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Coleman v. ARC Automotive, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Knoxville

March 1, 2017

TERRI Q. COLEMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
ARC AUTOMOTIVE, INC., Defendant.

          SHIRLEY JUDGE.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          REEVES JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Terri Coleman brings this action against her former employer, ARC Automotive, Inc. Coleman claims she was discriminated against because of her race in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Tennessee Human Rights Act.

         I. Statement of Facts

         Coleman was hired as a general machine operator for ARC in May 1999, a position she held until she went on an extended medical leave of absence on June 3, 2014. In December 2010, Coleman underwent surgery for a hysterectomy. Coleman was granted FMLA leave for her absences and her claim for short-term disability benefits was also approved through MetLife. On February 8, 2011, six weeks after her surgery, Coleman had a follow-up appointment with her surgeon, Dr. Copas. During the visit, Coleman told Dr. Copas she was required to perform substantial, frequent overtime and she did not feel that she could return to work. Dr. Copas responded he could not give her any more time off work “or it would be fraud.” He released Coleman to return to work on February 14, 2011, without restrictions. Dr. Copas noted that Coleman's abdominal incision was well healed and she did not appear in acute distress. Coleman returned to work at ARC.

         Coleman saw her primary care physician, Dr. Kirby on September 21, 2011, with complaints of abdominal pain. Dr. Kirby ordered a CT scan but did not limit Coleman's activities or suggest she take time off work.

         On November 30, 2011, Coleman saw Dr. Dean Turner, OB/GYN about her continued pain. Coleman underwent exploratory surgery and removal of a cyst in January 2012. Coleman was granted FMLA leave to cover absences related to her January 2012 surgery. She also applied for and was granted short-term disability benefits. On February 6, 2012, Dr. Turner released Coleman to return to work on February 14, 2012, without restrictions.

         Coleman went to the emergency room complaining of pain in her abdomen on February 15, 2012, and the doctor wrote a note for her to remain out of work, but releasing her to return without restrictions on February 20, 2012. Coleman returned to work on February 20, 2012, as scheduled. ARC approved her absences through February 19, 2012, and her short-term disability claim was also approved through February 19, 2012.

         Coleman continued to experience abdominal pain and she returned to her primary care physician, Dr. Kirby, on February 23, 2012. Dr. Kirby instructed her to remain out of work until her next visit on March 13, 2012. Coleman informed Jackie Theg, ARC's Human Resources Manager, that she would be out of work until March 13, 2012.

         Under ARC's attendance policy, Coleman was required to provide medical documentation to ARC to support a claim for FMLA leave. Coleman's absences beginning on February 23, 2012, were an extension of her prior FMLA leave, and ARC needed a doctor's note supporting the additional time off. When Coleman returned to work on February 20, 2012, her claim for short-term disability benefits was closed. To reopen the claim after going back out on leave on February 23, 2012, Coleman was also required to provide updated medical information to MetLife.

         As HR manager, Theg monitored all short-term disability claims for ARC. While she could see the status of a claim, she was not privy to any medical information shared with MetLife and was not privy to any notes made by the claims adjuster. Theg noted that Coleman's claim continued to show as “closed.” Concerned about Coleman not receiving short-term disability payments, Theg followed up with Coleman to have her doctor provide information to MetLife so her short-term disability claim could be reactivated. On March 13, 2012, Coleman faxed a letter from Dr. Kirby that covered her absences beginning on February 23, 2012. Theg confirmed receipt of the letter and told Coleman that her absences were now covered under FMLA.

         Coleman returned to work on March 19, 2012, with a note from Dr. Kirby releasing her to return to work without restrictions. Coleman was not disciplined and received no attendance “occasions” for her absences.

         Because Coleman's short-term disability had still not been approved, Theg suggested that she call MetLife. During a call with MetLife employees, Coleman questioned whether Theg had access to her medical information, and was assured that Theg was not provided with any medical information and had no access to Coleman's medical information. On March 26, 2012, Dr. Kirby faxed his medical certification to MetLife supporting continuation of Coleman's short-term disability benefits from February 23, 2012 through March 18, 2012. MetLife then approved Coleman's claim for benefits covering that time period.

         In May 2012, Coleman complained to Gabe Bucca, Vice-President of Human Resources for ARC, alleging Theg had contacted her doctors and pressured the doctors to return Coleman to work too soon. Bucca investigated and spoke with Theg, who denied contacting Coleman's doctors. Coleman also called the employee hotline to report her allegations. Bucca met with Coleman, told her that Theg denied the allegations, and assured her it was not ARC policy to contact an employee's doctors. Bucca requested ...


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