United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Western Division
G. Carr Sr. U.S. District Judge
an employment-discrimination case under the Family and
Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. § 2601, et seq.
(FMLA), and Ohio law prohibiting discrimination on the basis
of a disability, O.R.C. § 4112.02.
Nick Njaim worked at defendant FCA U.S. LLC's (FCA)
assembly plant in Toledo, Ohio. During his tenure, Njaim
sought, and FCA granted, periods of paid leave and unpaid
FMLA leave to address his opioid addiction and attendant
mental-health issues. When Njaim was not on leave, however,
he was often late or absent from work. After FCA assessed
Njaim seven “occurrence” points for these
absences, FCA fired him.
then brought this suit, alleging that FCA interfered with his
FMLA rights and fired him in retaliation for exercising those
rights. He also alleged the company fired him because he was
disabled and refused to accommodate his disabilities.
Finally, Njaim brought a claim for intentional infliction of
emotional distress, which he has since withdrawn. (Doc. 30 at
is proper under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1367(a).
is FCA's motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 28). For the
following reasons, I grant the motion.
August, 2012, Njaim applied to work for FCA. The company
hired him as a logistics worker at the Toledo plant in July,
2013. (Doc. 23-2; Doc. 23-1 at 10, 12).
FCA employee, Njaim was subject to a collective bargaining
agreement (CBA) between FCA and the United Auto Workers
(UAW), which represented plant workers.
contained a “no fault” attendance policy that
required employees to “‘call in' any absence
or tardy at least thirty (30) minutes prior to the start
of” the employee's shift. (Doc. 23-3 at 1)
(internal capitalizations omitted). “Failure to
‘call in' any unscheduled absence or tardy”
within that timeframe resulted in “the lost time being
considered an occurrence[.]”
(Id.) (internal emphasis supplied).
unexcused absence counted as one “occurrence, ”
whereas a tardy counted as a “half-occurrence.”
(Doc. 23-4 at 1). If an employee was tardy four times in a
twelve-month period, all further tardies would count as one
occurrence. (Id.). Seven occurrences subjected an
employee to dismissal. (Id.) (“The
7th Occurrence will result in dismissal.”).
Njaim at Work: 2014
apparently worked without incident at the Toledo plant until
April 17, 2014, when he was late for work and incurred a
half-occurrence. (Doc. 23-11 at 3).
months later, FCA shut down operations at the Toledo plant
from July 14 until July 21. (Id. at 9). When the
plant reopened, Njaim did not return to work. Because he was
absent and called in late on July 21, July 22, and July 24,
he earned three full occurrences, bringing his total to 3.5
occurrences. (Doc. 23-11 at 8). FCA's attendance records
do show, however, that Njaim worked on both July 23 and July
28. (Doc. 23-11 at 8; Doc. 31-2 at 1).
First “Sickness and Accident” Leave
the time of the July plant closure, Njaim testified, he was
using heroin, cocaine, and “pills.” (Doc. 23-1 at
18). Due to these substance-abuse issues, Njaim, on August 4,
entered a rehabilitation program at Arrowhead Behavioral
Health in Maumee, Ohio. (Doc. 23-8 at 2). Before he entered
that program, Njaim was not seeing a physician or receiving
treatment for his addiction and mental-health issues. (Doc.
23-1 at 19-20).
connection with his stay at Arrowhead, Njaim requested that
FCA place him on a paid medical leave of absence.
(Id. at 22).
employees like Njaim are entitled to a form of paid sick
leave known as “Sickness & Accident
benefits.” That type of leave is available when
“an employee is totally disabled and unable to perform
all the duties of the relevant occupation.” (Doc. 27-1
at 2, ¶¶3- 4). If an employee requested Sickness
and Accident leave, the CBA forbade FCA to “designate
S&A leave as FMLA leave unless the employee expressly
requested FMLA leave.” (Id. at 2, ¶6).
to Chris Capaldo, a Human Resources generalist at the Toledo
plant, this “leave program allows [FCA] employees to
obtain significantly more available leave time than the FMLA
allows and is a highly desired benefit by employees.”
administrator of FCA's leave program, Sedgwick CMS,
approved Njaim's request. (Doc. 23-7). Njaim therefore
received paid benefits from July 28 through August 22.
(Id.). An Arrowhead psychiatrist, Dr. Bhandari,
cleared Njaim to return to work on August 23.
Return to Work
employee returns from a medical leave, FCA requires that
“he present [himself] to the Employment Office during
regularly scheduled office hours with Required Medical
Documentation.” (Doc. 23-3 at 2) (internal emphasis
omitted). If the employee works the second or third shift, as
Njaim did, he must “report to HR for reinstatement
processing in time to start [his] shift.”
(Id.). The CBA cautions that, “[i]f an
employee does not complete the reinstatement process from
leave as required and is not ready and available at the start
of the shift . . . then he/she will be sent home and the day
counts as an occurrence[.]” (Id.).
returned to the Toledo plant on August 23 with the paperwork
needed to substantiate his leave. It included a note from Dr.
Bhandari stating that Njaim was “temporarily disabled
and unable to work” as of on July 21 (Doc. 23-8 at 2),
even though Njaim had in fact worked on July 23 and 28.
Nevertheless, Njaim earned a half-occurrence on August 23
because he did not arrive early enough to complete the
reinstatement process and start his shift on time. (Doc. 27-1
at 2, ¶7). This brought his occurrence tally to four.
attendance records show that Njaim was late for work on
August 26 and that he was late and did not call in on August
27 and September 3 through September 6. (Id. at 2-3,
¶7). Njaim now had ten occurrences on his record, enough
to warrant his dismissal. (Id.).
testified that he could not remember “that whole period
of time” in late August because he was taking as much
as “a gram of heroin by IV daily[.]” (Doc. 23-1
Second “Sickness and Accident” Leave
September 7, 2014, a representative of the UAW's Employee
Assistance Program referred Njaim to Glenbeigh Hospital for
treatment of his opioid addiction. (Id. at 26, 28).
Njaim requested Sickness and Accident leave in connection
with this treatment, and Sedgwick approved a paid leave
period through January 5, 2015. (Id. at 29).
Njaim at Work: 2015
returned to the Toledo plant on January 6, 2015. His medical
documents substantiated his absence from September 7, 2014
through January 5, 2015, but there was no substantiation for
his absences in late August and early September, 2014. (Doc.
23-10 at 1-3). Capaldo - the HR generalist who knew that
“Njaim had incurred more than seven occurrences”
and was therefore subject to dismissal (Doc. 27-1 at 4,
¶11) - discussed Njaim's absenteeism with the UAW.
These discussions produced an agreement on FCA's part to
waive some of Njaim's occurrences and reinstate him
“at a sixth attendance occurrence level[.]”
Request for Intermittent FMLA Leave
November, 2014, Njaim had asked Sedgwick to initiate a claim
for FMLA leave. (Doc. 26-2 at 2; Doc. 30-5 at 4). He told
Sedgwick that he did not want to open the claim until 2015
because he would be on Sickness and Accident leave through
2014. (Doc. 26-2 at 2). Sedgwick approved the claim and
authorized intermittent FMLA leave from January 8, 2015