United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division
ENTRY ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY
WALTON PRATT, JUDGE
matter is before the Court on Defendant's Motion for
Summary Judgment (Filing No. 57). After being
terminated from her employment with The Salvation Army
(“TSA”), Plaintiff Karen Searle
(“Searle”) filed this action alleging
discrimination in violation of the Americans With
Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and interference and
retaliation in violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act
(“FMLA”). (Filing No. 1.) The parties
stipulated to dismissal with prejudice of Searle's ADA
claim. (Filing No. 56.) TSA now moves for summary
judgment on Searle's two remaining FMLA claims, arguing
they fail as a matter of law. For the reasons discussed
below, TSA's Motion for Summary Judgment is
granted in part and denied in part.
following facts are not necessarily objectively true, but as
required by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, the facts are
presented in the light most favorable to Searle as the
non-moving party. See Zerante v. DeLuca, 555 F.3d
582, 584 (7th Cir. 2009); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986).
Searle's Employment at The Salvation
Salvation Army, a denomination of the Christian church, is a
non-profit organization engaged in providing services to the
homeless, addicted, poor, or other vulnerable members of the
population. Searle's employment with the organization
began in October 2007, when she was hired as a Human Resource
Specialist at the Harbor Light Center (“Harbor
Light”) located in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Filing
No. 58-2 at 9-10.) Shortly thereafter, her title was
changed to Human Resource Manager. Id. at 11. Searle
reported to Harbor Light's Executive Director, Lieutenant
Esteban Pommier (“Pommier”). She also frequently
worked with David Loyd (“Loyd”), the Divisional
Director of Human Resources at the Indiana Division
Headquarters. Id. at 15-18.
duties at TSA included managing employee time and attendance,
tracking and approving employee sick time requests, and
managing FMLA compliance for other TSA employees.
Id. at 21-25. This last duty required her to consult
TSA's Central Territory Employee Handbook, which
contained TSA's FMLA policy as well as other company
policies on things like sick leave, paid time off, and
disability accommodation. Id.; Filing No.
58-4. When an employee at Harbor Light needed FMLA
leave, Searle's role was to guide the employee through
the process and answer any questions the employee had.
(Filing No. 58-2 at 25-26.)
her employment, Searle had taken two FMLA leaves, in January
2015 and again in May 2015, in relation to rotator cuff
surgery. Id. at 26-29. In February 2016, Searle told
Loyd she was “ill” and asked him to keep the
information to himself. Id. at 30. Loyd replied, he
was “sorry to hear that” and Searle should let
him know if there was anything he could do for her.
Id. at 31. At some point after that, Searle also
notified Divisional Secretary of Business Major Dan Hull
(“Hull”) that she had precancerous polyps of the
colon. Id. at 52. Hull replied that Loyd had already
notified him of Searle's medical situation. Id.
at 53. On or about April 4, 2016, Searle submitted a Time Off
Request Form indicating she needed time off for testing at
the hospital. (Filing No. 59-7.) Pommier approved
and signed off on the Request on April 5, 2016. Id.
August 18, 2016, Searle sent Loyd an email notifying him that
she was going to receive treatment in the form of an MRI on
August 29, 2016, a colonoscopy on September 19, 2016, and
surgery on her liver which had not yet been scheduled at the
time she sent the email. (Filing No. 59-8.) Loyd
responded that same day: “Thank you Karen. I hope
everything goes well.” (Filing No. 58-7.)
Searle did not request FMLA leave at this time, nor at any
other time in 2016, instead opting to use her available paid
time off to cover any time she missed for doctor's
appointments. (Filing No. 58-2 at 29.)
September 15, 2016, Loyd, Pommier, and Major Beth Petrie
(“Petrie”) notified Searle that her position was
being eliminated and that she would be terminated effective
October 15, 2016. Id. at 35. That meeting occurred
just 28 days after Searle had alerted Loyd to her ongoing
medical issues and upcoming doctor's appointments.
Following her termination notice, on October 5, 2016,
Searle's counsel sent TSA a letter complaining of FMLA
violations. (Filing No. 59-3 at 39.) Loyd received
the letter and discussed it with Pommier, Hull, and Petrie.
Id. at 40.
attributes the elimination of Searle's position to budget
reduction. In July 2016, TSA had a budget shortfall of
approximately $675, 000.00, which Hull asked for help from
management to reduce. (Filing No. 58-8 at 18-19;
Filing No. 58-9.) In late spring or early summer
2016, Hull inquired of Loyd regarding which position from
Human Resources (“HR”) could be eliminated if the
need arose. (Filing No. 58-8 at 32; Filing No.
58-10 at 15-17.) Loyd said that he did not want to lose
anyone in his department, but if a position had to be
eliminated, he would recommend Searle's position which
oversaw employees only at Harbor Light, whereas all the other
positions in the HR department served the entire Indiana
Division. (Filing No. 58-10 at 16.)
