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Claffey v. Wegmans Food Markets

March 2, 2010

EILEEN M. CLAFFEY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
WEGMANS FOOD MARKETS, INC., DEFENDANT.



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

ORDER and DECISION

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Eileen M. Claffey ("plaintiff") brought this action under 29 U.S.C. § 2617 claiming that defendant Wegmans Food Markets, Inc. ("defendant") interfered with her rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA") and retaliated against her for exercising her FMLA rights. Defendant moves for summary judgment on both claims. Specifically, plaintiff alleges that defendant failed to provide her with part-time work to accommodate her while she tended to a family member. Alternatively, plaintiff maintains that defendant interfered with her full-time leave when it scheduled her to work before her leave ended. Plaintiff also alleges that defendant created intolerable working conditions that forced her to resign.

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

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff was an employee of defendant from 2002 to February 7, 2007. In 2005, plaintiff began working at defendant's Ridgemont store. She received some training as a cashier, but primarily worked in the accounting office. In October 2005, plaintiff began a training program to work as a full-time Accounting Office Coordinator-Trainee. Training for the accounting office requires forty hour weeks with trainees working at various times of the day in order to learn the tasks that arise at different times and days. This program allows trainees to gain the knowledge and skill sets necessary to complete the various tasks including preparing and closing cashier's tills, lottery, payroll, etc. Trainees are not permitted to work alone, except in emergency situations. Initially, this program requires six months of training, but that period may be extended based on a trainee's progress.

Plaintiff began her training program in late October 2005. In June 2006, plaintiff, still a trainee, met with an Accounting Manager about her progress in the program. The Accounting Manager believed plaintiff could not perform the requisite level of duties to graduate from the training program. In August 2006, a new Accounting Manager, Beth Snyder ("Snyder"), took over and reviewed plaintiff's performance records and observed plaintiff. Snyder decided to re-train plaintiff over the next eight weeks along with Assistant Manager Elaine Cornish ("Cornish") and others during October and early November 2006. Snyder noted that although plaintiff improved she still lacked the ability to work unsupervised. See Snyder Decl. ¶ 22.

In November 2006, plaintiff decided to limit her availability to take care of a family member. On November 16 plaintiff informed Paul Fiorica ("Fiorica"), the Employee Representative, of her request and filled out a form indicating that her new availability was from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. either Saturday or Sunday. Fiorica informed plaintiff he would discuss her availability with Snyder. Given the busy holiday season and plaintiff's training needs, Snyder informed Fiorica that it would be too difficult to schedule plaintiff in the accounting office. Plaintiff was removed from the schedule. See Snyder Decl. ¶ 23-27.

On December 4, 2006, Fiorica spoke with plaintiff regarding this issue and Fiorica offered her a temporary position as a cashier. See Fiorica Dec. ¶ 17. Plaintiff refused this offer. See Claffey Tr. 28-30. The cashier position would have had the same pay and benefits as plaintiff's trainee position. See Fiorica Dec. ¶ 17. At the December 4 meeting, plaintiff notified defendant that her job was protected under the FMLA. Thereafter, Fiorica provided plaintiff with a FMLA request form which plaintiff completed and returned indicating that her FMLA leave was effective November 16, 2006 to February 17, 2007. Defendant granted plaintiff FMLA leave on December 27, 2006, retroactive to November 16, 2006.

On December 22, 2006, plaintiff presented Snyder with a new availability form indicating that she was able to work Monday thru Friday, 6 p.m. to 11 p.m, and one day on the weekend. Defendant's store is traditionally less busy in January, and it often schedules only one person to work in the accounting office. Snyder maintains that due to plaintiff's inability to work alone in the office and the seasonal hours, it could not schedule her to work. See Snyder Decl. 31-32.

On January 27, 2007, plaintiff presented a new availability form indicating she return to work full time and work from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Mondays, Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, Holidays, and from 6 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Tuesdays. The form was signed and dated on January 27, 2007. See Defendant's Ex. O. The new availability sheet did not indicate that plaintiff's availability would begin at any time other than the week of January 27, 2007. According to plaintiff, she submitted the January 27 form as a courtesy to Snyder, as the person in charge of the schedule, so that Snyder would be aware of plaintiff's availability when she returned to work full time beginning February 17, 2007. See Claffey Tr. 32:10-12. However, plaintiff did not communicate this to Snyder, but instead simply placed the form in Snyder's mailbox. See Claffey Tr. 32:17-18; Defendant's Ex. O. In addition, plaintiff never contacted Snyder or Fiorica to discuss her new availability or when it was to begin, but gave them only the form to work with. Given this new availability that plaintiff was ready to return to work, Snyder scheduled plaintiff to work forty hours the following week starting February 4, 2007. Fiorica called plaintiff to inform her of the new schedule and plaintiff did not object during this conversation. See Claffey Tr. 32:20-25, 33:1-12.

On February 4, 2007, plaintiff arrived for work, as scheduled, in the accounting office. Plaintiff worked along with Assistant Manager Cornish throughout her shift without mentioning her FMLA leave or being upset about returning to work. See Claffey Tr. 38:5-10. Plaintiff called in sick the next day. On February 7, 2007, three days after returning to work full time, plaintiff resigned, stating that she felt compelled to leave because of the intolerable working conditions.

Plaintiff argues that defendant interfered with her FMLA rights when it refused to schedule her for work during her intermittent leave. Alternatively, plaintiff maintains that defendant knew about her FMLA leave extending to February 17, 2007, and that scheduling her prior to that expiration interfered with her FMLA rights. Defendant contends that given the pattern of plaintiff's behavior, i.e. submitting new availability forms throughout her approved leave, the lack of a specific effective date on the form, and plaintiff's failure to communicate her true intent, it was left to conclude that plaintiff wished to return to work full-time. In addition, defendant maintains it was not feasible to schedule plaintiff in the ...


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