The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Thomas M. Rose
ENTRY AND ORDER GRANTING WOODY'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (Doc. #11); OVERRULING SEARS'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (Doc. #10) AND FINDING SEARS'S MOTION TO STRIKE MOOT (Doc. #19)
This dispute arises from the employment of Plaintiff Larry Woody ("Woody") by Defendant Sears, Roebuck and Company ("Sears"). Woody was employed by Sears from August 28, 1978, until he was discharged on April 19, 2003. Woody's Complaint alleges that the termination of his employment by Sears constitutes a wrongful discharge in violation of Ohio public policy.
Both Parties have filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. #10, 11.) Both Parties have responded to the other Party's Motion for Summary Judgment (doc. #16, 17), and Woody has filed a Reply (doc. #18). Sears has not replied within the allotted time but has filed a Motion To Strike Plaintiff's Reply and Affidavit (doc. #19) to which Woody has responded (doc. #20). This matter is, therefore, ripe for decision. A summary of the facts will first be set forth followed by the standard of review for motions for summary judgment and an analysis of the Cross Motions.
The relevant facts in this matter are not in dispute. The Parties have filed a Joint Stipulation of facts ("JS") that forms the basis for the following summary.
Woody was employed by Sears as a service technician beginning August 28, 1978. (JS 5.) On January 4, 2002, Woody was injured in a motor vehicle accident which occurred within the scope of his service technician position. (Id. 6.)
As a result of a neck injury received in the accident, Woody began receiving Ohio Workers Compensation temporary total disability ("TTD") benefits. (Id. 7, 8.) Woody did not work and received TTD benefits from January 23, 2002, through April 1, 2002. (Id. 8.) He returned to work effective April 2, 2002, and worked until June 21, 2002, when he again went off work and began again receiving TTD benefits. (Id. 9.) He received TTD benefits from June 21, 2002, until January 27, 2003. (Id. 10.)
Woody's TTD benefits were terminated as of January 27, 2003, pursuant to a motion made by Sears and decided by a district hearing officer of the Industrial Commission. (Id. 10.) A staff hearing officer of the Industrial Commission then affirmed the district hearing officer's decision that Woody's condition had reached maximum medical improvement and the associated conclusion that Woody's TTD benefits should be terminated. (Id. 11.)
Even though his TTD benefits had been terminated as of January 27, 2003, Woody did not return to work. (Id. 10.) Sears advised Woody via a letter dated March 18, 2003, that, pursuant to its Workers Compensation Leave of Absence Policy (the "Policy"), his leave was scheduled to expire on April 19, 2003. (Id. 15, 16.) In computing the allowed length of the workers compensation leave of absence, Sears included both time periods that Woody was receiving TTD benefits and the time period after the TTD benefits ceased and Woody did not return to work. (Id. 14, 15.)
The Policy provides that Sears will place "associates" on a workers compensation leave of absence when they are unable to work due to an occupational illness or injury sustained at Sears. (Id. Ex. C.) The maximum length of leave, according to the Policy, is twelve months from the last day worked. Further, "an associate who returns to work for less than six months should be returned to leave of absence status only if the associate has not been absent for a full twelve months. (Id. 13.) The length of leave remaining to the associate will be the difference between the amount of time already absent and the twelve months. (Id.)
Woody's Counsel responded to Sears's March 18 letter on April 19, 2003. (Id. 17.) In this response, Woody's Counsel indicated that Woody had undergone cervical disc surgery on March 3, 2003, and was not expected to be able to return to work for two to three months. (Id. 17.) Woody's Counsel also requested a detailed explanation of the reason and basis for Sears's notice of termination. (Id. Ex. E.)
Sears responded in a letter dated May 8, 2003, with an explanation of the Policy. (Id. 18.) On May 23, 2003, Woody's Counsel replied indicating that several issues remain to be addressed and that Woody would be ready to return to work one year from his last day worked. (Id. Ex. G.) On June 4, 2003, Sears responded indicating that Woody's employment was terminated on April 19, 2003 pursuant to the Policy. (Id. Ex. D, H.)
Woody was not receiving TTD at the time Sears terminated his employment. (Id. 21.) The analysis now turns to the standard of review for motions for summary judgment.
The standard of review applicable to motions for summary judgment is established by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 and the associated case law. Rule 56 provides that summary judgment "shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue ...