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Museau v. Heart Share Human Services of New York

United States District Court, E.D. New York

March 27, 2014

MARIE L. MUSEAU, Plaintiff,
v.
HEART SHARE HUMAN SERVICES OF NEW YORK, ROMAN CATHOLIC DIOCESE OF BROOKLYN, WILLIAM R. GUARINELLO, Individually, STANLEY CAPELLA, Individually, MARY JEAN PATELLA, Individually, and KENNETH CALLAHAN, Individually, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

DORA L. IRIZARRY, District Judge.

Plaintiff Marie L. Museau ("Plaintiff") filed the instant action against defendants Heart Share Human Services of New York ("Heart Share"), the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, William R. Guarinello ("Guarinello"), Stanley Capella ("Capella"), Mary Jean Patella ("Patella"), and Kenneth Callahan ("Callahan") (collectively, "Defendants") asserting violations of the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 2601 et seq., and the New York City Human Rights Law ("NYCHRL"), N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-107. ( See Complaint ("Compl."), Dkt. Entry No. 1.)[1] Defendants move, pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, for summary judgment ( See Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment ("Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J."), Dkt. Entry No. 26), which Plaintiff opposes (Plaintiff's Memorandum of Law in Opposition to Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. ("Pl.'s Opp'n"), Dkt. Entry No. 27). For the reasons set forth more fully below, summary judgment is granted and the complaint is dismissed in its entirety.

BACKGROUND[2]

Heart Share "provides services to the developmentally disabled, children and families in crisis, individuals with HIV/AIDS and youth at locations throughout Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island." (Defendants Statement of Facts ("Defs.' 56.1"), Dkt. Entry No. 26-3 ¶ 1.)[3] Plaintiff began working at Heart Share in 1999 and was promoted several times, ultimately working as a program director. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶¶ 2-4, 6; Plaintiff's Response to Defs.' 56.1 ("Pl.'s 56.1 Resp."), Dkt. Entry No. 27-1 ¶¶ 2-4, 6.) During the time relevant to this action, Callahan worked for Heart Share and was Plaintiff's direct supervisor. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶¶ 5-7; Pl.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 5-7.) Guarinello was the Chief Executive Officer. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 33; Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 33.) Capella was the Vice President of Quality Management and Corporate Compliance. (Deposition of Stanley Capella ("Capella Depo. Tr."), attached as Exhibit I to the Certification of Marc J. Monte ("Monte Cert."), Dkt. Entry No. 26-4 at 8-9.) Patella was the Vice President of Human Resources. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 30; Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 30.)

On December 19, 2011, Plaintiff applied for a leave of absence for a surgical procedure and recuperation. (Deposition of Marie Museau ("Pl. Depo. Tr."), attached as Exhibit G to the Monte Cert. at 57-58; Staffing Change Blue Form, attached as Exhibit S to the Monte Cert. ("Ex. S").) On December 21, 2011, Plaintiff underwent an outpatient procedure at Woodhull Hospital. (Pl. Depo. Tr. at 125-26.) On January 17, 2012, Plaintiff's physician cleared her for work and she returned to work. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 28; Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 28.) One day later, on January 18, 2012, Callahan informed Plaintiff that she would be laid off effective February 1, 2012, due to a budget shortfall at Heart Share. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 29; Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 29.) Plaintiff contends that Defendants interfered with her exercise of her FMLA rights on the grounds that, while she was on leave, Callahan called her several times, asked her to report to work to attend a meeting for which Callahan sent car service to retrieve her, and Defendants made the decision to terminate her. ( See Pl.'s Opp'n at 3-4, 9-11.) Plaintiff also contends that Defendants terminated her in retaliation for taking her FMLA leave. ( See Pl.'s Opp'n at 11-13.) Defendants counter both of these claims. ( See Defendants Memorandum of Law in Support of Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. ("Defs.' Mem."), Dkt. Entry No. 26-1 at 8-14.) The parties have completed discovery and the facts and circumstances of this case are discussed in greater detail below.

DISCUSSION

I. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate when "the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). "In ruling on a summary judgment motion, the district court must resolve all ambiguities, and credit all factual inferences that could rationally be drawn, in favor of the party opposing summary judgment and determine whether there is a genuine dispute as to a material fact, raising an issue for trial." McCarthy v. Dun & Bradstreet Corp., 482 F.3d 184, 202 (2d Cir. 2007) (internal quotations omitted). A fact is "material" within the meaning of Rule 56 when its resolution "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). An issue is "genuine" when "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id. To determine whether an issue is genuine, "[t]he inferences to be drawn from the underlying affidavits, exhibits, interrogatory answers, and depositions must be viewed in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion." Cronin v. Aetna Life Ins. Co., 46 F.3d 196, 202 (2d Cir. 1995) (citing United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962) (per curiam) and Ramseur v. Chase Manhattan Bank, 865 F.2d 460, 465 (2d Cir. 1989)). "[T]he evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. However, "[w]hen opposing parties tell two different stories, one of which is blatantly contradicted by the record, so that no reasonable jury could believe it, a court should not adopt that version of the facts for purposes of ruling on a motion for summary judgment." Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007).

