United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma
TAMRA J. FIELDS, Plaintiff,
INTEGRIS HEALTH, INC., d/b/a INTEGRIS HEALTH d/b/a CORPORATE INTEGRIS HEALTH, Defendant.
TIMOTHY D. DeGIUSTI UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter comes before the Court on cross-motions for summary
judgment filed pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56: Plaintiff's
Motion for Partial Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 25]; and
Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 26].
Both parties seek a summary adjudication of Plaintiff's
claim that Defendant terminated her employment in violation
of the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), 29
U.S.C. § 2601 et seq. Each party also seeks the
determination of a discrete issue: Plaintiff, whether
Defendant's affirmative defense of failure to mitigate
damages lacks factual support; and Defendant, whether an
affirmative defense based on the after-acquired evidence
doctrine limits Plaintiff's available damages. The
Motions are fully briefed and ready for
judgment is appropriate “if the movant shows that there
is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the
movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). In appropriate circumstances, a party may
obtain summary judgment on a part of a claim or defense.
See id.; see also Harrison v. Eddy Potash,
Inc., 248 F.3d 1014, 1023 (10th Cir. 2001) (plaintiff
“was entitled to summary judgment on three elements of
her Title VII claim”). A material fact is one that
“might affect the outcome of the suit under the
governing law.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute is genuine if
the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a
verdict for either party. Id. at 255.
movant bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence
of a dispute of material fact warranting summary judgment.
See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23
(1986). If the movant carries this burden, the nonmovant must
go beyond the pleadings and “set forth specific
facts” that would be admissible in evidence and that
show a genuine issue for trial. See Anderson, 477
U.S. at 248; Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324; Adler v.
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 144 F.3d 664, 671 (10th Cir.
1998). “To accomplish this, the facts must be
identified by reference to affidavits, deposition
transcripts, or specific exhibits incorporated
therein.” Adler, 144 F.3d at 671; see
Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1)(A). If a party who would bear the
burden of proof at trial lacks sufficient evidence on an
essential element of a claim or defense, all other factual
issues concerning the claim or defense become immaterial.
See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322.
of Undisputed Facts
Tamra Fields was employed by Defendant Integris Health, Inc.
as an IT applications analyst. Defendant is an FMLA-covered
employer, and Plaintiff met the statutory requirements for
entitlement to FMLA leave. She was approved to take
intermittent FMLA leave to care for each of her two children
(a son and a daughter) in October 2015. The approvals for
this leave were set to expire in March and April of 2016.
Between October 2015 and May 2016, Plaintiff was disciplined
for attendance and work performance issues, and she received
a performance evaluation with an overall rating of
April and May, 2016, Plaintiff sought to recertify her
intermittent FMLA leave. The facts surrounding the paperwork
required for recertification are contested. On June 6, 2016,
Mr. Jung went to Plaintiff's desk to speak to her about
work-related matters and learned that she was not at work.
The parties dispute whether Plaintiff's absence on this
occasion was excused. Plaintiff has testified that she had a
preexisting agreement with Mr. Jung to take her son to
counseling sessions; Defendant denies that such an agreement
existed. Mr. Jung contacted a human resources employee,
Stephanie Curd, about how to treat Plaintiff's absence
and whether her FMLA paperwork had been approved. Ms. Curd
consulted Defendant's leave specialist, Mechele Berry,
about Plaintiff's FMLA leave status. In checking
Plaintiff's FMLA papers, Ms. Berry noticed irregularities
that caused her to conclude Plaintiff had submitted false or
forged certification forms. She informed Ms. Curd of this
finding, and Ms. Curd relayed the information to Mr. Jung.
Jung terminated Plaintiff's employment on June 7, 2016,
for falsification of her FMLA papers. It later became unclear
whether Ms. Berry may have been mistaken and a
miscommunication of information may have caused the papers to
appear false or forged. Defendant contends the facts
surrounding the FMLA paperwork support a conclusion that,
regardless whether a falsification actually occurred,
Defendant held a sincere, honest belief that Plaintiff had
been dishonest or untruthful when it terminated her
employment. Plaintiff disputes this contention and asserts
that this excuse, even if established, is legally
insufficient to avoid liability for interfering with
Plaintiff's exercise of FMLA rights.
discovery, Defendant acquired evidence - consisting of
medical records for Plaintiff's son and her deposition
testimony - that tends to show her absence from work on June
6, 2016, was not caused by a legitimate FMLA-protected
activity. Plaintiff disputes that Defendant can show it would
have terminated Plaintiff on this basis if it had known of
the evidence on June 7, 2016. Also, as a procedural matter,
Plaintiff points out that Defendant has not pleaded an
affirmative defense based on the after-acquired evidence
doctrine, discussed infra.
her termination, Plaintiff was unable to find a comparable
job, but she did not try using a temporary employment or
staffing agency. Plaintiff currently works part-time as a
cafeteria monitor at a public elementary school earning an
hourly wage of $8.00. During her employment by Defendant, she
earned an annual salary of $83, 433.40 or $40.11 per hour.
Tenth Circuit “has recognized two theories of recovery
under § 2615(a): an entitlement or interference theory
arising from § 2615(a)(1), and a retaliation or
discrimination theory arising from § 2615(a)(2).”
Metzler v. Fed. Home Loan Bank, 464 F.3d 1164, 1170
(10th Cir. 2006). “These two theories of recovery are
separate and distinct theories that ‘require different
showings[, ] differ with respect to the burden of proof,'
and ‘differ with respect to the timing of the adverse
action.'” Dalpiaz v. Carbon Cty., 760 F.3d
1126, 1131 (10th Cir. 2014) (quoting Campbell v. Gambro
Healthcare, Inc., 478 F.3d 1282, 1287 (10th Cir. 2007)).
Tenth Circuit has explained FMLA liability under an
entitlement or interference theory as follows:
To establish a claim of FMLA interference under §
2615(a)(1), an employee must show “(1) that she was
entitled to FMLA leave, (2) that some adverse action by the
employer interfered with her right to take FMLA leave, and
(3) that the employer's action was related to the
exercise or attempted exercise of her FMLA rights.”
Campbell, 478 F.3d at 1287 (internal quotation marks
and brackets omitted). To satisfy the second element of an
interference claim - adverse action interfering with the
right to take FMLA leave - “the employee must show that
she was prevented from taking the full 12 weeks of leave
guaranteed by the FMLA, denied reinstatement following leave,
or denied initial permission to take leave.”