United States District Court, N.D. New York
FOR THE PLAINTIFF: JOHN J. HOKE, ESQ., OF COUNSEL, Smith, Hoke Law Firm, Albany, NY.
FOR THE DEFENDANT: SUSAN C. RONEY, ESQ., LYNNETTE NOGUERAS-TRUMMER, ESQ., OF COUNSEL, Nixon, Peabody Law Firm, Buffalo, NY.
MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER
Gary L. Sharpe, Chief U.S. District Judge.
Plaintiff Eric Bowman commenced this action under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) against defendant CSX Transportation, Inc. (CSXT), seeking damages related to his employment with CSXT. (Compl., Dkt. No. 1.) Bowman contends tat CSXT interfered, restrained, and denied him his rights and retaliated against him in violation of the FMLA. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 16-23, 24-27.) Pending before the court is CSXT's motion for summary judgment, (Dkt. No. 17), and CSXT's letter motion requesting oral argument on its motion for summary judgment, (Dkt. No. 16). For the following reasons, the motion for summary judgment is granted, and the letter motion requesting oral argument is denied as moot.
A. Bowman's Employment at CSXT Generally
On October 16, 2006, Bowman began working for CSXT as an Assistant General
Car Foreman. (Def.'s Statement of Material Facts (SMF) ¶ 1, Dkt. No. 17, Attach. 28.) Bowman's duties generally included completing certain reports, conducting safety meetings, and supervising other employees. ( Id. ¶ 2.) Beginning in January 2008, Matthew Sams became Bowman's immediate supervisor. ( Id. ¶ 3.) Sams' supervisor was Jeff Hensley. ( Id.) Hensley's supervisor was Don Murphy. ( Id. ¶ 35.)
From the beginning, Bowman and Sams' working relationship was " very uncomfortable," due primarily to " friction" over Sams' policy changes. ( Id. ¶ 4; Dkt. No. 17, Attach. 2 at 30-31.) Their relationship took a turn for the worse, however, shortly after Bowman filed an ethics complaint against Sams in May 2009, stating that Sams came to work looking " like he had been out partying all night" and requesting that Sams " be sent out for a mental evaluation." (Dkt. No. 17, Attach. 2 at 31; Dkt. No. 17, Attach. 4 at 2; Def.'s SMF ¶ 5.) Indeed, at his deposition, Bowman stated that his working relationship with Sams was " hostile" and " very negative." (Dkt. No. 17, Attach. 2 at 28.)
B. Bowman's Performance Management Reports
Throughout the course of his employment, Bowman received Performance Management Reports (PMR), which included his numerical scores in various performance categories and manager comments for both his mid-year and end-of-year performances. ( See, e.g., Dkt. No. 17, Attach. 5.) Generally, Bowman's scores were average, typically rating twos and threes on a four-point scale. (Pl.'s Counter SMF ¶ 3, Dkt. No. 21, Attach. 31 at 7-14.) Many comments in the PMRs, from 2008 through 2010, indicate that Bowman's conduct was not always professional, his judgment was sometimes questionable, he struggled with accepting constructive criticism, his working relationships with his supervisors and colleagues were strained--at times, even combative--and that he often failed to perform his job duties satisfactorily. ( See, e.g., Dkt. No. 17, Attach. 5 at 7; Dkt. No. 17, Attach. 6 at 7, 8; Dkt. No. 17, Attach. 8 at 4-5, 10-11, 13-14.) Although Bowman's performance seemed to improve between mid-2009 and the end of 2009, as reflected by the manager comments in his 2009 PMR, (Dkt. No. 17, Attach. 7 at 7-8), his 2010 PMR demonstrates that both his performance and behavior significantly worsened throughout 2010, ( see generally Dkt. No. 17, Attach. 8).
C. Bowman's Employment at CSXT Throughout 2010
Throughout 2010, Bowman had more confrontations with co-workers and received several emails regarding inadequate job performance. (Def.'s SMF ¶ ¶ 9-23.) First, in May 2010, trainmaster Jeremy Sequin filed a statement with CSXT memorializing a phone conversation he had with Bowman, in which Bowman raised his voice and used profanity. ( Id. ¶ 9; Dkt. No. 17, Attach. 7 at 2.)
By December 2010, Bowman's job performance appears to have plummeted, as evidenced by a series of emails sent by Sams to Bowman. ( See generally Dkt. No. 17, Attach. 9.) For example, on December 8, Sams sent Bowman an email explaining that there were " serious issues with the payroll," which was Bowman's responsibility. ( Id. at 2.) On December 10, Sams sent Bowman an email stating that Sams " had to make multiple adjustments and approvals to the pay because [Bowman] failed to do so by the close of the approval period," and warned Bowman that " [t]his is not acceptable by any means." ( Id. at 7.) Again, on December 15, Sams emailed Bowman about issues with his employees' time entries; Sams indicated that these errors were " directly effecting [sic] . . . employees['] paychecks and their attitudes." ( Id. at 9.) On December 16, Sams sent Bowman another email noting that a vehicle was damaged, and that Bowman failed to complete a vehicle inspection report. ( Id. at 11.) On December 20, Sams sent Bowman three separate emails documenting several additional issues, including Bowman's failure to: (1) follow proper procedure for asking for time off; (2) communicate with Sams and promptly return phone calls; (3) enter operational tests;  and (4) complete an " Areas of Responsibility" report. ( Id. at 13-17.) On December 21, Sams sent Bowman two more emails, one regarding a defective car and several errors that violated company policy and Federal Railway Administration regulations, and another regarding a report that Bowman drafted that was incomplete and inaccurate. ( Id. at 19-21.)
D. Events Leading Up to Bowman's Termination
On December 28, Sams sent Bowman another email, which triggered a series of events that ultimately led to Bowman's termination. (Def.'s SMF ¶ ¶ 20-43.) The email, which Sams sent at 2:15 P.M., stated that although Sams " gave clear instructions that the Managers [vehicle] was not to be used unless [he] gave direct permission," Bowman " allowed the [vehicle] to be used . . . and did not request permission." 
(Dkt. No. 17, Attach. 9 at 23.) The email went on to note that there was no inspection report for that vehicle, and that Bowman " continue[s] to fail at following instructions and show[s] complete disregard for company policy and any instructions that are given no matter how clear they might be or who they are from." ( Id.)
Upon reading the email, Bowman laughed. (Def.'s SMF ¶ 21; Dkt. No. 17, Attach. 2 at 63.) Sams was present when Bowman laughed, and the two then engaged in a " heated meeting." (Def.'s SMF ¶ 21; Dkt. No. 17, Attach. 2 at 64.) Although Bowman testified that he does not remember exactly what was said during the conversation, at 3:09 P.M. on the same day, Sams sent Hensley and Murphy an email memorializing his discussion with Bowman. (Dkt. No. 17, Attach. 10 at 2-3.) In that email, Sams reported that Bowman raised his voice, used profanity, and " show[ed] very aggressive body language," despite Sams' requests that Bowman conduct himself in " a civil and courteous, professional manner." ( Id.) Ultimately, Sams told Bowman to report to Hensley's office immediately, which Bowman did. ( Id. at 3.)
Again, while Bowman does not remember the exact words exchanged in Hensley's office, (Dkt. No. 17, Attach. 2 at 65-67), the next day--December 29, 2010--at 8:49 P.M., Hensley memorialized his conversation with Bowman, (Dkt. No. 17, Attach. 11 at 2). According to his account, Hensley explained that Bowman's word choice and tone in his conversation with Sams was inappropriate. ( Id.) Also according to Henlsey's report, Bowman claimed that Sams and ...