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Redick v. Molina Healthcare, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Eastern Division

January 6, 2020

RICHARD REDICK, Plaintiff,
v.
MOLINA HEALTHCARE, INC., Defendant.

          Chelsey M. Vascura Magistrate Judge

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Edmund A. Sargus Jr. United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Molina Healthcare, Inc.'s ("Defendant") Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 26). Plaintiff Richard Redick ("Plaintiff) has responded (ECF No. 28) and Defendant has replied (ECF No. 29). Thus, the motion is ripe for review. For the reasons that follow, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 26) is DENIED.

         I.

         Defendant is a healthcare company headquartered in Long Beach, California. (Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. at 3, ECF No. 26.) Plaintiff commenced employment with Defendant on April 2, 2012, in Defendant's Columbus, Ohio office. (Redick Dep. 50:21-23; Ex. 1, ECF No. 23.) Defendant hired Plaintiff as an end user support specialist. (Id. at Ex. 1.) Plaintiffs employment was at-will for an indefinite term. (Id.) Plaintiffs duties were akin to that of information technology ("IT") personnel. (See Id. at 67:8-71:4.) His duties included removing and installing software, protecting patient health information, and fulfilling Defendant's employees' and clients' other technological needs. (See Id. at 67:8-71:4.)

         In Plaintiffs 2012 annual performance evaluation, Plaintiffs overall performance was listed as "meets expectations." (Id. at Ex. 7.) The 2012 evaluation included positive comments about Plaintiff, such as:

• Great to work with;
• Can do attitude;
• All incidents assigned to him are resolved or escalated in a timely manner;
• Flexible;
• Can be counted on when overtime is needed;
• Reliable;
• Adapts well; and
• Excellent customer service feedback each month.

(Id.) The evaluation also noted Plaintiff needs improvement in logging tickets for each call. (Id.) Plaintiff remained in this role from April of 2012 until June of 2015. (Id. at 62:4-7.)

         In June of 2015, Defendant posted a job application for supervisor of IT for its east coast region. (Id. at 62:4-20.) Defendant interviewed and hired Plaintiff for the position. (Id. at 62:15-23.) This promotion came with a pay raise and the duty to manage a team of technicians. (Id. at 62:24-25; Redick Aff. ¶ 5, ECF No. 28-2.) Plaintiffs supervisor in this new position was Patrick Lee. (Redick Aff. ¶ 31.) When first hired as a supervisor, Plaintiff managed a team of ten or eleven people. (Id. at ¶¶ 27-28.)

         Plaintiffs 2016 feedback forms contained positive feedback, much like his 2012 performance evaluation. (See Redick Dep. Exs. 10, 11.) This feedback included:

• Always willing to step in to assist on any issue or problem;
• Trying to provide the best service possible;
• Looks for opportunities to improve the processes and tasks;
• Very good at keeping his direct reports informed of any new or changing information;
• Eager to take on new assignments;
• Not afraid to try new ideas;
• Willing to accept constructive feedback; and
• Works hard on his personal weaknesses.

(Id.) In addition, the feedback forms noted Plaintiff "[s]ometimes deflects questions," and "has been guilty of pointing fingers in heated situations." (Id.)

         In September of 2016, Mr. Lee created a "Supervisor's Memo to File" ("SMF") for Plaintiffs records. (Id. at Ex. 9.) Defendant's supervisors create these files "to document informal verbal counseling or reminders regarding minor first-time offenses." (Id.) In contrast, "Disciplinary Action Notices," ("DAN") are created to document "serious violations of company policy [or] repeated performance problems." (Id.) Plaintiffs September 2016 SMF recorded an occasion when Plaintiff failed to follow the chain of command to report a process issue. (Id.) The form noted that Plaintiff "acknowledged he should have followed the '[c]hain of [c]ommand' and will going forward." (Id.)

