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Alcegaire v. JBS USA, LLC

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville Division

September 27, 2017

ROZAIRE ALCEGAIRE, Plaintiff,
v.
JBS USA, LLC, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          David J. Hale, Judge

         Plaintiff Rozaire Alcegaire, a former employee of Defendant JBS USA, LLC, was injured at work when a forklift hit the platform on which she was standing. Alcegaire subsequently missed work on numerous occasions. JBS terminated Alcegaire's employment, citing her failure to provide documentation for her absences. Alcegaire then sued, alleging that JBS interfered with her Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) rights, discriminated against her in violation of the Kentucky Civil Rights Act (KCRA), and wrongfully discharged her for pursuing a workers' compensation claim in violation of Ky. Rev. Stat. § 342.197(1). (Docket No. 1) JBS seeks summary judgment on all claims asserted by Alcegaire. (D.N. 34) For the reasons explained below, JBS's motion will be granted.

         I.

         JBS operates a pork processing plant in Louisville, Kentucky, where Alcegaire worked. (D.N. 35-2, PageID # 124, 126) In April 2014, while at work, Alcegaire fell to the ground after the platform she was standing on was hit by a forklift. (D.N. 35-2, PageID # 126; D.N. 35-3, PageID # 174; D.N. 42-1, PageID # 239-40) The fall injured Alcegaire's head and back. (D.N. 42-1, PageID # 240) The next day, a doctor examined Alcegaire and released her to work on a modified basis with a restriction of sit-down duty. (D.N. 35-2, PageID # 126; D.N. 35-3, PageID # 174) Two days later, a doctor reexamined Alcegaire and again released her to work on a modified basis with a restriction of sit-down duty. (D.N. 35-2, PageID # 126; D.N. 35-3, PageID # 175; D.N. 42-1, PageID # 242) The parties dispute whether JBS offered Alcegaire a job as a box maker, which could be done sitting down. (See D.N. 35-2, PageID # 126; D.N. 35-3, PageID # 175; D.N. 42-1, PageID # 245) Thereafter, Alcegaire was absent from work. (D.N. 35-2, PageID # 127-28; D.N. 42-1, PageID # 246)

         JBS's attendance policy provides that employees are “expected to arrive each day on time to begin work” and that “[i]t is the employee's responsibility to properly notify the company if they will not be able to report to work.” (D.N. 35-2, PageID # 125; D.N. 42-7, PageID # 281-82) “Proper notification involves the employee calling the answering machine dedicated to that purpose at least 30 minutes prior to their scheduled starting time and providing identifying information and the reason for the absence.” (Id.) If the employee is going to miss multiple days for any reason, “the employee is expected to notify the company at least 30 minutes before the start of their shift on each day that will be missed.” (Id.) Each employee absence is considered an “occurrence” unless the absence is excused. (D.N. 42-7, PageID # 282-83) Nine or more “occurrences” result in an employee's termination. (D.N. 35-2, PageID # 125; D.N. 42-7, PageID # 284) FMLA-related leave qualifies as an “excused absence” for which no “occurrence” is given. (D.N. 42-7, PageID # 283) However, the policy provides that “employees need to provide as much advance notice as possible” when taking FMLA leave and other excused absences. (Id.)

         Alcegaire failed to call in her absences, prompting JBS to have three meetings with her to address her unexcused absences. (D.N. 35-2, PageID # 127-28) After those meetings, Alcegaire still failed to call in her absences. (Id.) Alcegaire eventually filed a workers' compensation claim with JBS. (D.N. 42-1, PageID # 252) JBS terminated Alcegaire in May 2014, citing her failure to comply with the company's attendance policy. (D.N. 42-6, PageID # 280) Alcegaire alleges that JBS fired her only after receiving a letter from her attorney regarding her workers' compensation claim. (D.N. 42, PageID # 229-30)

         Alcegaire sued JBS, alleging interference with her FMLA rights (Count I), discrimination under the KCRA (Count II), and wrongful discharge under Ky. Rev. Stat. § 342.197(1) (Count III). (D.N. 1) In her response to JBS's motion for summary judgment, Alcegaire concedes her KCRA discrimination claims. (D.N. 42, PageID # 218) Thus, the Court's analysis will be limited to her claims of FMLA interference (Count I) and wrongful discharge (Count III).

         II.

         Summary judgment is required when the moving party shows, using evidence in the record, “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); see 56(c)(1). For purposes of summary judgment, the Court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Loyd v. Saint Joseph Mercy Oakland, 766 F.3d 580, 588 (6th Cir. 2014) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986)). However, the Court “need consider only the cited materials.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3); see Shreve v. Franklin Cty., Ohio, 743 F.3d 126, 136 (6th Cir. 2014). If the nonmoving party “fails to properly support an assertion of fact or fails to properly address another party's assertion of fact as required by Rule 56(c), ” the fact may be treated as undisputed. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e). To survive a motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party must establish a genuine issue of material fact with respect to each element of each of her claims. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986) (noting that “a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial”).

         A. FMLA Interference

         Alcegaire claims that JBS interfered with her rights under the FMLA. The FMLA grants an eligible employee a total of twelve workweeks of leave during any twelve-month period for “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). The FMLA also makes it unlawful “for any employer to interfere with, restrain, or deny the exercise of or the attempt to exercise, any right provided under [the FMLA].” § 2615(a)(1). To establish a prima facie claim of interference under the FMLA, Alcegaire must show that “(1) [she] was an eligible employee; (2) [JBS] was an employer subject to the FMLA; (3) [she] was entitled to leave under the FMLA; (4) [she] gave [JBS] notice of [her] intention to take FMLA leave; and (5) [JBS] denied [her] FMLA benefits to which [she] was entitled.” Romans v. Mich. Dep't of Human Servs., 668 F.3d 826, 840 (6th Cir. 2012) (citing Grace v. USCAR & Bartech Tech. Servs., 521 F.3d 655, 669 (6th Cir. 2008)).

         JBS argues that (1) Alcegaire was not entitled to leave under the FMLA because she did not suffer from a serious health condition; and (2) Alcegaire's claim fails as a matter of law because she did not comply with the company's notice and procedural requirements for attendance. (D.N. 36, PageID # 192-97) Alcegaire responds that (1) she did in fact suffer from a serious health condition; and (2) she gave JBS sufficient notice of her need for FMLA leave. (D.N. 42, PageID # 222-24) The Court will analyze these two issues-(1) whether Alcegaire suffered from a serious health condition and (2) whether she properly notified JBS of her absences-in turn.

         1.Serious Health Condition”

         The FMLA defines “serious health condition” as “an illness, injury, impairment, or physical or mental condition that involves . . . inpatient care in a hospital, hospice, or residential medical care facility [or] continuing treatment by a health care provider.” 29 U.S.C. § 2611(11)(A)-(B). Under FMLA regulations, continuing treatment by a health care provider includes “[a] period of incapacity of more than three consecutive, full calendar days, ” followed by treatment or incapacity relating to the same condition. 29 C.F.R. § 825.115(a). “[I]ncapacity means inability to ...


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