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Dunlap v. United Outstanding Physicians, PLLC

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

January 30, 2017

Joyce Dunlap, Plaintiff,
v.
United Outstanding Physicians, PLLC; UOP, LLC; Assurance Payroll, LLC D/B/A Terra 1, Global HR Group; and Global HR I, Defendants.

          R. Steven Whalen United States Magistrate Judge.

          OPINION AND ORDER: (I) DENYING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [23] AND (II) GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [22]

          HON. GERSHWIN A. DRAIN United States District Court Judge.

         I. Introduction

         This is a Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) case. Defendants counterclaim with a breach of contract action. The relationship between the parties in this case (such as who is the employer and how many employees are employed) is vital to this case. However, those basic facts are unclear. Pending before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment [22] and Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment [23]. Defendants' Motion focuses on the FMLA and is fully briefed by both parties. Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment focuses on breach of contract. Defendants did not respond to Plaintiff's motion, nor did the Defendants mention it during oral argument. For the following reasons the Court will DENY Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment [23] and GRANT Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment [22].

         II. Facts

         This suit is brought against United Outstanding Physicians, PLLC; UOP, LLC; and Assurance Payroll, LLC, (collectively “Defendants”). The relationship between the three Defendants is unclear and subject to part of the dispute in the instant Motions for Summary Judgment. As best as the Court can tell United Outstanding Physicians, PLLC is virtually synonymous with UOP, LLC. Dkt. No. 35-2, p. 4 (Pg. ID 452). Together, United Outstanding Physicians, PLLC and UOP, LLC connect health plans with physicians in order to provide medical services. Id. The CEO of UOP, LLC is Dr. Yasser Hammoud. Id.

         Assurance Payroll, LLC (hereinafter “Assurance”) does business as Terra 1, Global HR Group, and Global HR I. Assurance and its affiliates provide payroll and other services to United Outstanding Physicians, PLLC and UOP, LLC. Joyce Dunlap (hereinafter “Plaintiff”) was employed as a “Physician Liaison”. Dkt. No. 35-4, p. 7 (Pg. ID 481). Plaintiff began working on October 15, 2007. Dkt. No. 27-2, p. 2 (Pg. ID 341). Plaintiff claims that she is unsure who her actual employer was.

         On October 3, 2013, Plaintiff's son was diagnosed with leukemia. Dkt. No. 27-2, p.4 (Pg. ID 343). On or about October 15, 2013 Plaintiff requested family medical leave. Dkt. No. 27-7, p. 2 (Pg. ID 366). On October 22, 2013 Plaintiff was granted leave and assured that she would not be dropped from her health insurance. Dkt. No. 23-3, p. 2 (Pg. ID 269). On November 1, 2013, Plaintiff's health insurance was discontinued. Dkt. No. 27-2, p. 5 (Pg. ID 344). This litigation followed. To date, Plaintiff has not returned to work. To avoid confusion, additional facts are explained during the Discussion section.

         III. Legal Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) “directs that summary judgment shall be granted if there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Cehrs v. Ne. Ohio Alzheimer's Research Ctr., 155 F.3d 775, 779 (6th Cir. 1998) (quotations omitted). The court must view the facts, and draw reasonable inferences from those facts, in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). No genuine dispute of material fact exists where the record “taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party.” Matsushita Elec. Indus., Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). Ultimately, the court evaluates “whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52.

         IV. Discussion

         The FMLA prohibits interference and retaliation. Interference occurs when an employer “interfere[s] with, restrain[s], or den[ies] the exercise of or the attempt to exercise, any right provided under [the FMLA].” 29 U.S.C. § 2615(a)(1). Retaliation occurs when an employer “discharge[s] or in any other manner discriminate[s] against any individual for opposing any practice made unlawful by [the FMLA].” 29 U.S.C. § 2615(a)(2). A. Interference “An employee may prove FMLA interference using the familiar burden-shifting framework articulated in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973).” Demyanovich v. Cadon Plating & Coatings, L.L.C., 747 F.3d 419, 427 (6th Cir. 2014). “[T]he employee has the initial burden of establishing his prima facie case; if he does so, the burden shifts to the employer to articulate a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for its actions; finally, the employee has the burden of rebutting the employer's proffered reasons by showing them to be pretextual.” Id. (citing Donald v. Sybra, Inc., 667 F.3d 757, 761-62 (6th Cir. 2012)).

         “To establish a claim for interference under the FMLA, a plaintiff must demonstrate that[:]

(1) he is an eligible employee,
(2) the defendant is an employer as defined under the FMLA,
(3) the employee was entitled to leave under the FMLA,
(4) the employee gave the employer notice of his intention to take leave, and
(5) the employer denied the employee FMLA benefits to which he was entitled.” Tennial v. United Parcel Serv., Inc., 840 F.3d 292, 308 (6th Cir. 2016) (citing Walton v. Ford Motor Co., 424 F.3d 481, 485 (6th Cir. 2005)).

         According to the Defendants, the Plaintiff cannot establish a prima facie case for interference. Defendants argue that the Plaintiff “cannot establish that she was an eligible employee, or that any of the defendants are covered employers, or that she was entitled to FMLA leave, or that she was denied benefits or rights.” Dkt. No. 23, p. 11 (Pg. ID 252) (emphasis in original). The Court will address each argument.

         i. Eligible Employee

         29 U.S.C. § 2611 puts forth the definitions for the FMLA.

“The term ‘eligible employee' means an employee who has been employed--
(i) for at least 12 months by the employer with respect to whom leave is requested under section 2612 of this title; and
(ii) for at least 1, 250 hours of service with such employer during the previous 12-month period.”

         In this case, it seems undisputed that Plaintiff worked at least 12 months and for at least 1, 250 hours. Dkt. No. 27, p. 15 (Pg. ID 324). Therefore, Plaintiff can establish that she was an eligible employee based on her hours and length of employment. Summary judgement on this element is thus improper.

         ii. Covered Employer and Entitlement to Leave

         The closer issues are who employed the Plaintiff and how many employees were employed. If the number of employees is less than 50, Plaintiff is not entitled to leave and this claim must fail.

         The FMLA explains:

“The term ‘eligible employee' does not ...

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