The moving party bears the burden of "informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the record]... which it believes demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of fact." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (internal quotations omitted). Once the moving party has met its burden, "the nonmoving party must come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (emphasis omitted). The nonmoving party must offer "concrete evidence from which a reasonable juror could return a verdict in [its] favor." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256. The nonmoving party may not "rely simply on conclusory statements or on contentions that the affidavits supporting the motion are not credible, or upon the mere allegations or denials of the nonmoving party's pleading." Ying Jing Gan v. City of New York, 996 F.2d 522, 532-33 (2d Cir. 1993) (citations and internal quotations omitted). "Summary judgment is appropriate only [w]here the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party.'" Donnelly v. Greenburgh Cent. Sch. Dist. No. 7, 691 F.3d 134, 141 (2d Cir. 2012) (quoting Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587.)

II. Claims Alleging Violations of the FMLA

The FMLA gives eligible employees an "entitlement" to twelve workweeks per year of unpaid leave "[b]ecause of a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the functions of the position of such employee." 29 U.S.C. § 2612(a)(1)(D). While an employee is on FMLA leave it is "unlawful for any employer to interfere with, restrain, or deny the exercise of or the attempt to exercise, any right provided" by the FMLA. 29 U.S.C. § 2615(a)(1). At the end of a FMLA leave, the employee has the right to be restored to the position, or its equivalent, that he or she held prior to taking leave. 29 U.S.C. § 2614(a)(1)(A). However, this right is not absolute. "If the employee is unable to perform an essential function of the position because of a physical or mental condition, including the continuation of a serious health condition... the employee has no right to restoration to another position under FMLA." 29 C.F.R. § 825.216(c); see also Sarno v. Douglas Elliman-Gibbons & Ives, Inc., 183 F.3d 155, 161-62 (2d Cir. 1999) ("The fact that Sarno was not restored to his position at the end of that 12week period did not infringe his FMLA rights because it is also undisputed that at the end of that period he remained unable to perform the essential functions of his... position.").

The FMLA expressly creates a private cause of action for equitable relief and money damages against any employer who violates section 2615. See 29 U.S.C. § 2617(a)(2); Nevada Dep't of Human Res. v. Hibbs, 538 U.S. 721, 724-25 (2003). The Second Circuit recognizes two claims under the FMLA: (i) interference with FMLA rights; and (ii) retaliation for exercising FMLA rights. See Potenza v. City of New York, 365 F.3d 165, 167-68 (2d Cir. 2004); accord Voltaire v. Homes Servs. Sys., Inc., 823 F.Supp.2d 77, 90 (E.D.N.Y. 2011) ("The Second Circuit recognizes a distinction between claims which allege a violation of § 2615(a)(1)-so called interference' claims-and claims which allege violations of § 2615(a)(2) and (b), which are called retaliation' claims."). In this action, Plaintiff asserts both such claims.

A. Interference

Plaintiff contends that Defendants interfered with her FMLA leave on the grounds that while she was on leave, Callahan called her several times, asked her to report to work to attend a meeting for which Callahan sent car service to retrieve her, and Defendants made the decision to terminate her. (Pl.'s Opp'n at 3-4, 9-11.) Although the Second Circuit has discussed interference claims, it has not yet articulated or identified the standard for resolving such claims. See Potenza, 365 F.3d at 168 (recognizing interference claims, but declining to articulate the appropriate standard for such claims as the claim at issue was one of retaliation, rather than interference); see also Sista v. CDC Ixis North Am., Inc., 445 F.3d 161, 175-77 (2d Cir. 2006) (affirming summary judgment in favor of defendant-employer as dismissal of the plaintiff-employee's claim was appropriate, "[r]egardless of whether [plaintiff] asserts an interference' or a retaliation' claim"). Nonetheless, the majority of district judges in this Circuit have coalesced around the same standard for evaluating interference claims. See Wanamaker v. Westport Bd. of Ed., 899 F.Supp.2d 193, 205 (D. Conn. 2012). To establish a prima facie claim of interference with rights under the FMLA, a plaintiff must establish by a preponderance of the evidence that: "(1) she is an eligible employee under the FMLA; ...


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