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Colter v. Bowling Green-Warren County Regional Airport Board

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Bowling Green Division

November 15, 2017



          Joseph H. McKinley, Jr., Chief Judge United States District Court.

         This matter is before the Court on Defendants' motions to dismiss [DNs 21-24]. Fully briefed, this matter is ripe for decision. For the following reasons, the motions of Defendants Warren County and Robert Barnett are GRANTED and the motions of Defendants City of Bowling Green and Bowling Green-Warren County Regional Airport Board are GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff Greg Coulter brings this action following the termination of his employment at the Bowling Green-Warren County Regional Airport (the “Airport”). Plaintiff was an Airport employee for nine years. (Compl. [DN 12] ¶ 4.) On November 5, 2016, Plaintiff informed his supervisor, Defendant Robert Barnett, that he would be receiving two total knee replacements. (Id. ¶ 5). At that time, Barnett informed Plaintiff that the Airport would be unable to accommodate his requested medical leave and that, after thirty days of leave had elapsed, Plaintiff would be considered to have voluntarily terminated his position. (Id. ¶ 6).

         On August 1, 2017, Plaintiff filed this action in Warren County Circuit Court against the Airport, Barnett, the City of Bowling Green (the “City”) and Warren County (the “County”). Although the Complaint only alleges wrongdoing by Barnett and the Airport, Plaintiff contends the City and County are also liable because the Airport, City, and County constitute a single employer. (Id. ¶ 15). Defendants jointly removed this action to this Court on the basis of federal question jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331. (Joint Notice of Removal [DN 1].) In his Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that he was wrongfully terminated and claims that the Airport's refusal to grant his medical leave was part of a “pattern and practice of unlawful age and disability discrimination.” (Compl. ¶ 8.) The Complaint includes five claims: Family and Medical Leave Act interference, disability discrimination, age discrimination, tortious interference with a contract, and hostile work environment. Defendants now each bring a motion to dismiss all counts, arguing that the Plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

         II. Standard of Review

         The Defendants' motions present arguments based on both Rules 12(b)(6) and 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Upon a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), a court “must construe the complaint in the light most favorable to plaintiff, ” League of United Latin Am. Citizens v. Bredesen, 500 F.3d 523, 527 (6th Cir. 2007) (citation omitted), “accept all well-pled factual allegations as true[, ]” id., and determine whether the “complaint states a plausible claim for relief[, ]” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009). Under this standard, the plaintiff must provide the grounds for his or her entitlement to relief which “requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). A plaintiff satisfies this standard only when he or she “pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. A complaint falls short if it pleads facts “merely consistent with a defendant's liability” or if the alleged facts do not “permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct.” Id. at 678, 679. Instead, the allegations must “‘show[ ] that the pleader is entitled to relief.'” Id. at 679 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)).

         Before the Court may grant a motion for summary judgment, it must find that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The moving party bears the initial burden of specifying the basis for its motion and identifying that portion of the record that demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Once the moving party satisfies this burden, the non-moving party thereafter must produce specific facts demonstrating a genuine issue of fact for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986).

         Although the Court must review the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, the non-moving party must do more than merely show that there is some “metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). Instead, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require the non-moving party to present specific facts showing that a genuine factual issue exists by “citing to particular parts of materials in the record” or by “showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence . . . of a genuine dispute[.]” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). “The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the [non-moving party's] position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the [non-moving party].” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252.

         III. Discussion

         A. Family and Medical Leave Act (Count I)

         The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) protects eligible employees from losing their jobs when on medical leave. 29 U.S.C. § 2601, et seq. FMLA's provisions protect employees of both public agencies and private employers. However, there is a threshold for employees to receive protections under FMLA. The term “eligible employee” does not include “any employee of any employer who is employed at a worksite at which such employer employs less than 50 employees if the total number of employees employed by that employer within 75 miles of that worksite is less than 50.” § 2611(2)(B). This threshold applies to both private employers and public agencies. 29 C.F.R. § 825.108(d) (stating that in order to be an eligible employee under FMLA, employees of public agencies “must meet all requirements of eligibility, including the requirement that the employer (e.g., State) employ 50 employees at the worksite or within 75 miles.”).

         At all relevant times, the Airport employed less than fifty workers. (Bohannon Decl. [DN 21-2] ¶ 6). Despite this fact, Plaintiff alleges that he “worked at a location where the employer has at least fifty (50) employees within 75 miles.” (Compl. ¶ 14.) Plaintiff offers this calculation under the contention that “Defendant Bowling Green-Warren County Regional Airport, Defendant City of Bowling Green, and Defendant Warren County are integrated employers for purposes of determining that Plaintiff was an ‘eligible employee' pursuant to the Family Medical Leave Act.” (Id. ¶ 16.) Yet, the integrated employer doctrine is inapplicable when determining FMLA eligibility of employees in a public agency. Rather, the integrated employer doctrine helps courts to determine when “a corporation is a single employer rather than its separate establishments or divisions.” 29 C.F.R. § 825.104(c) (emphasis added). When the employer in question is a public agency, as it is in this case, federal regulations provide a different test to determine whether agencies may be deemed a single employer for purposes of FMLA eligibility.

A State or a political subdivision of a State constitutes a single public agency and, therefore, a single employer for purposes of determining employee eligibility. For example, a State is a single employer; a county is a single employer; a city or town is a single employer. Whether two agencies of the same State or local government constitute the same public agency can only be determined on a case-by-case basis. One factor that would support a conclusion that two agencies are separate is whether they are treated ...

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