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Foster v. Fca U.S. LLC

United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Western Division

July 15, 2019

Teri Foster, Plaintiff,
FCA US, LLC, Defendant.



         I. Introduction

         Defendant FCA U.S. LLC moved for summary judgment on all claims filed by Plaintiff Teri Foster. (Doc. No. 32). In response, Foster has filed in opposition to the motion. (Doc. No. 34). Defendant filed a reply. (Doc. No. 37). For the reasons stated below, Defendant's motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         II. Background

         Foster began work for Chrysler in July 2013, as a stock worker. (Doc. No. 28-1 at 7). She was a member of the United Auto Workers Local 12 - Jeep Unit (the “UAW”). Chrysler merged with Fiat in October 2014 and eventually became known as FCA US, LLC (“FCA”).

         FCA and the UAW negotiated a collective bargaining agreement (the “CBA”) as well as memoranda of understanding on a variety of topics. These included a memorandum of understanding on absenteeism, which contained a policy for unexcused absences. (Doc. No. 28-2). An unexcused absence was any absence which was not “contractually permitted.” (Doc. No. 28-2. at 2). Under the CBA, employees were considered excused from work if they were off work for holidays, vacation, jury duty, bereavement, military leave, in-plant injuries, Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) leave, “Paid S & A Leaves, ” a leave of absence, “approved PAA time, ” layoffs, union leave, disciplinary suspensions, “Company Mandated Time off, ” worker's compensation leave, or if they were sent home during a shift due to the exercise of a manager's discretion. (Doc. No. 28-2 at 2). If an employee were to miss a shift for any reason, then the employee was to call a third party, SYKES, and report their absence.

         After an employee's fourth unexcused absence in a twelve-month period, the employee is given a written warning. (Doc. No. 28-2 at 1-2). A fifth unexcused absence results in a corrective action conference, and the sixth unexcused absence results in a one-day paid suspension, after which the employee is required to re-affirm the employee's intention to continue working at FCA. (Id. at 2). Upon the seventh unexcused absence, the employee is terminated. (Id.)

         During her first year of employment, Foster collected six unexcused absences. (Doc. No. 28-7). These absences, at least in part, arose from Foster's need to care for her son, who frequently needed to miss school due to the occurrence of symptoms related to several diagnosed medical conditions.

         After one year of employment and 1, 250 hours worked, Foster became eligible to use FMLA leave on July 30, 2014, to care for her son's serious medical condition. (Doc. No. 28-1 at 26). FCA employed a third-party, Sedgwick, to handle FMLA policy and leave. (Doc. No. 30-4). Under FCA's FMLA leave policy, Foster could take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave during each calendar year. (Doc. No. 28-12 at 2).

         Due to the nature of her son's conditions, Foster sought to use periodic FMLA leave, and her FMLA leave was approved following the submission of her initial certification. (Doc. No. 30-4). Upon certification on September 17, 2014, FCA allowed Foster to take three days of FMLA leave every calendar month and one day of FMLA leave for doctor's visits every three calendar months. (Doc No. 30-5). This certification was based upon the estimate provided by Foster's son's doctor. (Doc. No. 34-9 at 2-3). At FCA's request, Foster recertified many times. (Doc. No. 30-5 through Doc. No. 30-17). On October 28, 2014, Foster's recertification documented her anticipated need to take ten days of FMLA leave per four weeks and one for a doctor's visit every three months. (Doc. No. 30-7).

         FCA requested that Foster recertify her FMLA leave for the new calendar year on January 14, 2015. (Doc. No. 30-8). She was again approved for the same frequency of FMLA leave. (Doc. No. 30-10). Beginning in February 2015, her son's doctor anticipated Foster would need to use ten days of FMLA leave for every calendar month and one day of FMLA leave for doctors' visits every three months. (Doc. No. 30-10).

         On March 31, 2015, Foster called to report she would be absent from work. (Doc. No. 34-17). Before Foster called to report her absence, Foster was advised by a Sedgwick agent that she still had one office visit available and this day could be considered that day of leave. (Doc. No. 34-17 at 4). After this conversation, Foster called and reported she would be absent from work. Foster ultimately did not visit the doctor but was told she could alter the amount of her son's medication when she contacted the doctor's office to schedule an appointment. (Doc. No. 34-17 at 3-4).

         FCA investigated the absence, after being informed by Sedgwick that Foster had submitted a recertification form. (Doc. No. 28-16 at 10). Keith Carr, a human resources generalist at FCA, was responsible for the investigation. Carr met with Foster and a union representative on May 20, 2015. During the meeting, Foster claimed to have taken her son to the doctor on March 31, 2015. (Id. at 22). The meeting was put on hold so Foster could get a note from the doctor to verify her visit. (Id.).

         Foster produced a note that said to excuse her from work because she was caring for her son and had been in touch with the doctor's office on March 31, 2015. (Doc. No. 30-19). Carr determined this absence was not for a doctor visit, so Foster had exceeded her anticipated FMLA leave for March, making March 31 her seventh unexcused absence. (Doc. No. 28-16 at 23). FCA then terminated Foster. (Id.).

         At the same time, FCA issued Foster a “Step 1” written warning for violating her contract, specifically the Standards of Conduct, for providing false or misleading information when she failed to correct her initial statements about having taken her son to the doctor on March 31. (Doc. No. 28-25). This was Foster's first instance of workplace discipline at FCA. (Doc. No. 28-25 at 2). The UAW filed a grievance on Foster's behalf, but the grievance was unsuccessful. (Doc. No. 34-26 at 2-3).

         III. ...

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