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Roberts v. Health Association

August 8, 2007

LAURA ROBERTS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
THE HEALTH ASSOCIATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael A. Telesca United States District Judge

DECISION and ORDER

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Laura Roberts, "Roberts", brought this action on December 30, 2004, claiming that she had been discriminated against by her employer on the basis of her gender and marital status. On April 25, 2005, plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint in which she abandoned her claims of gender and marital status discrimination, and raised instead claims of disability discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), and violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"). Specifically, plaintiff claims that she was disabled, that the defendant Health Association failed to provide reasonable accommodations to assist her in performing her work, and that such failure to accommodate constitutes a violation of the ADA. Plaintiff also contends, apparently in the alternative, that she was prohibited from returning to her employment after a leave of absence because she was perceived as being disabled by the defendant. Plaintiff also contends that the defendant wilfully interfered with, restrained, or denied her right to take unpaid leave under the FMLA, and retaliated against the plaintiff after she attempted to invoke her FMLA rights.

Defendant moves for summary judgment on grounds that there are no material issues of fact in dispute and that as a matter of law, plaintiff has failed to establish any claim under the FMLA or ADA. For the reasons set forth below, I grant defendant's motion for summary judgment.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Laura Roberts was employed as a floor nurse and a night shift supervisor by defendant Health Associates from September, 1999 to May 25, 2004. In January, 2004, plaintiff allegedly began suffering from debilitating health concerns, including syncope, faintness, dizziness and depression. During that same period, plaintiff alleges that she was caring for her terminally ill mother.

On January 15, 2004, plaintiff requested 4 days off from work because of a medical condition. In support of her request, plaintiff submitted a doctor's note stating that it was medically necessary for her to take the time off. On January 23, 2004, plaintiff suffered a fire at her residence, and was forced to move to a hotel for approximately a month to a month and a half. Though the record is not clear as to how much time off plaintiff took to deal with her living situation, Roberts acknowledges that she used vacation days to take time off during this period. From January, 2004 through April 3, 2004, plaintiff used 112.5 hours of vacation, personal time, and sick time. Plaintiff acknowledges that any time taken between January 20, 2004 and March 25, 2004 was not related to any medical needs.

On March 25, 2004, plaintiff requested time off for medical reasons, and provided a note from her doctor stating that she would be unable to work until April 1, 2004. Prior to returning to work, plaintiff provided another doctor's note extending her return-to-work date to April 5, 2004. On April 9, 2004, plaintiff submitted a third doctor's note stating retroactively that she was unable to work from April 5, 2004, through April 19, 2004.

On April 1, 2004, after having received plaintiff's second doctor's note, defendant sent a notice to the plaintiff informing her of New York State disability benefits, the defendant's medical leave policy, the FMLA, and a disability benefits form from its insurance carrier. Although defendant sent information regarding the FMLA, defendant did not send plaintiff an FMLA form.

Having been out of work since March 25, 2004, plaintiff returned to work on April 19, 2004. She worked for three days, but then presented a fourth note from her doctor stating that she would be unable to work through June 1, 2004.

Plaintiff applied for short-term disability benefits through the defendant's insurance carrier Aetna, and on May 5, 2004, Aetna granted plaintiff's application for benefits effective through April 19, 2004. Aetna further stated, however, that it had insufficient information to determine whether or not Roberts was disabled after April 19, 2004. Aetna required additional information which Roberts claims she provided, but which was allegedly never received by Aetna.

On May 21, 2004, after plaintiff had been out of work for almost 2 months, defendant sent a letter to Roberts indicating that if she did not provide Aetna with the proper paperwork to document her disability status, her employment would be terminated on May 25, 2004. Upon Roberts' receipt of the letter, Roberts discussed the matter with Linda Crowner, ("Crowner") the benefits coordinator for the defendant, and satisfied Crowner that the proper paperwork had been submitted to Aetna. Thereafter, Aetna denied plaintiff's request for short-term disability on grounds that the medical evidence submitted by plaintiff's doctor was incomplete, and the evidence that was submitted did not support a finding of a short-term disability.

On May 25, 2004, one week prior to her return to work date, plaintiff submitted a fourth doctor's note extending her disability period from June 1, 2004 to June 14, 2004. On June 8, 2004, plaintiff, for the fifth time, submitted a doctor's note, extending her disability period from June 14, 2004 through July 19, 2004. Prior to submitting her fifth doctor's note, plaintiff, on June 2, 2004, asked Crowner about taking FMLA leave. According to the defendant, Crowner advised Roberts that FMLA leave ran concurrently with her medical absence, and that plaintiff had already used 10 weeks of medical leave.

After receiving plaintiff's request for a fourth extension of her disability period, and in light of Aetna's determination that plaintiff was not disabled, defendant decided to terminate plaintiff's employment on grounds that ...


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