United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Greeneville Division
MATTHEW A. MCMURRAY, Plaintiff,
EASTMAN CHEMICAL COMPANY, Defendant.
Jordan, United States District Judge
matter is before the Court on Defendant's Motion for
Summary Judgment [doc. 13], Defendant's Brief Supporting
the Motion [doc. 14], Plaintiff's Response [doc. 19],
Defendant's Reply [doc. 22], and Plaintiff's
Sur-Reply [doc. 27]. For the reasons herein, the Court will
deny Defendant's motion.
Matthew A. McMurray is a former employee of Defendant Eastman
Chemical Company (“Eastman”), where he worked as
a boiler auxiliary operator. [Pl.'s Dep., doc. 15-4, at
8:11-20; Pl.'s Aff., doc. 21, ¶ 2]. On June 10, 2013,
Mr. McMurray became ill and missed work, and early in the
next day, he emailed his supervisor and notified him of his
intention to take thirty-six hours of medical leave under the
Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), 29 U.S.C.
§ 2601. [Email, doc. 20-1, at 1]. Mr. McMurray informed
him that he planned “to have FMLA papers filled
out.” [Id.]. In a reply email, his supervisor
wrote, “OK.” [Pl.'s Aff. ¶ 3].
13, 2013, Mr. McMurray visited his physician's office and
saw a nurse practitioner, Dawn Smith, who diagnosed him with
a viral infection and prescribed medication for him. [FMLA
Certification Form, doc. 20-2, at 1]. On Mr. McMurray's
behalf, she completed an FMLA Certification Form, in which
she verified his illness and noted that he is unable to
perform his job because of his illness. [Id.]. Mr.
McMurray asked her to send the form to his employer.
[Pl.'s Aff. ¶ 4]. Although Mr. McMurray was aware
that Eastman's FMLA Policy [doc. 20-4] allowed him to
wait to submit his FMLA form until after he returned to work,
chose to send it in early “in order to fully
protect” himself. [Pl.'s Aff. ¶ 10;
see FMLA Policy at 1]. The office's staff told
him that it mailed the form to Eastman. [Pl.'s Aff.
Mr. McMurray's absence from work, Eastman continued to
pay him his regular wages, [Earnings Statement, doc. 15-16,
at 1-5], under its Short-Term Disability Plan
(“Plan”) [doc. 15-17], whose benefits to
employees include “continuation of all or a portion
of” their salary when they are “unable to work
because of a non-occupational illness, ” [id.
at 1]. Under the Plan, Eastman's employees become
eligible for benefits if they are “unable, due
to a medical condition, to perform [their] regular duties,
” so long as their work did not create the condition.
[Plan at 2]. “In all cases of disability lasting 36 or
more work hours, ” employees must provide Eastman with
medical evidence that confirms their disability, “no
later than 20 days after Eastman requests [it].”
[Id. at 3]. Also, they must furnish Eastman with
certain documents no later than two days after it requests
them, including: (1) a Medical Evaluation Report Form TED
10975 (“MERF”), (2) a release of their medical
information, and (3) any other documents necessary for
Eastman to validate the existence of a disability.
[Id. at 3].
learning that Mr. McMurray had missed more than thirty-six
hours of work because of an illness, Heather Robinson, a
nurse in Eastman's Work Reentry Department, mailed a Work
Reentry Packet to his address on file. [Robinson Decl., doc.
15-2, ¶ 2]. The packet, which she shipped to him on June
17, 2013, contained “information on how to remain
compliant with Eastman's Short-Term Disability program,
” a MERF, and FMLA paperwork. [Id.]. He
received the packet. [Pl.'s Dep. at 15:8-23; Pl.'s
Aff. ¶ 13].
21, 2013, Mr. McMurray attempted to return to work.
[Pl.'s Aff. ¶ 6; Nurse Bowser's R., doc. 20-3,
at 1-2]. He reported to Eastman's medical department,
where April Bowser, a senior occupational health nurse,
examined him and decided to send him home. [Nurse
Bowser's R. at 1-2]. After her exam, she generated a
report in which she informed Mr. McMurray's supervisor
that Mr. McMurray has a “medical condition” that
requires not only his “absence from work” but
also “medical clearance prior to returning to
work.” [Id. at 1]. A few days later, he
revisited his physician's office, where a second nurse
practitioner, Jill Fleming, examined him and, like Ms. Smith,
she documented his illness as a viral infection. [McMurray
Chart, doc. 15-7, at 7]. Mr. McMurray presented a new FMLA
form to the office's staff and, once again, requested
that his physician complete it and forward it to Eastman.
