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Sahlhoff v. Gurley-Leep Automotive Management Corp.

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division

September 29, 2016




         Jacob Sahlhoff claims that the defendants, collectively called “Gurley-Leep” in this opinion, interfered with his right to unpaid medical leave and retaliated against him for asserting that right under the Family Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 2601 et seq. The court dismissed Mr. Sahlhoff's first amended complaint for failure to state a claim. He then filed a second amended complaint. Gurley-Leep moved to dismiss again, arguing that the changes to Mr. Sahlhoff's complaint don't rectify the problems of the previous one. The court disagrees.

         I. Background

         Mr. Sahlhoff worked for seven years as a car salesman at Gurley-Leep.[1] He alleges that, starting in March of 2012, he started to experience sharp pain in and around his eye, the sensation of needles probing and scratching his eye, and blurred vision. The pain was so intense he often had to rest his head on his desk at work, and otherwise struggled through it to do his job. While Mr. Sahlhoff used to work at least fifty hours per week, he had to tell his supervisors that he couldn't do the overtime. Mr. Sahlhoff alleges that Gurley-Leep wasn't at all understanding. When he explained his symptoms to managers, or when they saw him in pain, they mocked or belittled him, telling him to toughen up or that he knows he can't be missing work. They did this even when he needed to leave work for medical examinations, and so Mr. Sahlhoff felt pressured to delay examinations and to return to work immediately after them. Mr. Sahlhoff went to at least three doctors between May and July. On July 6 Gurley-Leep fired him, saying that he “was not committed to the job.” After termination, Mr. Sahlhoff went to numerous doctors and was ultimately diagnosed with a tumor that required removal of his right eye.

         Some of the changes to Mr. Sahlhoff's complaint are significant. Mr. Sahlhoff explains that he complained about his symptoms to the general manager and sales manager. He describes with greater specificity that he sought treatment at a medical center specializing in eye problems and that he was referred to an orbital specialist for testing and treatment. He explains that each of the three or more examinations he went to between May and July of 2012 required him to miss work for about two and a half hours. He explains that the cancerous lump growing near his eye was visible to others while he was still employed at Gurley-Leep. He also describes the numerous medical appointments he made after being fired that resulted in his diagnosis and loss of his right eye.

         II. Standard of Review

         Gurley-Leep moves to dismiss the second amended complaint for failure to state a claim. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). To state a claim, a complaint need only contain a short and plain statement showing that the plaintiff is entitled to relief. See EEOC v. Concentra Health Servs., Inc., 496 F.3d 773, 776 (7th Cir. 2007). In deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court must accept as true all well-pleaded factual allegations in the complaint and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. See Hecker v. Deere & Co., 556 F.3d 575, 580 (7th Cir. 2009). A complaint survives a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) if it contains sufficient factual allegations to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Adams v. City of Indianapolis, 742 F.3d 720, 728 (7th Cir. 2014).

         III. Discussion

         Mr. Sahlhoff alleges that Gurley-Leep interfered with his FMLA rights when it objected to him taking time for medical services and fired him when he was likely to require leave, and that it fired him in retaliation for asserting his rights.

         A. FMLA Interference Claim

         To prevail on a claim of interference with his FMLA rights, Mr. Sahlhoff must show that (a) he was eligible for FMLA protections, (b) his employer was covered by the FMLA, (c) he was entitled to leave under the FMLA, (d) he provided sufficient notice of his intent to take FMLA leave, and (e) his employer denied him FMLA benefits to which he was entitled. Scruggs v. Carrier Corp., 688 F.3d 821, 825 (7th Cir. 2012). Elements (c) and (d) are at issue here.

         To be entitled to FMLA leave, the employee must suffer from a serious health condition that leaves him unable to perform the functions of his job. 29 U.S.C. § 2612(a)(1)(D); Ames v. Home Depot U.S.A., Inc., 629 F.3d 665, 669 (7th Cir. 2011). A “serious health condition” must involve “inpatient care . . . or continuing treatment by a health care provider.” 29 U.S.C. § 2611(11).

         Regulations elaborate that “continuing treatment by a health care provider” requires at least one of numerous listed conditions. 29 U.S.C. § 825.115. The first of these is “a period of incapacity of more than three consecutive, full calendar days, and any subsequent treatment or period of incapacity relating to the same condition.” 29 C.F.R. § 825.115(a). Mr. Sahlhoff doesn't allege that he was ever incapacitated for more than three consecutive, full calendar days, so this route is closed.

         The next possible route for “continuing treatment” is “chronic conditions.” § 825.115(c). A chronic serious health condition requires, first, visiting a health care provider for treatment at least twice a year. § 825.115(c)(1). “Treatment” “includes . . . examinations to determine if a serious health condition exists and evaluations of the condition.” § 825.113(c). Even before Mr. Sahlhoff's termination and diagnosis, he alleges at least three examinations for these precise purposes. Second, the condition must “[c]ontinue[ ] over an extended period of time (including recurring episodes of a single underlying condition); and[, third, ] may cause episodic rather than a continuing period of incapacity.” § 825.115(c)(2)-(3). Mr. Sahlhoff's symptoms, the sharp pains in his eye and blurring vision, began in March and continued for the roughly four months until he was terminated. Approximately four months is enough for an “extended period.” See Burnett v. LFW, Inc., 472 F.3d 471, 478 (7th Cir. ...

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