMUNITY ACTION OF GREENE COUNTY, INC.; EDWARD J. DALY; ROSEMARY BLOIS; ROBERT C. SCHROCK; ANNE YON; WILLIAM REICH; RUDOLPH MONTELEONE; LAURETTE SUDDS; THOMAS YANDEAU; PENNY FRIEDRICH; ELEANOR VAN SCHAACK; DONNA RUMMO-FAULKNER; KARLENE SCHNUR; ANDREW DRESSER; ELAINE FARLEY, DEFENDANTS.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kahn, District Judge.
MEMORANDUM — DECISION AND ORDER
The Court must here determine whether Plaintiff Ms. Iva
Woodford was an eligible employee for purposes of the Family and
Medical Leave Act. This requires an assessment of the relevance
of Plaintiff's time sheets to the question of whether she worked
the minimum number of hours required to qualify under the act.
The Court must also determine whether Defendants may have
improperly interfered with Plaintiff's rights when they suspended
her from work, and whether they provided her with timely notice,
when she sought leave, that they might not restore her to her job
at the end of her leave. Finally, the Court must determine
whether Plaintiff may be liable to Defendants for any false or
defamatory statements she has made in prosecuting this action.
Plaintiff in this action claims that Defendants violated her
rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"),
29 U.S.C. § 2601 to 2654, and also asserts a supplemental state law claim
for intentional infliction of emotional distress, based on
Defendants' conduct pursuant to their purported violations of the
FMLA. Defendants have made a counterclaim for defamation in the
form of libel, alleging false and defamatory statements made in
connection with this action.
Plaintiff Ms Woodford was employed by Defendant Community
Action of Greene County, Inc. ("CAGC") from March 1985 to 15
January 1998. She was a teacher until 1987, and then was promoted
to day care Director. She was promoted to Head Start Director in
1988, and held that job until her employment with CAGC ended. The
individual Defendants are or were members of the CAGC Board of
Disputes related to the present action arose in 1996. Plaintiff
alleged improper conduct on the part of one the Defendants;
Defendants instituted disciplinary actions against Plaintiff.
Plaintiff claims that stress arising from these incidents led to
extreme mental and physical problems, and on that basis she
sought leave under the FMLA in November 1997. Defendants
initially rejected her application for leave, and required that
she return to work. Defendants subsequently granted leave, but
told her she had no right under the FMLA to be restored to her
position once her leave ended. As the dispute over Plaintiff's
application for FMLA leave continued, and Plaintiff remained away
from work, Defendants hired an interim Head Start Director.
Eventually, in January 1998, Defendants denied Plaintiff's
request to be restored to her position as Director pursuant to
Plaintiff filed this action 9 February 1998. The Court has
jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Plaintiff seeks damages,
punitive damages, and such other relief as the Court may deem
just and proper. Defendants in their counterclaim seek damages
and such other relief as the Court may deem just and proper.
Now before the Court are Defendants' motions for summary
judgment and Plaintiff's cross motion to dismiss Defendants'
A. Standards of Decision
A motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed. R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) for
"failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted," must
be denied "unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can
prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle
him to relief." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S.Ct.
99, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957). (Black, J.) In assessing the sufficiency
of a pleading, "all factual allegations in the complaint must be
taken as true," LaBounty v. Adler, 933 F.2d 121, 123 (2d Cir.
1991), and all reasonable inferences must be construed in favor
of the plaintiff. Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236, 94
S.Ct. 1683, 40 L.Ed.2d 90 (1974); see also Bankers Trust Co. v.
Rhoades, 859 F.2d 1096, 1099 (2d Cir. 1988), (applying the
principle of construing inferences in
favor of plaintiff) cert. denied sub nom. Soifer v. Bankers
Trust Co., 490 U.S. 1007, 109 S.Ct. 1642, 104 L.Ed.2d 158
[C]onsideration is limited to the factual allegations
in [the] complaint, which are accepted as true, to
documents attached to the complaint as an exhibit or
incorporated in it by reference, to matters of which
judicial notice may be taken, or to documents either
in plaintiffs' possession or of which plaintiffs had
knowledge and relied on in bringing suit.
Brass v. American Film Technologies, Inc., 987 F.2d 142
(2d Cir. 1993).
The Rules do not require the plaintiff to set out in detail the
facts upon which the claim is based, but only that a defendant be
given "fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds
upon which it rests." Conley, 355 U.S. at 45-46, 78 S.Ct. 99.
Individual allegations, however, that are so baldly conclusory
that they fail to give notice of the basic events and
circumstances of which the plaintiff complains are meaningless as
a practical matter and, as a matter of law, insufficient to state
a claim. See Barr v. Abrams, 810 F.2d 358, 363 (2d Cir. 1987)
(applying this standard to a complaint relying on civil rights
2. Summary Judgment
Summary judgment must be granted when "the pleadings,
depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file,
together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no
genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party
is entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P.
