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Zakaria v. MNP Corp.

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

April 11, 2017

KENAN ZAKARIA, Plaintiff,
v.
MNP CORPORATION, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (ECF #12)

          MATTHEW F. LEITMAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         In June 2015, Defendant MNP Corporation (“MNP”) fired Plaintiff Kenan Zakaria (“Zakaria”) as part of a reduction in force. In this action, Zakaria alleges that his firing violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”), 42 U.S.C. §12112, the Michigan Persons with Disabilities Civil Rights Act (the “PWDCRA”), M.C.L. 37.1202, and the Family and Medical Leave Act (the “FMLA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 2614-15. MNP now moves for summary judgment on all of Zakaria's claims (the “Motion”). (See ECF #12.) For the reasons explained below, the Court grants the Motion with respect to Zakaria's ADA and PWDCRA claims and denies MNP's motion with respect to Zakaria's FMLA claims.

         I

         A

         From May 27, 2013, until June 2015, Zakaria worked for the Beta Steel Group (“Beta”), an affiliate of MNP. (See Def.'s Resp. to Interrogs., ECF #14-6 at Pg. ID 188-190; Samantha Maziasz Dep. at 8, ECF #14-3 at Pg. ID 169.) Zakaria began his employment in Beta's shipping and receiving department but Beta later transferred him to its quality lab. (See Zakaria Dep. at 16, ECF #14-4 at Pg. ID 174.)

         Throughout his time at MNP, Zakaria suffered from a thyroid condition. (See Id. at 33, 43, ECF #14-4 at Pg. ID 179-80.) In May and June of 2015, Zakaria needed to attend medical appointments due to his thyroid condition. To ensure that he would be able to receive time off to attend these appointments, he asked his direct supervisor, James Eggleton (“Eggleton”), for the paperwork necessary to request leave under the FMLA. (See Id. at 26-28, ECF #14-4 at Pg. ID 177.) But Eggleton did not respond to Zakaria “in a timely fashion.” (Eggleton Dep. at 17, ECF #14-2 at Pg. ID 164).

         On June 18, 2015, Zakaria emailed Jim Dennis (“Dennis”), Beta's plant manager, to request the FMLA paperwork that Eggleton failed to provide him. (See Zakaria Dep. at 28-29, ECF #14-4 at Pg. ID 177-78; June 18 email, ECF #14-14.) In the email, Zakaria told Dennis that “with the health problems [I] have been having[, ] [I] am worried about losing my job.” (June 18 email, ECF #14-14.) When Dennis received Zakaria's email, he did not know anything about the health problems that Zakaria may have had, and he did not ask Zakaria any questions about those problems because he did not regard the problems as his “business.” (Dennis Dep. at 30, ECF #14-13 at Pg. ID 222.) Dennis did send Zakaria the FMLA paperwork. (See Id. at 31, ECF #14-13 at Pg. ID 222.) However, as detailed below, Zakaria never had the opportunity to submit the completed FMLA paperwork.

         B

         In early 2015, Beta's leadership decided that the company was overstaffed. (See Id. at 22-23, ECF #14-13 at Pg. ID 220.) During a management meeting, Beta's President, Scott Bernstein (“Bernstein”), and another senior official, Greg Barber (“Barber”), discussed the overstaffing with Beta's managers. (See id.). This discussion did not focus on specific units of the company. (See Id. at 23-24.) Instead, it was “more of a generic we have too much head count.” (Id.)

         After the meeting, Dennis took the lead in reducing Beta's head count, and he involved Anne Ventimiglio-Esser (“Ventimiglio-Esser”), MNP's Vice President of Human Resources, in that process. (See Id. at 24-26, ECF #14-13 at Pg. ID 220-21.) During a meeting with Ventimiglio-Esser at her office in Utica, Dennis and Ventimiglio-Esser discussed the “parameters” for the reduction in force. (Id. at 24-5, ECF #14-13 at Pg. ID 220-21.) They decided that attendance would be the sole criteria considered when determining which employees would be let go. (See Dennis Dep. at 25, ECF #14-13 at Pg. ID 221; Ventimiglio-Esser Dep. at 8, ECF #14-19 at Pg. ID 241.) Simply put, they decided to fire the employees with the worst attendance record.

         Ventimiglio-Esser says that she then used MNP's “time program” to create a spreadsheet showing the active employees with “the highest attendance points” (the “Selection Document”). (Ventimiglio-Esser Dep. at 22-23, ECF #14-19 at Pg. ID 244.) The Selection Document that Ventimiglio-Esser claims she created is attached as Exhibit B to MNP's reply brief. (See Id. at 22-23, ECF 14-19 at Pg. ID 22-23; Def.'s Reply Br., ECF #16 at Pg. ID 277, confirming that Exhibit B is the Selection Document referenced by Ventimiglio-Esser.) According to Ventimiglio-Esser, she and Dennis used the Selection Document to identify the employees with the worst attendance record. (See Ventimiglio-Esser Dep. at 23, 29, ECF #14-19 at Pg. ID 244, 246.) Ventimiglio-Esser maintains that the Selection Document identified Zakaria as one of the three MNP employees with the worst attendance records (see Id. at 22-23, ECF #14-19 at 244), and Dennis and Ventimiglio-Esser insist that they decided to fire Zakaria because he was listed among the three worst attendance offenders on that document. (See Id. at 18-19, ECF #14-19 at Pg. ID 243; Dennis Dep. at 27, ECF #14-13 at Pg. ID 221.) They made the decision to fire Zakaria on June 29, 2015. (Def.'s Resp. to Interrogs., ECF #14-6 at Pg. ID 190.)

         As described below, there is a serious question on this record as to whether Dennis and Ventimiglio-Esser relied on the Selection Document as they contend.

         C

         Zakaria filed this action in December 2015. Zakaria asserts three claims against MNP: (1) Unlawful termination in violation of the ADA; (2) Unlawful termination in violation of the PWDCRA; and (3) Unlawful interference and retaliation in violation of the FMLA. (See Compl., ECF #1.) MNP moved for summary judgment on November 4, 2016. (See ECF #12.) Zakaria responded on November 28, 2016. (See ECF #14.) The Court held a hearing on ...


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