         Near the end of 2016, Doctor Neil Richard diagnosed Plaintiff with type 2 diabetes. (Redick Dep. 33:6-8, 34:13-35:16; Redick Aff. ¶ 8.) Dr. Richard completed Plaintiffs medical paperwork. (Id.) Plaintiff submitted the paperwork to Defendant's Leave of Absence ("LOA") department to apply for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"). (Id. at 77:18- 23; Redick Aff. ¶ 8.) The LOA department approved FMLA leave for Plaintiff and notified him of an upcoming meeting to discuss the details. (Redick Dep. 81:4-15.) Mr. Lee, still Plaintiffs supervisor at this time, was also informed of, and invited to, the meeting. (Id.) About ten minutes after Plaintiff received notice of the upcoming meeting, Mr. Lee called Plaintiff. (Id. at 81:16- 23.) Mr. Lee noted that Plaintiff had not informed him he was requesting FMLA leave and asked for details. (Id. at 81:16-23.) Mr. Lee also asked if Plaintiff was going to abuse his FMLA leave, like another agent in their office, by taking "all kinds of time off." (Id. at 82:1-7.) Plaintiff stated it was for a medical condition and he would not abuse it. (Id.) Plaintiff, feeling like Mr. Lee's questioning intruded into his privacy, reported the incident to the human resources ("HR") director. (Mat 82:8-15.)

         The LOA department approved FMLA leave for Plaintiff on an intermittent basis effective February of 2017 through February of 2018. (Redick Aff. ¶ 14.) Plaintiff was entitled to leave at a rate of one hour up to one day per episode, up to two times per week. (Id; Pl.'s Resp., Ex. 3.) He was also required to notify his supervisor of any medical appointments as far in advance as possible. (Id.) Additionally, the LOA department required Plaintiff to record his FMLA usage on monthly "intermittent tracking" logs, have his supervisor sign the logs, and submit the logs to the LOA department. (Redick Aff. ¶ 24; Pl.'s Resp., Ex. 4.) Plaintiff followed all of these requirements when he took leave for dizziness, nausea, fatigue and other similar symptoms. (Redick Dep. 83:25, 85:17-25, 86:16-25.)

         While the LOA department primarily handles Defendant's employees' FMLA leave, the members of the HR department are also aware of employees' FMLA leave. (See Klaus Dep. 29:6-10, ECF No. 27.) Gregory Klaus, Defendant's HR manager from June or July of 2016 to October of 2018, testified that the HR department had knowledge of employees' FMLA leave approval or disapproval, as well as the parameters the employee had to follow. (Id. at 8:22-24, 9:13-15, 29:6-10.) In addition, the supervisors had knowledge of their subordinates FMLA leave because they were required to sign the monthly tracking logs. (Redick Aff. ¶¶ 24-25, 34-35; Manassero Dep. 10:12-18, ECF No. 24.)

         In June of 2017, Plaintiff began reporting to a new supervisor, Alex Manassero. (Manassero Dep. 9:25-10:1.) Mr. Manassero worked in Long Beach, California, and thus, was not physically located in the same office as Plaintiff. (Id. at 10:5-10.) Mr. Manassero knew Plaintiff used intermittent FMLA leave for a medical condition but did not know the details about the medical condition. (Id. at 10:11-18.) Mr. Manassero testified that when he received the position Mr. Lee "brought [him] up to speed," and they "discussed [Mr. Lee's] experience with [Plaintiff]." (Id. at 12:25-13:3.) Mr. Lee told Mr. Manassero that Plaintiff "needed mentoring," because "[h]e frequently would [not] take accountability." (Id. at 13:5-12.)

         In July of 2017, Defendant implemented a reduction in workforce called "Project Nickel." (Redick Dep. 87:9-16.) Plaintiff had both independent contractors and employees working in his department. (Id. at 87:21-25.) Project Nickel resulted in the elimination of many independent contractor positions. (Id. at 88:1-4.) After Project Nickel, Plaintiff had only four full-time staff working in his department, two in Columbus and two in Michigan. (Redick Aff. ¶ 28.) Mr. Klaus testified Project Nickel was "an adjustment for a number of teams to do the same work[, ] or more[, ] work with less resources." (Klaus Dep. 38:12-17.)

