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Peterson v. WHB Transportation L.L.C.

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

September 15, 2017

KENNETH D. PETERSON, Plaintiff,
v.
WHB TRANSPORTATION, L.L.C. and WH BRAUM, INC., Defendants.

          ORDER

          TIMOTHY D. DeGIUSTI, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Kenneth Peterson (“Peterson”) contends Defendants violated the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq., by interfering with his right to take medical leave and retaliating against him for taking said leave. Before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 37]. Plaintiff filed his response in opposition [Doc. No. 39] and Defendants replied [Doc. No. 42]. Later, upon leave from the Court, Plaintiff filed a surreply [Doc. No. 49] to which Defendants filed their response [Doc. No. 53]. The matter is fully briefed and at issue.

         BACKGROUND

         The following material facts are either uncontroverted, deemed admitted, or, where disputed, viewed in the light most favorable to Peterson. Immaterial facts, facts not properly supported by the record, and legal arguments or conclusions were omitted.

         On or about March 3, 1992, Peterson was hired as a full-time employee by Braum's Warehouse[1] as a dockworker, where his main duty was unloading trucks. His supervisor at the time was Barry Templeman. Peterson resigned four years later, but was rehired shortly thereafter, on July 9, 1997, to work on the loading dock and in the warehouse. On May 8, 2003, Peterson began employment with Braum's Trucking as a truck driver, where his manager and supervisor was Scott Depee. Peterson was designated as an “extra board” driver for Braum's Trucking, which meant he did not have a designated truck route and only filled in for drivers that were absent from work. Peterson would later became a full-time driver for Braum's Trucking.

         For safety reasons, Peterson was subjected to routine medical examinations by the Oklahoma Department of Transportation (“ODOT”). In 2011, Peterson informed the ODOT medical examiner that he suffered from depression.[2] Faced with this knowledge, Depee was nevertheless unconcerned about Peterson's ability to drive and Peterson, indeed, continued to drive trucks for Braum's Trucking.[3]

         On July 6, 2013, Peterson admitted himself to the hospital because he was experiencing, in his words, “mental issues” that included road rage and depression. Peterson stated he was also having suicidal and homicidal thoughts of driving his truck into oncoming traffic. Peterson was discharged from the hospital on July 12, 2013, but did not immediately return to work because he did not feel safe driving. On July 29, 2013, Peterson experienced recurring depression and suicidal thoughts and readmitted himself to the hospital; he was discharged on August 9, 2013. Again, Peterson did not immediately return to work following his discharge because he was (1) fearful of driving a truck; (2) unsure if he could return to truck driving; (3) apprehensive about finding a new line of work; and (4) burned out on truck driving.

         As a result of his hospitalizations, Peterson submitted a request for FMLA leave, citing “major depression” as the reason for the request.[4] Peterson also told Depee he was experiencing “mental issues.” After returning from leave, Peterson asked Depee to be reassigned to the warehouse so he could adjust to his medications and Depee granted the request. However, transfers within Braum's departments are permanent, and Peterson's transfer resulted in him receiving less pay. Depee, however, did not inform Peterson of either consequences beforehand. Peterson also asked Templeman if he could return to truck driving, but Templeman said Peterson was not ready. Later, Peterson asked Depee one time if he could drive again, but Depee was noncommittal. Neither party requested a medical examination to determine if Peterson was medically fit to operate a truck again.

         Peterson resigned two years later, on July 31, 2015. He testified he had already secured other employment at the time of his resignation and would have continued to work in the warehouse if his current employer had not hired him. To date, he does not know why he was not reinstated as a truck driver.

         STANDARD OF DECISION

         “Summary judgment is proper if, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Patel v. Hall, 849 F.3d 970, 978 (10th Cir. 2017) (citing Peterson v. Martinez, 707 F.3d 1197, 1207 (10th Cir. 2013)). The substantive law will identify which facts are material; only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment. Equal Employment Opportunity Comm'n v. BNSF Railway Co., 853 F.3d 1150, 1155 (10th Cir. 2017).

         The Court's function at the summary judgment stage is not to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter asserted, but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial. Birch v. Polaris Indus., Inc., 812 F.3d 1238, 1251 (10th Cir. 2015); In re Convergent Tech. Sec. Litig., 948 F.2d 507, 512 (9th Cir. 1991) (“A motion for summary judgment is not meant to precipitate a mini-trial before the real trial begins. However, summary judgment may be granted ‘unless there is sufficient evidence favoring the non-moving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party.'”) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986)). An issue is “genuine” if there is sufficient evidence on each side so that a rational trier of fact could resolve the issue either way. Adler v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 144 F.3d 664, 670 (10th Cir. 1998). An issue of fact is “material” if under the substantive law it is essential to the proper disposition of the claim. Id.

         Once the moving party has met its burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to present sufficient evidence in specific, factual form to establish a genuine factual dispute. Bacchus Indus., Inc. v. Arvin Indus., Inc., 939 F.2d 887, 891 (10th Cir. 1991). The nonmoving party may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of its pleadings. Rather, it must go beyond the pleadings and establish, through admissible evidence, that there is a genuine issue ...


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