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Moore v. Bristol M S, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Greeneville Division

March 3, 2015

RONNIE MOORE, Plaintiff,
v.
BRISTOL M S, LLC, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

LEON JORDAN, District Judge.

This civil action is before the Court for consideration of "Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment" [doc. 8]. Plaintiff has filed a response [docs. 13, 14, 15], and Defendant has filed a reply [doc. 16]. Oral argument is unnecessary, and the motion is ripe for the Court's determination.

Plaintiff has filed suit for alleged violation of the Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. ยง 2601 et seq. For the reasons that follow, the Defendant's Motion will be DENIED in part and GRANTED in part.

I.

Background

The Defendant (hereafter "Defendant" or "Bristol M s") is a manufacturing plant located in Bristol, Tennessee. Plaintiff (hereafter "Plaintiff" or "Mr. Moore") was employed by Bristol M s from 2003 until his termination on July 26, 2011, most recently as a crane operator on the plant floor. The primary dispute in this lawsuit centers around several days of missed work in 2010 and 2011. Mr. Moore contends that he was legally entitled to these absences under the FMLA and that he was wrongfully terminated because of them. Bristol M s views them as excessive absences warranting termination under company policy.

Bristol M s has a detailed "Absenteeism Policy" (hereafter "the Policy") for its employees. The Policy is based on a "points system, " whereby employees accumulate points for each violation of the Policy. Violations include late arrivals and early departures (one-half point for each violation), absences without an accepted medical excuse (one point for each violation), and absences without notifying management (two points for each violation). As points are accumulated, the employee becomes subject to ascending disciplinary action: two points warrants a verbal warning, three points warrants a written warning, four points warrants a three-day suspension, and exceeding four points warrants termination. As to absences for minor illnesses, Bristol M s's management has case-by-case discretion as to whether to accept an employee's medical excuses and may make its decision in the context of the employee's past attendance record. There is no dispute that Mr. Moore was familiar with the company's Absenteeism Policy, and Bristol M s maintains that it does not assess points for absences covered under the FMLA.

The relevant facts, including Mr. Moore's attendance record, as reflected in the documents and deposition excerpts submitted by the parties, are as follows:

2010 Absences

In February 2010, Mr. Moore received a verbal warning for accumulating 2.5 points under the Absenteeism Policy. He attributes the corresponding absences to car trouble and other circumstances, and has not claimed that they should be treated as FMLA-covered leave. Mr. Moore was absent from work two days in March and April 2010. In separate actions, he was suspended for accruing 4.5 points and informed via a written warning that his next violation could result in termination. Mr. Moore testified that he told his supervisors that the absences were due to his wife's depression and his need to assist her. Mr. Moore also violated the attendance policy because he had difficulty in switching from first to second shift.

On May 3, 2011, Mr. Moore applied for FMLA leave. Bristol M s requested medical certification and provided relevant forms for Mr. Moore to complete. In part, the form completed by Mrs. Moore's physician states:

Describe other relevant medical facts, if any, related to the condition for which the patient needs care (such medical facts may include symptoms, diagnosis, or any regimen of continuing treatment such as the use of specialized equipment):
"patient's wife has neck and lower back pain and muscle spasms from spinal disc disease. Mr. Moore may need to be home with his wife when her cervical disc disease or lumbar disc disease flares causing her pain and worsening depression. [S]he may need help getting out of bed and around the house, preparing meals, and getting ready for and going to medical appointments"
***
Explain the care needed by the patient and why such care is medically necessary:
Mrs. Moore needs help with feeding herself and getting around when disc disease and depression flare. [illegible]
***
Explain the care needed by the patient, and why such care if [sic] medically necessary:
When her depression or disc disease flares her symptoms make it impossible for her to care for herself and needs treatment to be able to regain care for herself.

Mr. Moore also completed portions of another form, stating:

I help my wife get out of bed, and get around the house, and get ready for and go to medical app. when her disease flares. She also needs help to cook and feed when her disease flares and is very intense[.]

Mr. Moore's FMLA request was approved on May 27, 2011. Bristol M s did not request additional information or attempt to clarify any portion of the completed forms.

Bristol M s assessed several points to Mr. Moore in May of 2011 after he was absent on May 12, 23, 24, and 25. He attributes the absences to a need to assist his wife with episodes of anxiety. Mr. Moore testified that when his wife suffered from anxiety, she would become "hysterical, " making it necessary for him to calm her down and ensure that she took her prescription medication. Each of the May episodes was triggered by events occurring within the family and were unrelated to Mrs. Moore's disc disease. Mr. Moore claims that Bristol M s's supervisors were aware of his wife's anxiety and had allowed him to miss work because of her anxiety in the past.

His absentee record was discussed at a meeting with Bristol M s management on June 1, 2011. Mr. Moore testified that he told his supervisors that it was necessary for him to care for his wife when she became "severely depressed or hysterical[.]" At the same meeting, Mr. Moore was suspended for three working days for having accumulated four absentee points. Only the absence on May 24, 2011 was counted as FMLA leave. Mr. Moore filed a grievance as to the denial of leave his absences on May 12, 23, and 25, but did not take additional steps to appeal his discipline after the grievance was denied.

According to his affidavit, Mr. Moore believed that his FMLA certification allowed him to miss work for all of his wife's anxiety episodes. He did not understand that the coverage was determined by the "triggering cause" for each attack. However, he was aware after the June 1 meeting that Bristol M s was not treating all of his May absences as covered under the FMLA and chose not to pursue the matter.

Bristol M s counted absences on June 14, June 22, and July 17, 2011 as FMLA leave. On July 18, Mr. Moore left work after receiving a phone call from a hysterical Mrs. Moore. Because the supervisor was not present, Mr. Moore attempted to phone him, but did not leave a message. He instead alerted a fellow employee, who he mistakenly believed was the "lead man" for that shift. Mr. Moore testified that he was unable to formally clock out because the fingerprint scanner was not ...


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