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Ibewuike v. Johns Hopkins Hospital

United States District Court, D. Maryland

May 17, 2017

NGOZI B. IBEWUIKE
v.
THE JOHNS HOPKINS HOSPITAL

          MEMORANDUM

          William M. Nickerson Senior United States District Judge

         Before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendant Johns Hopkins Hospital (Hospital). ECF No. 25. The motion is fully briefed. Upon review of the motion and the applicable case law, the Court determines that no hearing is necessary, Local Rule 105.6, and that the motion will be granted.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         In her Complaint and Amended Complaint, Plaintiff brought claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.; the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), as amended, 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq.; and the Americans with Disability Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., in addition to claims of interference and retaliation under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq. In opposing the Hospital's Motion for Summary Judgment, Plaintiff conceded that she failed to exhaust her administrative remedies as to her ADA claim and that she is unable to maintain any claim under Title VII. ECF No. 28 at 4. Thus, those claims will be dismissed. Furthermore, in her Opposition, Plaintiff offers no response to the Hospital's challenge to her ADEA claims. Thus, those claims will be dismissed as well. See Grant-Fletcher v. McMullen & Drury, P.A., 964 F.Supp.2d 514, 526 (D. Md. 2013) (summary judgment proper where non-movant abandoned claim by failing to address movant's arguments).

         The facts relevant to Plaintiff's remaining FMLA claims are as follows. Plaintiff was employed by the Hospital as a Nurse Clinician I (Registered Nurse) in November of 2006. In November or December of 2011, Plaintiff applied for leave under the FMLA for the period August 6, 2012, to October 29, 2012, in anticipation of an child due to be born in August 2012. That application was approved. In February of 2012, Plaintiff experienced some complications with her pregnancy, was placed on bed rest, and was told that the delivery of the child might be moved to May 2012. Plaintiff amended her FMLA application to request leave from March 23, 2012, to June 15, 2012. That request for FMLA leave was also approved.

         Because the end of her FMLA leave was quickly approaching, Plaintiff's nurse manager, Kathy Wagner-Kosmakos, sent Plaintiff a letter on June 5, 2012, offering her the opportunity to apply for a medical leave of absence. ECF No. 25-4. The Hospital's Leaves of Absence Policy provides certain qualified employees with up to six months of free medical and dental insurance at no cost to the employee during the leave period. Plaintiff was referred to the provisions and regulations concerning leaves of absence and she completed a leave of absence request form on June 9, 2012, on which she acknowledged by her signature that she had reviewed and understood the contents of the Hospital's Leaves of Absence Policy. Pl's Dep. at 29. Included in that Policy is the requirement that any employee on a leave of absence “must obtain the written consent of the manager/director of his/her department, prior to engaging in paid employment of any kind during the period of absence” and provides further that “[i]f the employee fails to disclose or misrepresents dual employment during leave, he/she will be terminated as having abandoned his/her position.” ECF No. 25-8 at 16. Plaintiff's leave request was approved on June 13, 2012, by the nurse manager on Plaintiff's unit, Kathleen Wagner-Kosmakos.

         Plaintiff's child was delivered prematurely and by cesarean section on May 12, 2012. On June 11, 2012, Plaintiff visited her doctor, Nikki Koklanaris, and Dr. Koklanaris instructed Plaintiff that she would need to be on light duty for the next six weeks. Dr. Koklanaris completed a work restriction form, ECF No. 25-4, and Plaintiff took that form to Wagner-Kosmacos and asked to be given a light duty assignment. Wagner-Kosmacos forwarded the form to Frances Humphrey-Carothers, the Hospital's Associate Director of Occupational Health Services. According to Plaintiff, Wagner-Kosmacos and Humphrey-Carothers had a short 20-minute meeting after which Plaintiff was told that there was no light duty assignment available for her.[1] Plaintiff now contends that this effectively terminated her employment with the Hospital.

         Several weeks earlier, on May 22, 2012, Plaintiff had applied for a Registered Nurse position at Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital (Levindale). On June 13, 2012, Levindale sent Plaintiff a letter informing her that she was being offered a full time position to begin on June 18, 2012. She accepted that position on June 15, 2012, and began work at Levindale on June 18, 2012. At some point on or before July 10, 2012, the Hospital learned that Plaintiff had taken the position at Levindale, without permission, in violation of the terms of the Hospital's Leaves of Absence Policy. On July 12, 2012, the Hospital sent Plaintiff a letter stating that her employment was being terminated.

         Contending that her employment was actually terminated on June 12, 2012, Plaintiff argues that the termination of her position interfered with her FMLA rights. Plaintiff suggests that this constituted interference because “under the regulations, ‘Interfering with the exercise of an employee's rights would include, for example, not only refusing to authorize FMLA leave, but discouraging an employee from using such leave.'” ECF No. 28 at 9 (quoting 29 C.F.R. § 825.220, emphasis added by Plaintiff). Plaintiff also suggests that this termination was in retaliation for her having previously taken FMLA leave. The Hospital moves for summary judgment as to both the FMLA interference and the FMLA retaliation claims.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Rule 56(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that summary judgment shall be entered in favor of a moving party when there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Rule 56 mandates summary judgment against a party “who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Id. Trial judges have an affirmative obligation to prevent factually unsupported claims from proceeding to trial. Felty v. Graves-Humphreys Co., 818 F.2d 1126, 1128 (4th Cir. 1986).

         Where, in a case “decided on summary judgment, there have not yet been factual findings by a judge or jury, and [one party's] version of events . . . differs substantially from [the other party's, ] . . . courts are required to view the facts and draw reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the party opposing the [summary judgment] motion.” Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007). However, “[a]t the summary judgment stage, facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party only if there is a ‘genuine' dispute as to those facts.” Id. 550 U.S. at 380.

         III. DISCUSSION

         To make out a prima facie case of interference under the FMLA, the employee must, among other factors, show “that the employer violated § 2615 by interfering with, restraining or denying his or her exercise of FMLA rights” Ragsdale v. Wolverine World Wide, Inc., 535 U.S. 81, 89 (2002). As discussed above, it is undisputed that the Hospital granted Plaintiff's initial request for FMLA leave for the period August 6, 2012, to October 29, 2012, as well as her amended request for the period March 23, 2012, to June 15, 2012. Plaintiff ...


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