United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
BRANDI LUTES, Personal Representative of the Estate of BUDDY F. PHILLIPS, Plaintiff,
UNITED TRAILER INC., UNITED TRAILER EXPORTING, INC., Defendants.
OPINION AND ORDER
L. MILLER, JR., UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE.
3, 2015, Buddy Phillips (now deceased, with Ms. Lutes acting
as estate representative) injured his rib while playing with
his grandchildren. Mr. Phillips went to Elkhart General
Hospital a day after his injury, where an x-ray confirmed
that he had suffered a rib fracture. Because of Mr.
Phillips's injury, he missed work from July 6-23, 2015.
Until July 17, Mr. Phillips reported his absences to United
Trailers. After July 17, however, Mr. Phillips didn't
report his absences, resulting in his termination under
United Trailer's attendance policy. Mr. Phillips now sues
United Trailers for interference with his rights under the
Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 (“FMLA”), 29
U.S.C. § 2601 et seq. and for unlawful
retaliation under the FLMA when United Trailers terminated
Mr. Phillips' employment. United Trailers moves for
summary judgment with respect to all claims. The court heard
argument on February 20, and now grants the motion.
Trailers manufactures steel-framed enclosed trailers for
personal and commercial cargo, vehicles, and food and craft
vending. Mr. Phillips worked for a predecessor company of
United Trailers from 1995 until he was excused in 1999 due to
poor attendance. He was reinstated but was later deemed to
have “resigned” by missing three days consecutive
days of work in late summer 1999 without reporting his
absences per company policy. In 2003 United Trailers rehired
Mr. Phillips as a metal department trimmer, a job that
required him to install fenders, lights, and metal trim to
the trailers. Mr. Phillips's employment at United
Trailers was typical of the average worker there. All United
Trailers production employees work a 5:00 a.m. through a
1:00-3:00 p.m. shift, depending on production needs. Mr.
Phillips worked as a metal department trimmer up until his
employment was terminated in the summer of 2015 for failing
to report in his absence over four consecutive days.
United Trailer employee is given a handbook with the
company's policies including attendance policies. The
policy provides for a mandatory and specific call-in
procedure for reporting work absences. The relevant portion
of the policy states: Employees must call an official hotline
no later than 15 minutes before the start of their 5:00 a.m.
shift and that “THIS IS THE ONLY
ACCEPTABLE MEANS OF CALLING
IN.” (bold and capitalized in original). The
policy also states that calling a supervisor or co-worker is
unacceptable and that employees must leave a voice-mail
message on the hotline - calling the hotline without leaving
a message isn't adequate notice of absence.
Trailers operates on an absence point system - an employee
who accrues 13 or more points is terminated. Employees get
three points for an unexcused absence as long as they call
into the hotline and five points if they don't call in.
Ten accrued points results in a reduction in pay. Employment
is also terminated if the employee doesn't call in for
three consecutive days.
Trailers has several exceptions to this policy. Holidays and
vacations don't count toward point accrual. The company
acknowledges specific personal, bereavement, jury, and
military absences. United Trailers recognizes both FMLA leave
and leave directed by a doctor through doctor notes. During
his time at United Trailers, Mr. Phillips made consistent use
of the company's doctor note policy. All of these
policies are in the handbook provided to Mr. Phillips, who
signed acknowledgments on three separate occasions during his
tenure at United Trailers that he had received and read the
policies. Mr. Phillip's wife acknowledged in her
deposition that she knew about the call-in and doctor note
3, 2015 Mr. Phillips injured his ribs while playing with his
grandchildren. On July 4 Mr. Phillips went to Elkhart General
Hospital where an x-ray revealed that he had suffered a rib
fracture. The physician's release after Mr. Phillip's
visit to the hospital said he could engage in “activity
as tolerated” but didn't explicitly restrict him
from work. The hospital also instructed Mr. Phillips to
follow up with his primary care physician three to five days
after he had visited the hospital. On July 16, Mr. Phillips
followed up with his primary care physician, Dr. Borelli, who
wrote a brief note excusing Mr. Phillips from work throughout
Phillips or his wife called the United Trailers hotline on
July 6, 7, 8, 14, 16, and 17, 2015 to report his absence. No.
further calls were placed to the hotline after July 17 in
accordance with the company's absence policy. United
Trailer's Director of Human Resources, in consultation
with the plant manager Randy Snyder, decided to terminate Mr.
Phillip's employment on July 23 because Mr. Phillips had
more than 13 absence points under the company policy and
because he had missed three or more consecutive days without
calling the company's hotline. After United Trailers
notified Mr. Phillips of his termination, he returned to work
to collect his belongings.
30, 2017 Mr. Phillips filed a complaint against United
Trailers alleging FLMA interference and retaliation relating
to his ...