Divisional Finance Board ultimately accepted Loyd's
recommendation and, on August 11, 2016, made the decision to
eliminate Searle's position. (Filing No. 58-8 at
25-26.) TSA determined that some of the clerical duties
Searle had performed could be done by a newly created
part-time HR Clerk position at Harbor Light that would be
paid a much lower rate than Searle had been paid.
Id. at 34-36; Filing No. 58-10 at 22. Loyd
would absorb the remainder of Searle's workload.
Loyd and other TSA staff members informed Searle that her
position was being eliminated, they also informed her of the
new, part-time HR position that would be available.
(Filing No. 58-2 at 36-37.) But Searle chose not to
apply for that position because she needed a full-time
position with health benefits. Id. at 37-38. TSA
staff encouraged Searle to apply for an open full-time
administrative assistant position at Harbor Light, which
Searle did, despite feeling overqualified for it.
Id. at 38-39. Searle applied for the administrative
assistant position by letter, which was addressed to Pommier
and dated October 14, 2016. (Filing No. 59-10.) In
her letter, Searle explained that she was well-suited for the
position, having done many of the tasks required by the
position in her prior role when the administrative assistant
was out of the office. Id. She also explained that
because of her experience at Harbor Light she would need very
little training to learn the new job. Id.
interviewed four or five candidates for the position,
including Searle. (Filing No. 58-13 at 20.)
Searle's initial interview with Pommier was attended by
Loyd, who expressed to Pommier that Searle was completely
qualified for the position. (Filing No. 59-3 at 33.)
Loyd only attended Searle's interview because she was an
internal candidate; he did not attend any of the other
interviews for the position. Id. at 32-33. Two
applicants-Searle and Alana Hodges
(“Hodges”)-were asked to come in for a second
interview. (Filing No. 58-13 at 30.)
of this second interview, both applicants were given ten
minutes to reproduce a written memorandum as accurately as
possible to test their word processing skills. (Filing
No. 58-2 at 65-67; Filing No. 58-14; Filing
No. 58-15; Filing No. 58-16.) Harbor Light had
never previously required applicants to take this kind of
test for any other job selection process. (Filing No.
58-13 at 29-30.) Hodges' reproduction bore a closer
resemblance to the sample memorandum than Searle's did.
(Filing No. 58-15; Filing No. 58-16.)
Pommier testified in his deposition that he had the
impression before this interview that Searle was not a
skilled user of Microsoft Word and Excel, but that limitation
had not prevented her from doing her job as Human Resource
Manager. (Filing No. 58-13 at 26-33.) Searle
attributes her poor performance on the test to the fact that
she was rushed during her second interview because it was
scheduled between two doctor's appointments. Id.
recommended to the Divisional Finance Board that TSA hire
Hodges because he thought she demonstrated a greater level of
professionalism in the interview process, he believed she
wanted the job more than Searle did, and he thought Hodges
outperformed Searle on the typing test. Id. at
29-47. Hodges was offered the job and because Searle had not
applied to any other positions at TSA, her employment ended
on November 3, 2016. (Filing No. 58-2 at 39.)
purpose of summary judgment is to “pierce the pleadings
and to assess the proof in order to see whether there is a
genuine need for trial. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v.
Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). Federal
Rule of Civil Procedure 56 provides that summary judgment is
appropriate if “the pleadings, depositions, answers to
interrogatories, and admissions of file, together with the
affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to
any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a
judgment as a matter of law.” Hemsworth v.
Quotesmith.com, Inc., 476 F.3d 487, 489-90 (7th Cir.
2007). In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court
reviews “the record in the light most favorable to the
non-moving party and draw[s] all reasonable inferences in
that party's favor.” Zerante, 555 F.3d at
584 (citation omitted). “However, inferences that are
supported by only speculation or conjecture will not defeat a
summary judgment motion.” Dorsey v. Morgan
Stanley, 507 F.3d 624, 627 (7th Cir. 2007) (citation and
quotation marks omitted). Additionally, “[a] party who
bears the burden of proof on a particular issue may not rest
on its pleadings, but must affirmatively demonstrate, by
specific factual allegations, that there is a genuine issue
of material fact that requires trial.”
Hemsworth, 476 F.3d at 490 (citation omitted).
“The opposing party cannot meet this burden with
conclusory statements or speculation but only with
appropriate citations to relevant admissible evidence.”
Sink v. Knox Cnty. Hosp., 900 F.Supp. 1065, 1072
(S.D. Ind. 1995) (citations omitted).
much the same way that a court is not required to scour the
record in search of evidence to defeat a motion for summary
judgment, nor is it permitted to conduct a paper trial on the
merits of the claim.” Ritchie v. Glidden Co.,
242 F.3d 713, 723 (7th Cir. 2001) (citations and quotation
marks omitted). “[N]either the mere existence of some
alleged factual dispute between the parties nor the existence
of some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts is
sufficient to defeat a motion ...