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Goodman v. City of Kingston

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee

July 25, 2017

JIMMY L. GOODMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF KINGSTON, TENNESSEE, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

         Jimmy Goodman filed this action against his former employer, the City of Kingston, alleging he was not afforded his rights and protections under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and was unlawfully terminated in violation of the FMLA.

         This matter is before the court on the City's motion for summary judgment [R. 22]. The City submits that Goodman cannot establish that he was discharged, interfered, or retaliated against because of his use of FMLA leave. The City submits Goodman never put it on notice that he suffered from a serious health condition or requested FMLA leave; and Goodman was terminated from his employment for a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason, that he failed to return from leave and abandoned his job.

         Goodman responds that the notices given to his employer on multiple occasions were sufficient to put the City of notice of a serious back condition and the City failed to inform him of his rights to take unpaid leave under the FMLA after he had exhausted his paid sick leave.

         I. Background

         Goodman worked for the City for fifteen years prior to his termination on February 27, 2014. Goodman was a supervisor in the Public Works Department, a position he held for approximately ten years. Goodman's duties included supervising the men on his crew and performing general Public Works Department tasks.

         The City's Personnel Policies and Procedures manual deals with benefits including vacation leave, sick leave, and FMLA. Goodman signed that he had received a copy of the personnel policies when he was first employed with the City. The City also posted notices throughout the workplace to provide employees with notice of their rights under multiple laws and regulations including the FMLA. The policy manual specifically provided that vacation time had to be scheduled in advance so proper adjustments could be made in work schedules.

         The record shows that between December 19, 2013 and February 27, 2014, Goodman worked only one day. During his 39-day absence, Goodman saw various physicians for earaches, dizziness, stomachaches, headaches, anxiety, and other ailments for which he sought medical care and treatment. The City does not dispute Goodman had earned sick leave to take time off for these ailments.

         Goodman's medical records show that he saw Dr. Willett for sinus symptoms, tightness of skin, and fatigue on December 26, 2013. There is no reference to back or neck problems. On physical exam, examination of Goodman's neck was normal. On January 3, 2014, Goodman again saw Dr. Willett, complaining of abdominal pain, sinus symptoms, and vertigo. There is no reference to neck or back pain.

         On January 13, 2014, Goodman returned to Dr. Willett with complaints of dizziness. There is no mention of neck or back pain; instead, examination of Goodman's neck was normal. Dr. Willett gave Goodman a return to work form stating Goodman could return to work on January 22 with “no restrictions.” The next day, Goodman saw Dr. Willett complaining of dizziness with references to pain and headache. Again, examination of Goodman's neck was normal. Goodman received a work excuse from Dr. Willett stating Goodman is excused from work 1/22/14 - 1/30/14 for “medical reasons.”

         Goodman missed several weeks of work in January 2007, due to issues with his spine. In November 2013, he began experiencing pain in his spine. When he continued to have problems with his spine, he saw neurologist Dr. Lynch on January 10, 2014. Dr. Lynch, noted that in years past, Goodman had suffered from neck and back pain, but “most of those symptoms have actually resolved.” Dr. Lynch further noted Goodman had a complaint of abdominal pain with poor appetite.

         On January 30, 2014, Goodman returned to Dr. Lynch and had discussions about neck and back pain. Dr. Lynch gave Goodman a note indicating he could return to work “when testing is concluded” and noted “cervical/lumbar radiculopathy.” Dr. Lynch referred Goodman to Oak Ridge Neurosurgery.

         On February 14, 2014, the testing ordered by Dr. Lynch was completed. On February 18, 2014, Dr. Lynch noted that the MRI revealed that Goodman had arthritis in his neck and his back “looked ok.” Dr. Lynch referred Goodman to Dr. Maccree at Oak Ridge Neurosurgery.

         On February 19, 2014, Goodman saw Dr. Willett complaining of dizziness and hearing problems. Goodman made no complaints of neck or back pain, and received no treatment for neck or back pain on that occasion.

         Goodman's sick leave exhausted on February 19, 2014. Goodman did not return to work, nor did he request any vacation time after his sick leave expired. The City avers that Goodman was required to ask for vacation time in advance, failed to do so, and the City considered him to have abandoned his job. On February 27, 2014, the City sent a letter to Goodman advising that his employment was terminated due to ...


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