56(c); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247, 106
S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986); Lang v. Retirement Living
Pub. Co., 949 F.2d 576, 580 (2d Cir. 1991). The moving party
carries the initial burden of demonstrating an absence of a
genuine issue of material fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56; Celotex Corp.
v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265
(1986); Thompson v. Gjivoje, 896 F.2d 716, 720 (2d Cir. 1990).
Facts, inferences therefrom, and ambiguities must be viewed in a
light most favorable to the nonmovant. Matsushita Elec. Indus.
Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89
L.Ed.2d 538 (1986) (citing United States v. Diebold, Inc.,
369 U.S. 654, 655, 82 S.Ct. 993, 8 L.Ed.2d 176 (1962) (per curiam));
Project Release v. Prevost, 722 F.2d 960, 968 (2d Cir. 1983). A
genuine issue is an issue that, if resolved in favor of the
non-moving party, would permit a jury to return a verdict for
that party. R.B. Ventures, Ltd. v. Shane, 112 F.3d 54, 57 (2d
Cir. 1997) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505).
When the moving party has met the burden, the non-moving party
"must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical
doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co.,
475 U.S. at 586, 106 S.Ct. 1348. At that point, the non-moving
party "must set forth specific facts showing that there is a
genuine issue for trial." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Anderson, 477
U.S. at 250, 106 S.Ct. 2505; Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., 475
U.S. at 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348. To withstand a summary judgment
motion, evidence must exist upon which a reasonable jury could
return a verdict for the nonmovant. Anderson, 477 U.S. at
248-49, 106 S.Ct. 2505; Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., 475 U.S.
at 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348. Thus, summary judgment is proper where
there is "little or no evidence . . . in support of the
non-moving party's case." Gallo v. Prudential Residential
Servs., 22 F.3d 1219, 1223-24 (2d Cir. 1994).
The Court addresses the motions on the basis of these
A. Defendant's Motions for Summary Judgment
Defendants have divided into two groups, and submitted separate
motions. They do not, however, raise different issues, and the
second group essentially joins the arguments the first makes.
(See Sabo Aff. at 2 (Doc. 38, 9 Aug. 1999).) The Court will
refer to these motions as one, for the purpose of this
Defendants argue that Plaintiff is not an eligible employee
under the FMLA's provision that an employee must have been
employed "for at least 1,250 hours of service
with [her] employer during the previous 12-month period."
29 U.S.C. § 2611(2)(A)(ii). If she is not eligible, then she would
not have a right to reinstatement under the FMLA. Defendants'
evidence indicates that Plaintiff worked a total of 852.5 hours
in the twelve-month period before she requested FMLA leave.
Plaintiff argues that that evidence understates her hours worked,
and that even if she had not reached the requisite 1250 hours
Defendants' wrongful actions prevented her from accumulating the
necessary numbers of hours, and she is thus entitled to FMLA
Plaintiff asserts that Defendants' records of her hours are not
accurate, because the records were, in essence, simply a checkoff
verifying that Plaintiff, as an "exempt" employee, had worked the
minimum of 35 hours per week required. (See Mem. Law Opp'n to
Defs.' Mot. for Summ.J. and in Supp. of Pl.'s Mot. Dismiss
(hereinafter "Pl.'s Mem.Law") at 3-4 (Doc. 41, 9 Aug. 1999).)
That assertion, however, is not consistent with the evidence
before the Court. Plaintiff's time sheet is the basis for
Defendants' claim that she worked 852.5 hours in the twelve
months prior to her request for leave.*fn1 (See Blois Aff.,
Ex. E (Doc. 35, 9 Aug. 1999).) Plaintiff's argument would be
consistent with a record showing a series of two-week periods
listing precisely 70 hours worked. A good number of the periods
listed, to the contrary, show less than 70 hours worked; two
periods that do show over 70 hours worked (for the period
ending 7 February 1997, 96 hours worked) belie Plaintiff's
position that the worksheet was simply for checking off the
minimum number of hours worked. Plaintiff has not set forth
evidence on which a jury could find that in the twelve months
prior to 14 November 1997 she worked the 1250 hours necessary to
be an "eligible" employee for purposes of the FMLA.
Plaintiff notes that the FMLA forbids "any employer to
interfere with, restrain, or deny the exercise of or the attempt
to exercise, any right provided under this subchapter."
29 U.S.C. § 2615; see also Lacoparra v. Pergament Home Ctrs., Inc.,
982 F. Supp. 213, 219-20 (S.D.N.Y. 1997). An extended suspension of
Plaintiff from work during 1997 may have prevented her from
accumulating the hours necessary for FMLA eligibility.
Nonetheless, Plaintiff has not set forth evidence upon which a
jury could conclude that Defendants' suspension of Plaintiff from
April to August 1997 was contrary to law.
Plaintiff also argues that Defendants did not provide proper
and timely notice to her, at the commencement of her leave, that
they might deny her restoration to her position at the expiration
of her leave, because she was a "key employee." An employer must
provide a key employee under the FMLA with written notice of "the
employee's status as a `key employee' and the potential
consequence that restoration may be denied following FMLA leave,
explaining the conditions required for such denial."
