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Norris v. Allison Transmission, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

January 30, 2015

JOHN NORRIS, Plaintiff,
v.
ALLISON TRANSMISSION, INC., Defendant.

ORDER ON CROSS-MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

SARAH EVANS BARKER, District Judge.

This cause is now before the Court on the cross-motions for summary judgment filed by Plaintiff on July 14, 2014 [Docket No. 28] and Defendant on August 14, 2014 [Docket No. 31]. Plaintiff, John Norris ("Mr. Norris"), brings this action against his former employer, Defendant Allison Transmission, Inc. ("Allison"), alleging that Allison interfered with and violated his rights under the Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"). For the reasons detailed below, we DENY Plaintiff's motion and GRANT Defendant's motion.

Factual Background

Mr. Norris began his employment with Allison on June 20, 2011. By February 2012, Mr. Norris was classified as a Fabricating Machining Specialist. His regular work schedule was Monday through Friday, but not weekends.

On January 15, 2013, Mr. Norris requested FMLA leave for his wife's serious health condition. This was the first request for FMLA leave made by Mr. Norris while employed by Allison. This request contained a section entitled "Acknowledgement by Employee, " that required him in the first two sentences to certify as follows: "I hereby acknowledge that I have read this Family and Medical Leave of Absence Request Form and have confirmed that it is accurate. I also acknowledge that I have read a copy of Allison Transmission, Inc.'s Family and Medical Leave Act Policy... and understand its contents." Norris Dep. Exh. 2. The acknowledgement signed by Mr. Norris further provided: "I understand that I must complete an FMLA Intermittent Leave Request Form each time I request intermittent FMLA leave. I understand this form must be complete before my leave request will be approved." Id. Mr. Norris also received a copy of Allison's FMLA policy which explained that if an employee fails to timely complete a certification or recertification when requested, that failure could result in the denial of leave. Norris Dep. Exh. 3 at 6.

On March 20, 2013, Mr. Norris was approved for intermittent FMLA leave (retroactive to March 15, 2013) for his wife's health condition, authorizing 1-2 one-day absences per month.[1] By the end of March, Mr. Norris had exceeded his certified leave by approximately two days, having taking 6.3 hours of FMLA leave on March 15 as well as full days of FMLA leave on March 20, 21, and 22. The following workweek (March 25 through March 29), Mr. Norris was placed on a temporary layoff unrelated to his FMLA leave.

Upon Mr. Norris's return to work on April 1, 2013, he submitted an FMLA Intermittent Leave Request Form requesting approval for his leave on March 20, 21, and 22. Mr. Norris reported for work as scheduled from Monday, April 1 through Wednesday, April 3, 2013. On April 3, 2013, Ms. Norris's wife experienced a fall, which required more substantial care from Mr. Norris. Mr. Norris asserts that he sent a text message to his supervisor on April 3, 2013 reporting that his wife had fallen and injured herself and that he would need to take time off to care for her. On April 4, 2013, Mr. Norris called into Allison's automated call-in line to report his absence as FMLA. He did the same on Friday, April 5, as well as from Monday, April 8 through Wednesday, April 10, 2013. On April 11, 2013, Mr. Norris returned to work and submitted another FMLA Intermittent Leave Request Form requesting approval of his FMLA leave for his absences on April 8 through 10, 2013. He did not submit a leave request form for April 4 or April 5, 2013. Mr. Norris did not report to work after April 11, 2013.

Allison sent Mr. Norris a letter dated April 12, 2013, requesting recertification of Mr. Norris's FMLA leave. That letter stated in relevant part as follows:

You are herein notified that Allison Transmission is requiring recertification of your Family Medical Leave. This recertification is in accordance with 29 C.F.R. 825.308 of the Family Medical Leave Act. Your recertification papers must be received at the Employee Relations Office by April 29, 2013 or your Family Medical Leave will expire as of April 29, 2013. Your Health Care Provider has been provided with a copy of your attendance record and an application for recertification. You are responsible to return that application by the above date.

