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Sultuska v. JPMorgan Chase Bank

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

October 3, 2019

CHRISTINE SULTUSKA, Plaintiff,
v.
JPMORGAN CHASE BANK, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          ROBIN J. CAUTHRON, JUDGE

         Now before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, along with Plaintiff's Response and Defendant's Reply thereto. (See Dkt. Nos. 28, 34, 40.) Also before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment, along with Defendant's Response and Plaintiff's Reply thereto. (See Dkt. Nos. 27, 33, 37.) The motions are now at issue.

         I. Introduction[1]

         Plaintiff began working for Defendant as a part-time teller in 2010. During her time there, she was subject to Defendant's attendance policy, which-among other things-provides the parameters for addressing an employee's tardiness. Essentially, the attendance policy permits Defendant to take certain steps to warn the employee as he or she accumulates late arrivals over a 12-month span. Most importantly, though, the policy grants Defendant the authority to dismiss an employee after he or she accumulates nine late arrivals within this time frame. (See Dkt. No. 28-2, p. 4.)

         In August 2015, Danielle Ford became Plaintiff's direct supervisor. At some point thereafter, Plaintiff began struggling to show up to work on time. Indeed, as early as December 2015, Ford began to take note of Plaintiff's tardiness. Throughout the early months of 2016, Ford remained aware of this and discussed it with Plaintiff multiple times. By June 2016, though, Defendant's records reflected that Plaintiff had accumulated eight late arrivals. (See Dkt. No. 28-12.) Under Defendant's attendance policy, then, she was one late arrival away from being subject to dismissal. On June 24, 2016, Defendant issued Plaintiff a Written Warning detailing her late arrivals and cautioning her that “[i]mmediate and sustained improvement is required.” (Id.)

         In 2013, Plaintiff injured her neck in an Oklahoma tornado. Her injuries required extensive medical treatment-including surgery around May 2015. By March 2016, though, it became clear to Plaintiff and her doctor that the surgery was unsuccessful, and that she would likely need an additional one. (Dkt. No. 34-36.) So, at that point, Plaintiff began consistently updating Ford about this. Plaintiff also spoke with Ford multiple times about her injuries causing her tardiness. She recalls, moreover, that Ford criticized her for mentioning her neck issues at work. (Dkt. 34-12, p. 5.) By June 27, 2016, Plaintiff's doctor had essentially determined that Plaintiff should undergo a second surgery stemming from the 2013 tornado, but had not yet confirmed a specific date. (Dkt. No. 34-37.) Plaintiff soon thereafter communicated this to Ford.

         On or around June 28, 2016, Plaintiff approached Henry Patton, a Market Director for Defendant, and Ford's supervisor. She complained to Patton that she believed Ford began targeting her ever since Ford learned that Plaintiff would need medical leave for her upcoming surgery. (Dkt. No. 34-12, pp. 17, 20-21.) Patton notified Ford that Plaintiff approached him, and the next day, Ford directly confronted Plaintiff about this. About a week later, on July 8, 2018, Plaintiff received a subpar performance review-consisting mostly of Ford marking “needs improvement” in every category, without offering any explanation. (Dkt. No. 34-25.)

         On August 23, 2016, Plaintiff arrived to work eight minutes late-marking her ninth late arrival over the past 12 months. As a result, later that day, Ford and Patton jointly decided to move to dismiss Plaintiff. (Dkt. No. 28-23; Dkt. No. 28-21, p. 5.) Ford then contacted Defendant's HR department and requested to terminate Plaintiff, based solely on her excessive tardiness. Though multiple HR officials believed these grounds for termination were somewhat “petty, ” by the next day, August 24, 2016, HR had approved Ford's request to terminate Plaintiff. (Dkt. No. 34-9, p. 1.) That same day, Plaintiff requested medical leave for her upcoming surgery. Plaintiff was ultimately dismissed on August 25, 2016. The lone justification Defendant proffered for Plaintiff's termination was her violation of its attendance policy.

         Plaintiff then initiated this litigation, arguing that Defendant violated her rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and the Oklahoma Anti-Discrimination Act (“OADA”). Specifically, she advances discrimination and retaliation claims under both the ADA and the OADA.[2] Defendant now moves for summary judgment-maintaining that the undisputed record demonstrates it acted appropriately and terminated Plaintiff for a legitimate business reason: her excessive tardiness. I. Standard A key policy goal and primary principle of Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 is “to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims or defenses.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986). Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 sets the standard for summary judgment:

A party may move for summary judgment, identifying each claim or defense-or the part of each claim or defense-on which summary judgment is sought. The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows 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).

         Summary judgment is appropriate “after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322. “[T]his standard provides that the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). It is also well established that the “party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion . . . which it believes demonstrate[s] the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322. “As to materiality, 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.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. “When the moving party has carried its burden under Rule 56(c), its opponent must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts . . . . Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no ‘genuine issue for trial.'” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986) (footnote omitted). “In its review, the Court construes the record in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment.” Garratt v. Walker, 164 F.3d 1249, 1251 (10th Cir. 1998).

         II. Analysis

         a. Defendant's ...


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