[Pl.'s Dep. at 12:13-21].
1, 2013, he went back to his physician's office, where
Ms. Smith examined him again and prepared a Second FMLA
Certification Form [doc. 15-9] on his behalf. In the form,
she added a diagnosis-hypertension-and wrote that Mr.
McMurray is unable to perform “[a]ll job functions from
6/28/13 [to] 7-11-13.” [Second FMLA Certification Form
at 2]. Around this time, Mr. McMurray heard rumors that
Eastman was going to fire him, and he reacted by reaching out
to his supervisors. [Pl.'s Aff. ¶ 9]. They expressed
no problems with his FMLA leave, [id.], so Mr.
McMurray “believed that [he] was on FMLA-protected
leave, ” [id. ¶ 7].
in the month, however, Ms. Robinson spoke with him and she
explained to him that she had not yet received necessary
medical documentation from his medical providers;
specifically, she requested a MERF. [Robinson Decl. ¶
5]. She informed him that it was essential for compliance
with the Plan. [Id.]. Mr. McMurray indicated to her
that did not apply for disability benefits, and he was
unaware that Eastman was depositing these benefits into his
account. [Pl.'s Aff. ¶¶ 16, 18]. According to Mr.
McMurray, she identified no problems with his FMLA leave,
[id. ¶ 21]; instead, “her priority was
short-term disability documentation and not Family Medical
Leave papers.” [Pl.'s Dep. at 13:19- 20;
see Pl.'s Aff. ¶ 21].
Mr. McMurray asked Ms. Smith to complete a new FMLA form and
a MERF, and he personally delivered these forms to
Eastman's medical department, where he gave them to the
receptionist-a “mature gray-headed lady” who said
that she would transmit them to the proper person in the
department. [Pl.'s Aff. ¶¶ 22-23, 27, 32]. In
the past, he had hand-delivered his leave-related papers to
the medical department with no issues. [Id. ¶
In early August, he received an updated FMLA form and MERF
from his physician's office. [Id. ¶ 25]. He
hand-delivered each of these forms to Eastman's medical
department. [Id. ¶¶ 26-27, 32]. The
receptionist, “a different lady than before, ”
instructed him to place them in Ms. Robinson's mailbox on
the wall, and he followed her instructions. [Id.
into August, however, Ms. Robinson left a voicemail on Mr.
McMurray's phone, telling him that she still did not have
necessary medical documentation and that he needed to come in
to complete paperwork. [Robinson Decl. ¶¶ 6-8;
Pl.'s Aff. ¶ 27]. When he arrived at Eastman's
medical department on August 19, 2013, Ms. Robinson insisted
that she had “not received any [disability]
paperwork.” [Robinson Decl. ¶ 9]. She directed him
to provide Eastman with a MERF. [Id.]. He advised
her that, on two prior occasions, he had delivered a MERF to
Eastman, along with his FMLA forms. [Id.; Pl.'s
Aff. ¶ 32; Robinson Notes, doc. 21-8, at 3]. According
to Mr. McMurray, she said that Eastman “did not need
[his] FMLA paperwork” but “needed [disability]
papers.” [Pl.'s Aff. ¶ 32]. He replied that he
was not opting for disability benefits but only FMLA leave.
[Id. ¶ 31]. She then requested his signature on
a release form, which authorized Eastman to obtain his
medical records. [Robinson Decl. ¶ 10]. He cooperated
with her request and signed the release form. [Id.;
Pl.'s Aff. ¶ 32]. Ms. Robinson received his records
that day and found neither a MERF nor evidence of medical
restrictions. [Robinson Decl. ¶ 10].
following day, Mr. McMurray visited his physician, who
ordered him to undergo numerous tests. [Pl.'s Aff. ¶
38; Robinson Notes at 4]. Ms. Fleming completed a new FMLA
form and MERF, [Pl.'s Aff. ¶ 39], in which she
described Mr. McMurray's primary diagnosis as
“[u]ncontrolled” hypertension, [MERF, doc. 21-10,
at 1]. She also listed various work-related restrictions for
Mr. McMurray, including an inability to use a respirator,
[id. at 1], which was a regular part of his job,
[Pl.'s Dep. at 23:1-7]. She wrote that his restrictions
would remain in effect for one to two weeks, and she required
him to return for a follow-up appointment in three days.
[MERF at 1].