29 C.F.R. § 825.301(b)(1)(vi).*fn2
An employer who believes that reinstatement may be
denied to a key employee must give written notice to
the employee at the time the employee gives notice of
the need for FMLA leave (or when FMLA leave
commences, if earlier) that he or she qualifies as a
employee. . . . If such notice cannot be given
immediately because of the need to determine whether
the employee is a key employee, it shall be given as
soon as practicable after being notified of a need
for leave (or the commencement of leave, if earlier).
29 C.F.R. § 825.219(a). Plaintiff requested placement on family
leave under the FMLA in a letter dated Tuesday, 18 November 1997,
asking that her leave be effective one day earlier. (See Blois
Aff. Ex. B.) In response to this request Defendant Rosemarie
Blois filled out an Employer Response to Employee Request for
FMLA Leave (Department of Labor form WH-381), dated Wednesday, 19
November 1997. (See id. Ex. C.) Defendant Edward Daly sent
Plaintiff a letter dated Friday, 21 November 1997 officially
informing her that CAGC had determined that she was a key
employee, and that though CAGC could not deny her FMLA leave, it
did intend to deny her restoration to employment on completion of
her FMLA leave. (See id. Ex. D.)
Thus, there was an interval of two or three days between
Plaintiff's request for leave and written notice from Defendants
that reinstatement would be denied. That interval is not so great
as to place Defendants in violation of the C.F.R.'s requirement
that the employer give written notice "as soon as practicable"
after the request for leave. See also the requirement that the
employer "advise the employee whether the employee is eligible as
soon as practicable (i.e., two business days absent extenuating
circumstances) after the date employee eligibility is
determined." 29 C.F.R. § 825.110(d) (emphasis added). But cf.
Miller v. Defiance Metal Prods., Inc., 989 F. Supp. 945, 948-49
(N.D.Ohio 1997) (finding — incorrectly, in the view of this Court
— that, when employee gave two days' notice in advance of taking
leave, 29 C.F.R. § 825.110(d) required employer to notify
employee that it had determined she was ineligible "within two
business days of receiving the employee's notice" (emphasis
Therefore, Plaintiff was not eligible under the FMLA for a
right of restoration to her position following leave, Defendants
did not interfere with her rights under the FMLA, and Defendants
gave her proper and timely notice of their intent to deny
restoration. Accordingly, the Court must GRANT Defendants' motion
for summary judgment with respect to Plaintiff's claim under the
Because the Court has granted summary judgment against
Plaintiff's federal question cause of action, the Court lacks
supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's state law claim for
intentional infliction of emotional distress. Accordingly, the
Court will DISMISS that state law claim. See
28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(3).
C. Plaintiff's Motion to Dismiss Defendants' Counterclaim for
Defamation by Libel
Plaintiff properly points out that the Federal Rules require
that "[i]n all averments of fraud or mistake, the circumstances
constituting fraud or mistake shall be stated with
particularity." Fed. R.Civ.P. 9(b). Defendants have quoted no
libelous statements by Plaintiff, but merely made summary
characterizations of her purported accusations. (See Am. Answer
at 6-7 (Doc. 13, 31 Mar. 1998).) More importantly, courts are
rightly reluctant to impose any impediment to the strong public
policy favoring filing of complaints for the vindication of one's
rights under the law, and to the candid and forthright pleading
of causes of action. "By an almost unbroken line of authority in
this country and England, a party who files a pleading or
affidavit in a judicial proceeding has absolute immunity, though
his statements are defamatory and malicious, if they relate to
the subject of inquiry." Sacks v. Stecker, 60 F.2d 73, 75 (2d
Cir. 1932) (A. Hand, J.) (citing Andrews v. Gardiner, 224 N.Y. 440,
121 N.E. 341, 343 (1918) (Cardozo, J.) (quoting with
The King v. Skinner, Lofft 55, 56, 98 Eng. Rep. 529, 530 (K.B.
1772) (Lord Mansfield, C.J.) ("[N]either party, witness, counsel,
jury, or Judge, can be put to answer, civilly or criminally, for
words spoken in office."))); see also Towne Ford v.
Marowski,*fn3 251 A.D.2d 1075, 674 N.Y.S.2d 213, 215 (N.Y.A.D.
4th Dept. 1998) (finding "an absolute privilege conferred on
parties for statements made in the course of judicial
proceedings").*fn4 Defendants have set forth no evidence or
arguments suggesting that Plaintiff's statements were unrelated
to her claims, nor have they indicated what statements Plaintiff
made apart from the submissions in this action that might sustain
their counterclaim. The Court finds Defendants' counterclaim
utterly without merit, and GRANTS Plaintiff's motion to dismiss.
For the reasons stated above, it is hereby:
ORDERED that Defendants' motions for summary judgment are
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Plaintiff's motion to dismiss
Defendants' counterclaim for defamation in the form of libel is
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Plaintiff's suit is DISMISSED IN
ITS ENTIRETY; and
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that THIS CASE IS HEREBY CLOSED; and
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the Clerk of the Court shall serve
copies of this order by regular mail upon the parties to this
IT IS SO ORDERED.