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Booker v. Delfasco, LLC

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

March 6, 2015

TERRY BOOKER, Plaintiff,
v.
DELFASCO, LLC and DELFASCO FINANCE, LLC, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

LEON JORDAN, District Judge.

Before the Court is the Defendant's Amended Motion for Summary Judgment [doc. 17]. Plaintiff has filed a response [docs. 28]. Oral argument is unnecessary, and the motion is ripe for the Court's determination.

Plaintiff brought suit pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., and the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq., for alleged discrimination related to the termination of his employment. For the reasons that follow, Defendant's motion will be DENIED.

I. BACKGROUND

Defendant-employers are Delfasco, LLC and Delfasco Finance, LLC, (collectively "Defendant" or "Delfasco"). Delfasco operates a manufacturing facility in Greene County, Tennessee, where it manufactures munitions. Delfasco employed the Plaintiff, Terry Booker (hereafter "Plaintiff" or "Mr. Booker"), from 1990 until he was discharged on March 1, 2012. Mr. Booker claims that Delfasco discharged him after his wife was diagnosed with cancer, in violation of the ADA and the FMLA. Mr. Booker alleges that the primary impetus behind his termination was the cost of insuring his wife on the company's health plan. Delfasco maintains that its decision to terminate Mr. Booker was unrelated to his wife's illness and was due to his poor work performance.

In 2011, Mr. Booker's wife was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a life-threatening cancer, and began undergoing medical treatment. Records indicate that gross costs for her treatment exceeded $150, 000. Some of Mrs. Booker's medical bills were paid by the Plaintiff's family health insurance plan, which was available to him as a benefit of his employment with Delfasco. The health insurance plan provided by Delfasco was a partially-self funded plan, wherein Delfasco was responsible for its employee's medical claims, and would be reimbursed by a third-party insurer after an individual's expenses exceeded a set amount. Delfasco's Human Resources Manager, Steve Powell, recalled this amount was around $75, 000 or $80, 000 in 2011.

Mrs. Booker's condition and treatment were known to Delfasco early on. Mr. Booker testified that Mr. Powell had brought up the issue of his wife's medical expenses in a conversation during the fall of 2011. In that conversation, Mr. Powell told Mr. Booker that expensive medical treatments could cause insurance rates to increase dramatically and that they would have to "sit down and have a talk" about her healthcare and insurance. Mr. Booker stated that Mr. Powell instructed him not to discuss the conversation with anyone else. The Plaintiff also testified to another conversation in the summer of 2011, wherein Mr. Powell had urged him not to seek treatment for his wife and that money spent on medications to treat advanced cancer was wasted.

Shortly after his wife's diagnosis, Mr. Booker applied for and was granted intermittent leave under the FMLA. He used some of his leave intermittently between June and December 2011, but also took off approximately twenty consecutive days to accompany her to Nashville for treatment in December 2011. Thereafter, Mr. Booker returned to work at Delfasco, where he was reinstated in his previous position with no change in pay. Mr. Booker continued work, apparently without further leave, until March 1, 2012. On March 1, Steve Powell and Randy Shipley, Delfasco's Plant Manager, informed Mr. Booker that he was being discharged for poor performance.

Delfasco's decision to terminate Mr. Booker coincided with negotiations over renewal of its health insurance plan.[1] Mr. Powell testified that Delfasco's owner, Jack Goldenberg ("Mr. Goldenberg"), was aware of Mrs. Booker's healthcare expense and that it was a source of concern to him in the weeks before these negotiations. The Plaintiff also submits additional supporting evidence. To wit:

• On May 24, 2011, Mr. Powell copied Mr. Goldenberg on an email noting Mrs. Booker's diagnosis and advising him to "flag $75, 000 of [Delfasco's] funding account in anticipation of the employee exceeding the specific."
• In late 2011 or early 2012, Mr. Powell informed Mr. Goldberg that health insurance premiums would increase under the renewal because of the unknown cost of Mrs. Booker's continued medical treatment.
• Mr. Goldenberg indicated to Mr. Powell that he "wanted to find a way to not have Mr. Booker impact [Delfasco's insurance] rates."
• Mr. Booker was the only employee with a large claim against the health insurance plan in 2011.
• Emails Mr. Powell sent in January 2012 indicate that Delfasco had become delinquent on some of its ...

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