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Strulson v. Chegg, Inc.

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

December 1, 2017



          Thomas B. Russell, United States District Court Senior Judge

         This matter comes before the Court upon Motion by Plaintiff Patricia Strulson (“Plaintiff”) to Reconsider the previous Memorandum Opinion and Order dismissing four of the five claims she has brought against her former employer, Chegg, Inc. (“Defendant”). [DN 34.] Defendant has responded, [DN 36], and Plaintiff has replied. [DN 40.] This matter is ripe for adjudication. For the following reasons, Plaintiff's Motion is GRANTED.

         I. Factual Background & Procedural History

         The following factual background is taken from Plaintiff's Complaint. [DN 1.] Plaintiff was hired by Defendant in 2008 and was later promoted to the position of warehouse manager in 2009. [Id. at 2.] “In September 2013, a nodule was found on Plaintiff's lung, which turned out to be cancerous.” [Id.] In November of the same year, “Plaintiff went on leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)…to have surgery for removal of the cancerous nodule, lymph nodes, and lower lobe of her lung.” [Id.] Thereafter, Plaintiff “was unable to stand up, walk, drive, or stay awake for eight hours. In January Plaintiff began chemotherapy.” [Id. at 3.] Plaintiff “underwent four sessions of chemotherapy, twenty-one days apart and had doctor's appointments every week from November 2013 to May 2014. The chemotherapy made Plaintiff very sick and caused her to be stuck in the bed and sleeping most days.” [Id.] “Throughout the relevant time period…, Defendant was aware of Plaintiff's diagnosis, treatment, and condition….” Plaintiff's Complaint indicates that, while she was out of the office due to chemotherapy, she stayed in contact with work personnel and worked at least some of the time. [Id.]

         “Plaintiff expressed concern to Ms. [Tammy] Dangerfield [an employee in Defendant's human resources department] about being terminated from work because she was taking FMLA leave. Ms. Dangerfield informed Plaintiff that it was very expensive for the company to have employees with cancer.” [Id. at 3-4.] Although Plaintiff continued to see her doctor every week, “[o]n January 20, 2014, Plaintiff was released to return to work with certain limitations. Upon her return to work, Plaintiff could no longer walk around the warehouse due to her surgery, but instead used a golf cart.” [Id.] After her return to work, Plaintiff was transferred from her previous position to the position of “projects manager, ” although her previous position was not eliminated, and “was filled by an employee who had less seniority within the company, but who did not have the same or similar health issues as Plaintiff.” [Id.]

         “On April 10, 2014, Plaintiff inquired into her available FMLA time because her oncologist scheduled a CT scan of her lung, ” and “she wanted to be prepared for potentially having more surgery or other cancer treatment like she did before. At that time (April 2014), Plaintiff did in fact have more FMLA time available.” [Id. at 5.] “On April 17, 2014, Plaintiff's doctor informed her that the CT scan showed something in her other lung (the doctor was not sure, at that point, whether it was more cancer). On April 18, 2014, Plaintiff told her boss, Eric Williams, that something was found in her other lung.” [Id.] One day later, on April 19, 2014, “Defendant terminated Plaintiff from her employment under the pretext of alleged unethical and unprofessional behavior.” [Id.] Defendant's stated reason for terminating Plaintiff's employment at Chegg was that Plaintiff had hired her husband's grounds-keeping business to perform certain work on Defendant's premises “at too high a price and in violation of Chegg's ethics policies.” [Id. at 6.] Plaintiff states in her Complaint, though, that “the retention of Plaintiff's husband's company was implemented through a bidding process approved by [Defendant's] owner in 2010, Director of Operations in 2011 and 2012, and Vice President of Operations in 2013….” [Id.] A second reason given by Defendant for Plaintiff's termination “was that she allegedly encouraged Chegg to hire a temporary maintenance worker who had felony convictions, demonstrating a total disregard for the best interests of the company and its hiring processes.” [Id.] Plaintiff states in her Complaint that the employee in question was well-liked and that Williams and Dangerfield were both aware of his criminal history. [Id.]

         Plaintiff had previously filed a complaint against Defendant in 2014. [See Compl. 3:14-cv-545.] This complaint “alleged violations of the Kentucky Civil Rights Act, Kentucky Equal Opportunities Act, unlawful interference under the Family Medical Leave Act, retaliatory discharge under the Family Medical Leave Act, and unlawful interference under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.” [DN 19.] This complaint was dismissed by United States District Judge David Hale without prejudice. Therein, Judge Hale noted that he “declined to conclude that her allegations were fatally defective.” [Id.] In November 2015, Plaintiff filed the instant Complaint, asserting the same five claims listed above. [See DN 1.]

         Before this case was transferred to this Court, four of Plaintiff's five claims were dismissed for a failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted in a Memorandum Opinion and Order dated June 1, 2016. [DN 19.] This decision will be discussed more fully in the “Discussion” section below. On November 1, 2016, in the interests of judicial economy and to equalize the docket, this case was transferred to this Court, [DN 26], and on September 29, 2017, Plaintiff filed the instant Motion, asking this Court to reconsider the previous ruling dismissing four of her five claims. [DN 34.]

         II. Legal Standards

         A. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires that a plaintiff's complaint include “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” “Rule 12(b)(6) provides that a complaint may be dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Bloch v. Ribar, 156 F.3d 673, 677 (6th Cir. 1998). Importantly, “[w]hen considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the district court must accept all of the allegations in the complaint as true, and construe the complaint liberally in favor of the plaintiff.” Lawrence v. Chancery Court of Tennessee, 188 F.3d 687, 691 (6th Cir. 1999). Thus, “unless it can be established beyond a doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief, ” the motion should be denied. Achterhof v. Selvaggio, 886 F.2d 826, 831 (6th Cir. 1989). “However, the Court need not accept as true legal conclusions or unwarranted factual inferences.” Blakely v. United States, 276 F.3d 853, 863 (6th Cir. 2002). A “complaint must contain either direct or inferential allegations respecting all the material elements to sustain a recovery under some viable legal theory.” Andrews v. Ohio, 104 F.3d 803, 806 (6th Cir. 1997).

         Even though a “complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). This means that the plaintiff's “[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).” Id. The concept of “plausibility” denotes that a complaint should contain sufficient facts “to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. at 570. The element of plausibility is met “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). But where the court is unable to “infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but has not show[n]-that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Id. at 1950 (internal quotation marks omitted).

         B. Reconsideration Standard

         “District courts have authority both under common law and Rule 54(b) to reconsider interlocutory orders and to reopen any part of a case before entry of final judgment.” Rodriguez v. Tennessee Laborers Health & Welfare Fund, 89 F. App'x 949, 959 (6th Cir. 2004); see also Leelaneu Wine Cellars, Ltd. v. Black & Red, Inc., 118 F. App'x 942, 946 (6th Cir. 2004) (explaining that “[a]s long as a district court has jurisdiction over the case, then it possesses the inherent procedural power to reconsider, rescind, or modify an interlocutory order for cause seen by it to be sufficient.”). Indeed, pursuant to Rule 54(b), “any order or other decision, however designated, that adjudicates fewer than all the claims or the rights and liabilities of fewer than all the parties does not end the action as to any of the claims or parties and may be revised at any time before the entry of a judgment adjudicating all the claims and all the parties' rights and liabilities.” (emphasis added). As the Sixth Circuit instructed in Louisville/Jefferson Cnty. Metro Gov't v., L.P., 590 F.3d 381, 389 (6th ...

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