         On August 4, 2017, Mr. Manassero met with Plaintiff to discuss issues in Plaintiffs performance. (Redick Aff. ¶ 36.) Then on August 8, 2017, Mr. Manassero issued Plaintiff his first DAN, listing the performance issues discussed at their August 4 meeting. (Id; Pl.'s Resp., Ex. 16.) This was Plaintiffs first formal discipline. (Redick Aff. ¶¶ 39-40.) The DAN stated "final warning." (Pl.'s Resp., Ex. 16.)

         The first issue listed on the DAN was "inappropriate behavior," described as "being too loud and using curse words with a subordinate." (Manassero Dep. 17:1-7.) Matthew Bachman, a supervisor in another department near Plaintiffs department, had previously emailed Plaintiff regarding this concern. (Redick Dep. Ex. 12; 109:9-24; Manassero Dep. 17:16-22.) The subordinate Mr. Bachman mentioned was Michael Bennet. (Id. at 100:25-101:2.) Plaintiff states he took "immediate action" by meeting with Mr. Bennet and Mr. Bachman to discuss the noise issues. (Redick Aff. ¶ 37; Manassero Dep. 31:7-11.)

         The second issue listed on the DAN stated that Plaintiff "failed to deliver coaching to his team" in May of 2017, June of 2017, and July of 2017. (Redick Dep., Ex. 16.) Plaintiff testified he did not have access to the internet system required to log the coaching. (Id. at 119:16-25.) Instead, Plaintiff was using older manual forms to log his coaching. (Id. at 120:2-10.) Plaintiff had notified Mr. Manassero of this problem and his use of manual forms. (Pl.'s Resp., Ex. 15.)

         The third issue on the DAN was availability. (Redick Dep. Ex. 16.) The DAN stated "[d]uring normal business hours Plaintiff puts up an auto away message[] in his email." (Id.) It also stated that "[i]t is management's [sic] responsibility to be available and responsive during working hours and when on call after hours." (Id.) Plaintiff states he "immediately stopped using the [o]ut of [o]ffice' email replies [when] management told [him] this was an issue." (Redick Aff. ¶ 51; see also Redick Dep. 134:3-19.) Plaintiff explained that he used these emails to communicate to others he would respond within the required time frame. (Id.)

         Finally, the DAN listed "lack of follow through," stating that Plaintiff had failed to complete a required training. (Redick Dep. Ex. 16.) In response to the DAN, Plaintiff submitted a rebuttal to Mr. Klaus and noted "I feel that my FMLA is being used against me." (Redick Aff. ¶¶ 56-57.)

         In late September of 2017, [1] Mr. Manassero filed a SMF that detailed several issues in Plaintiffs performance. (Pl.'s Resp., Ex. 11.) The issues were: (1) tickets left in Plaintiffs team's queue for a month without being answered; (2) Mr. Bennet's failure to read the details in a ticket before asking a customer a question; (3) Plaintiff failing to follow-up with a customer after-hours; and (4) Mr. Bennet emailing a customer inappropriately. (Id.) Mr. Manassero spoke informally with Plaintiff regarding these issues. (Redick Aff. ¶ 62.) Plaintiff did not know that Mr. Manassero filed this discussion as a SMF. (Id.)

         In September of 2017, Plaintiff took intermittent FMLA leave on the 5th, 12th, 21st, 25th, and 26th. (Pl.'s Resp., Ex. 5.) On September 26, 2017, Mr. Manassero emailed Mr. Klaus recommending immediate termination and stating, "Mr. Redick cannot perform his job duties." (Klaus Dep. Ex. 1.) In response, Mr. Klaus asked for "concrete examples" of Plaintiffs deficiencies. (Id.) Mr. Manassero and Mr. Klaus exchanged further emails, discussing Plaintiff and Mr. Bennet. (Id.) In one email, Mr. Klaus expressed concern about holding Plaintiff accountable as a manager for Mr. Bennet's behavior without holding Mr. Bennet accountable as well. (Id.) On September 29, 2017, Mr. Klaus told Mr. Manassero that the HR department was "supportive of [Mr. Manassero's] request for termination." (Id.)

         On October 5, 2017, Plaintiff took FMLA leave. (Redick Aff. ¶ 65.) He returned to work on October 6, 2017. (Id. at ΒΆ 66.) Defendant terminated ...


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