McMurray went back to Eastman's medical department on
that same day and handed his MERF and FMLA form directly to
Ms. Robinson. [Pl.'s Aff. ¶ 39; Robinson Notes at
4]. According to Mr. McMurray, she examined these documents
and “remarked that [his] doctor was putting [him] off
work for one to two more weeks until he could get the various
tests completed” and that “that was
‘fine.'” [Pl.'s Aff. ¶ 39]. She then
reviewed the MERF with the medical department's
physician; he stated that Mr. McMurray's physician would
have to complete his “next” MERF. [Robinson Notes
at 4]. He instructed her to “hold” his current
MERF “at this time.” [Id.]. Ms. Robinson
notified Mr. McMurray that his physician would need to
complete his next MERF, and he “[v]erbalize[d] [his]
August 22, before Mr. McMurray's follow-up appointment,
Eastman made the decision to end his employment. [Termination
Letter, doc. 21-4, at 1]. Eastman stated that he had “not
complied with the process of providing continuing evidence of
disability” until August 19. [Id.]. Eastman
also pointed out that his medical records, when it received
them on that date, contained “no indications [he]
should be out of work or written restrictions.”
[Id.]. Eastman therefore concluded that his absence
from work, from June through August, constituted “a
failure to adhere to the [Plan], ” which warranted his
termination. [Id.]. After discharging him, Eastman
discovered that he had also worked a pair of side jobs in
2013-one as the “own[er] and generat[or]” of a
Virginia-based newspaper and one as a cattle rancher.
[Pl.'s Interrog. Resp., doc. 15-25, at 2]. Eastman
maintains that his participation in these side jobs is an
additional ground for termination under the Plan, [Def.'s
Br. at 18], which “automatically cease[s]”
benefits “[t]he date you perform services for an
employer other than the Company, even if you were employed
with the other employer prior to the date your disability was
incurred, ” [Plan at 4].
McMurray has now filed suit in this Court against Eastman,
claiming it (1) interfered with his FMLA rights, in violation
of 29 U.S.C. § 2615(a)(1) and (2) terminated him in
retaliation for taking FMLA leave, in violation of 29 U.S.C.
§ 2615(a)(2). [Pl.'s Resp. at 2; Compl., doc. 1,
¶¶ 27-33]. Eastman moves for summary judgment on
both of these claims. The Court will now address
judgment is proper when the moving party shows, or
“point[s] out to the district court, ”
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986),
that the record-the admissions, affidavits, answers to
interrogatories, declarations, depositions, or other
materials-is without a genuine issue of material fact and
that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of
law, Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a), (c). The moving party has the
initial burden of identifying the basis for summary judgment
and the portions of the record that lack genuine issues of
material fact. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. The moving
party discharges that burden by showing “an absence of
evidence to support the nonmoving party's” claim or
defense, id. at 325, at which point the nonmoving
party, to survive summary judgment, must identify facts in
the record that create a genuine issue of material fact,
id. at 324.
just any factual dispute will defeat a motion for summary
judgment-the requirement is “that there be no
genuine issue of material fact.”
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248
(1986). A fact is “material” if it may affect the
outcome of the case under the applicable substantive law,
id., and an issue is “genuine” if the
evidence is “such that a reasonable jury could return a
verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id. In
short, the inquiry is whether the record contains evidence
that “presents a sufficient disagreement to require
submission to the jury or whether it is so one-sided that one
party must prevail as a matter of law.” Id. at
251-52. When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, a court
must view the facts and draw all reasonable inferences in the
light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Scott v.
Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007). “[T]he
judge's function is not himself to weigh the evidence and
determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether
there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson,
477 U.S. at 249. A court may also resolve pure questions of
law on a motion for summary judgment. See Hill v.
Homeward Residential, Inc., 799 F.3d 544, 550 (6th Cir.
FMLA entitles employees to an annual total of twelve weeks of
leave for numerous reasons including a “serious health
condition that makes the employee unable to perform the
functions of the position of such employee.” 29 U.S.C.
§ 2612(a)(1)(D). After the employee returns from FMLA
leave, the employer must restore him to his position or to an
equivalent position. Id. § 2614(a)(1). An
employer will be subject to civil liability if it
“interfere[s] with, restrain[s], or den[ies] the
exercise of or the attempt to exercise, any right provided
under th[e] [FMLA], ” id. § 2615(a)(1),
or if it “discharge[s] . . . any individual for
opposing any practice made unlawful by th[e] [FMLA], ”
id. § 2615(a)(2); see Id. §
FMLA allows employers to run an employee's FMLA leave
concurrently with their additional leave programs, Hicks
v. Leroy's Jewelers, Inc., No. 98-6596, 2000 WL
1033029, at *4 ...