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Williams v. Wexford Health Sources, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maryland

September 7, 2018

TRINA WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
WEXFORD HEALTH SOURCES, INC., et al, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          J. MARK COULSON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This suit arises out of allegations of violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) asserted by Plaintiff Trina Williams (“Plaintiff” or “Ms. Williams”) against Defendants Wexford Health Sources, Inc., (“Wexford”), Mark Blewett, Chinyere Agbayi, and Aminata Jalloh (collectively, the “Defendants”). The parties consented to proceed before a magistrate judge for all proceedings pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636 and Local Rules 301 and 302. (ECF Nos. 22, 23). Currently pending before this Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 46). The Court has reviewed Defendants' Motion, as well as Plaintiff's Opposition thereto and Defendants' Reply in Support thereof. (ECF Nos. 53, 56). No. hearing is necessary. Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the reasons that follow, Defendants' Motion, (ECF No. 46), is DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Wexford Health Sources, Inc. provides healthcare services to correctional and other institutions across the United States. (ECF No. 46-1 at 2). On October 28, 2015, Trina Williams was hired by Wexford and began working at the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women in Jessup, Maryland (“MCIW”). Id. Ms. Williams had applied to Wexford at the suggestion of Aminata Jollah, a longtime neighbor of Ms. Williams's parents and the Health Services Administrator for Wexford at MCIW. Id. Ms. Williams was originally hired as a per diem nurse (“PRN”), but began working as a full-time Certified Nursing Assistant (“CRN”) on January 26, 2016. Id. Her work hours were scheduled from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Id. Ms. Jalloh was Ms. Williams's next-level supervisor, although Ms. Williams directly reported to Chinyere Agbayi as the Assistant Director of Nursing. Id.

         On November 29, 2016, Ms. Williams notified Wexford that she required intermittent leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act to care for her ailing mother. (ECF No. 46-1 at 3). Ms. Williams submitted the necessary documentation on January 4, 2017 and Wexford approved Ms. William's request for intermittent leave under the FMLA on January 16, 2017. Id. On March 15, 2017 around 9:00 p.m., Ms. Williams called Ms. Agbayi to inform her that Ms. Williams would need to take leave the next day to escort her mother to a scheduled doctor's appointment.[1] Id. at 4. Ms. Williams then called Ms. Jalloh and left her a voicemail message, explaining that she had requested FMLA leave and Ms. Agbayi had denied the request. Id. Thereafter, the three women participated in a number of phone calls with each other, during which Wexford alleges Ms. Williams became upset and used foul language and Ms. Williams alleges that she was told she was not allowed the leave for March 16, 2017. Id. at 4-5; (ECF No. 53-1 at 3). Wexford further asserts that, by the end of the phone conversations, it was clear that Ms. Williams would not be at work on March 16, 2017. (ECF 46-1 at 4-5).

         The next morning (March 16) at around 9:00 a.m., Ms. Jalloh left Ms. Williams a voicemail to inform her that: (1) Ms. Williams would not be permitted to return to work until she met with Ms. Jalloh; (2) Ms. Jalloh was first available to meet on March 17; and (3) Ms. Williams should return Ms. Jalloh's call so that a time for the meeting could be finalized. (Ex. 1 to Decl. of Aminata Jalloh, ECF No. 46-2). Ms. Williams alleges that she returned Ms. Jalloh's call and left a voicemail, sent text messages later that day, and called again several times, but Ms. Jollah never answered and a time for the proposed meeting on March 17 was never confirmed. (ECF No. 1 at 6; 53-1 at 4-5). As instructed by Ms. Jalloh in her voicemail, Ms. Williams did not report to work at any time on March 16. (Ex. 1 to Decl. of Aminata Jalloh, ECF No. 46-2). She also did not report for her scheduled shifts on March 17, 20, and 21. (ECF No. 46-1 at 6).[2] Ms. Williams claims that she was not contacted by anyone from Wexford on any of those three days, and so finally contacted Mark Blewett, Director of Human Resources for Wexford. (ECF No. 53 at 5). Ms. Williams asserts that she told Mr. Blewett she had lost her identification badge the previous week, and that he told her he would look into her employment status. Id. Ms. Williams did not hear back from Mr. Blewett, and so left him a voicemail “stating that she was removed from the work schedule and did not know why” a few days later. (ECF No. 1 at 6; 53-1 at 5). On April 5, 2017, Ms. Williams claims she received a call from Mr. Blewett in which he informed her that her employment had been terminated. Id.

