The opinion of the court was delivered by: Thomas A. Varlan United States District Judge
This civil action is before the Court on defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. 29]. Plaintiff claims that defendant terminated her from her position as a customer service specialist in its Knoxville, Tennessee office in retaliation for taking leave under the Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. § 2601, et seq.,and under the Employment Retirement and Income Security Act ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. § 1140. [Doc. 1 at ¶¶ 8, 23.] The Court has carefully reviewed the pending motion for summary judgment, along with the supporting and opposing briefs [Docs. 30, 32, 34], in light of the entire record and controlling law. For the reasons set forth herein, defendant's motion for summary judgment will be granted.
Plaintiff, Christena Purdy, was hired by defendant, United States Cellular Corporation, on August 22, 1996 to work as a customer service representative in its Knoxville, Tennessee office. [Doc. 1 at ¶ 9; Doc. 30 at 3.] Plaintiff was promoted to customer service specialist in February 1998. [Doc. 30 at 3.] Plaintiff has a relatively long history of applying for and being granted FMLA and short-term disability leave by defendant, including the following:
- FMLA leave from November 12, 2001 until January 14, 2002 due to surgery plaintiff underwent to treat abnormal uterine bleeding. [Doc. 1 at ¶ 10.]
- FMLA leave from March 11, 2003 until April 3, 2003 and again from June 18, 2003 until July 2, 2003 for a respiratory impairment which "severely restricted her ability to verbally communicate." [Id. at ¶¶ 11, 13.]
- Short-term disability leave from April 9, 2003 until April 24, 2003 and again from May 15, 2003 until July 14, 2003 for the same respiratory condition for which plaintiff took FMLA leave in 2003. [Id. at ¶ 12.]
- Intermittent FMLA leave from July 1, 2004 until December 31, 2004 for "chronic sinus/respiratory issues and laryngitis." [Id. at ¶ 14, 15.]
During her employment with defendant, plaintiff also had a number of performance-related issues, including the following:
- Beginning on September 16, 2004, plaintiff was placed on a "Performance Improvement Plan" ("PIP") due to excessive tardiness and early departures from work from August 1, 2004 until September 15, 2004. [Id. at ¶ 16; Doc. 30 at 4.] When placed on this PIP, plaintiff was advised that failure to meet the expectations of the PIP could result in her termination. [Doc. 30 at 5.]
- Because of continued tardiness in December 2004, plaintiff was issued a written warning and placed on a second PIP for forty-five more days. [Doc. 1 at ¶ 17; Doc. 30 at 5.] Defendant states that this "continued tardiness could have led to [plaintiff's] termination," but notes that it was decided to warn, rather than fire, plaintiff. [Doc. 30 at 5.]
- Plaintiff was advised in January 2004 by Candi Adamick, plaintiff's immediate supervisor, that two customer complaints were lodged against her on or around December 22, 2004. [Id.].
On January 24, 2005, plaintiff met with Ms. Adamick and Chris Stokes, Ms. Adamick's immediate supervisor, at which point she was placed on her third PIP due to tardiness on January 4, 2005 and January 20, 2005. [Doc. 30 at 5; Doc. 32 at 2.] Also at this meeting, plaintiff was counseled regarding an incident where she appeared to be sleeping at her desk and was advised by Mr. Stokes that "her body language and attitude were displaying her unwillingness to commit to values and expectations of the Dynamic Organization," defendant's business model. [Id. at 6.] Plaintiff points out that this meeting occurred on the same day that she had a doctor's appointment she was attending "in order for the doctor to complete the FMLA ...