Norris Dep. Exh. 16. On April 24, 2013, Mr. Norris's wife's healthcare provider, Dr. Brent Huffman, faxed the completed recertification paper work to Allison, indicating that Dr. Huffman had last seen Mr. Norris's wife on March 14, 2013, when he had referred her for a neurosurgery evaluation. On the form, Dr. Huffman indicated that Mr. Norris's wife's condition would cause 3-4 one-day flare-ups per month for which she would require care. Dr. Huffman opined that Mr. Norris's wife "has times of worse pain. Particularly when required to do more physical activity which exacerbates her pain." Norris Dep. Exh. 17. Dr. Huffman checked "yes" on the form in response to whether "the amount of leave requested... by [Allison's] employee is consistent with the patient[']s health condition?" The listing of FMLA absences utilized by Mr. Norris attached to the recertification paperwork included March 15, March 20-22, April 4-5, and April 8-10, 2013. By the time Allison received the completed recertification paperwork, Mr. Norris had incurred an additional nine absences after April 10, 2013. Following receipt of the recertification paperwork, Allison updated Mr. Norris's FMLA approval from 1-2 one-day absences per month to 3-4 one-day absences per month, effective March 15, 2013 through December 31, 2013.

The same day that Allison received Mr. Norris's recertification paperwork, Mr. Norris telephoned Rita Vecera-Clapp, [2] whose responsibilities included processing and administering requests by Allison's hourly employees for leave under the FMLA. Mr. Norris inquired as to whether Allison had received his FMLA recertification paperwork from his wife's doctor and Mr. Vecera-Clapp confirmed she had. Mr. Norris stated that his wife had met with her surgeon the day prior and that they had decided that she would soon be required to have surgery. Ms. Vecera-Clapp advised Mr. Norris that he would need to submit additional paperwork for his wife's surgery because his current FMLA certification was only for flare-ups and he was already exceeding the amount of leave for which he was certified. Mr. Norris stated that he could have someone care for his wife on Thursday, April 25 through Saturday, April 27, 2013, so he could report to work on April 25th and pick up new FMLA paperwork to request leave for his wife's surgery.

However, Mr. Norris did not return to work on April 25th or at any point thereafter. In a letter dated May 1, 2013, Allison informed Mr. Norris that he had not "reported for work since 4/11/13, and [he had] been reporting [his] absences as FMLA on our automated call-in line." Norris Dep. Exh. 19. The letter further stated in pertinent part as follows:

As detailed above, your FMLA usage still far exceeds the amount certified by your wife's health care provider, including the most recent certification. Because your usage is clearly not consistent with the certifications submitted and you have not provided us with any information indicating that your wife's condition has substantially changed since 4/24/13, Allison Transmission is notifying you that your absences since 4/12/13 that exceed the amount stated in your current certification (i.e., 3-4 episodes per month, 1 day per episode) have not and will not be approved as FMLA leave. As a result, those absences will be treated in accordance with the Attendance Policy.

Id. When Mr. Norris received this letter, he telephoned its author, Allison Labor Relations Representative Jeff Pence, to discuss his recertification, during which conversation, Mr. Norris stated that he believed the April 24th certification covered all of his absences, and that he would provide Mr. Pence additional documentation from his wife's healthcare provider. Mr. Pence, however, informed Mr. Norris that he (Pence) believed otherwise, to wit, that Mr. Norris's recertification did not cover the number of absences that were being incurred.

Mr. Norris did not report for any of his scheduled shifts in May 2013. He called into Allison's automated absence reporting hotline for the shifts he missed on May 1-2 and 6-9. However, he did not call the hotline for the shifts he missed on May 3, 10, 13-15, 17, 20-22.

In a letter dated May 8, 2013, Allison notified Mr. Norris that his "failure to report to work for three scheduled working days signifies that you have voluntarily resigned, " consistent with Paragraph 64(d) of Allison's collective bargaining agreement with UAW Local 933, [3] the Union that represented Mr. Norris. Norris Dep. Exh. 21. That letter further advised Mr. Norris: "If you have information relating to your resignation that you would like Allison Transmission to consider, you have until 4:00 p.m. on 5/14/13 in which to provide." Id. Mr. Norris has acknowledged receiving this letter on or "a short time after" May 8, 2013. Norris Dep. at 54. According to him, after receiving the letter he again contacted Mr. ...


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