         After finding Ms. Williams's employee identification badge under the door of Wexford's administrative office at MCIW, and taking into consideration her three absences, Ms. Jalloh informed Mr. Blewett that Ms. Williams's behavior constituted a voluntary resignation. (ECF No. 46-1 at 6). Thereafter, due to multiple conversations between Ms. Jalloh and Jayme Litterini, Senior Human Resources Generalist for Wexford, an Employee Separation Notice form was created for Ms. Williams. Id. Although Ms. Jalloh originally noted three termination reasons on the form, [3] the final version of the form noted that Ms. Williams was “voluntarily terminated for job abandonment and dissatisfaction.” Id. at 7. Ms. Williams denied placing her employee identification badge under the office door and further denied that she voluntarily resigned her position in a conversation with Mr. Blewett, but was told that her employment would remain terminated. (ECF No. 1 at 7; 53-1 at 5-6).

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) requires the Court to “grant summary judgment if 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.” The moving party bears the burden “to demonstrate the absence of any genuine dispute of material fact.” Jones v. Hoffberger Moving Servs. LLC, 92 F.Supp.3d 405, 409 (D. Md. 2015) (internal citations omitted). A dispute as to a material fact “is genuine if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” J.E. Dunn Const. Co. v. S.R.P. Dev. Ltd. P'ship, 115 F.Supp.35 593, 600 (D. Md. 2015) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)).

         A nonmoving party “opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment ‘may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of [his] pleadings,' but rather must ‘set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'” Bouchat v. Baltimore Ravens Football Club, Inc., 346 F.3d 514, 522 (4th Cir. 2003). The court is “required to view the facts and draw reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to” the nonmoving party, Iko v. Shreve, 535 F.3d 225, 230 (4th Cir. 2008) (citing Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 377 (2007)), but must also “abide by the ‘affirmative obligation of the trial judge to prevent factually unsupported claims and defenses from proceeding to trial.'” Heckman v. Ryder Truck Rental, Inc., 962 F.Supp.2d 792, 799-800 (D. Md. 2013) (quoting Drewitt v. Pratt, 999 F.2d 774, 778-79 (4th Cir. 1993)).

         III. DISCUSSION

         In 1993, Congress passed the Family and Medical Leave Act to balance “workplace demands with family needs and personal health needs while accommodating the legitimate interests of employers and minimizing the potential for employment discrimination.” Neel v. Mid-Atlantic of Fairfield, LLC, 778 F.Supp.2d 593, 596 (D. Md. 2011) (citing 29 U.S.C. § 2601(b)). Certain claims brought under the FMLA are referred to as “interference claims, ” pursuant to the statute's section that states, “It shall be unlawful for any employer to interfere with, restrain, or deny the exercise of or the attempt to exercise, any right provided under this subchapter.” 29 U.S.C. § 2615(a)(1). Other FMLA claims are referred to as “retaliation claims” under a different section: “It shall be unlawful for any employer to discharge or in any other manner discriminate against any individual for opposing any practice made unlawful by this subchapter.” Id. at § 2615(a)(2). In her Complaint, Plaintiff lodges both interference and retaliations claims under the FMLA against Defendants. (ECF No. 1). In their Motion for Summary Judgment, Defendants argue that they are entitled to summary judgment because Plaintiff cannot show that Wexford denied her FMLA benefits to which she was entitled nor can she show that her discharge was causally related to any protective activity under the FMLA. (ECF No. 46). Both of Defendants' arguments will be addressed in turn.

         A. Interference Claim

         In Count 1 of her Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant interfered with her FMLA rights by denying her benefits to which she was entitled under the statute. Under the FMLA, eligible employees are entitled to twelve (12) weeks of leave during a twelve (12) month period for covered reasons, including care for a parent when the parent has a serious health condition. 29 U.S.C. § 2612(a)(1)(C). In order to establish unlawful interference with regard to entitlement to FMLA benefits, Plaintiff must prove: (1) she was an eligible employee; (2) Wexford, as her employer, is covered by the FMLA; (3) she was entitled to leave under the FMLA; (4) she gave Wexford adequate notice of her intention to take such leave; and (5) Wexford denied her that leave as an FMLA benefit to which she was entitled. Sherif v. Univ. of Maryland Med. Center, 127 F.Supp.3d 470, 477 (D. Md. 2015) (citing Wonasue v. Univ. of Maryland Alumni Ass'n, 984 F.Supp.2d 480, 495 (D. Md. 2013)). Plaintiff must also establish that Wexford's denial of leave “prejudiced [her] in some way.” Id. (citing Anderson v. Discovery ...


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