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Taylor v. J.C. Penney Co., Inc.

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

May 10, 2017

PAULA TAYLOR, Plaintiff,
v.
J. C. PENNEY COMPANY, INC., Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S PARTIAL MOTION TO DISMISS (DKT. 15)

          MARK A. GOLDSMITH United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Paula Taylor was an employee of Defendant J. C. Penney Company, Inc. from May 1981 until her termination in January 2016. In her amended complaint, Taylor alleges that J. C. Penney committed various violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (“FMLA”), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq. This matter is before the Court on J. C. Penney's motion to dismiss portions of count one of the amended complaint (Dkt. 15). The issues have been fully briefed. Because oral argument will not aid the decisional process, the motion will be decided based on the parties' briefing. See E.D. Mich. LR 7.1(f)(2). As discussed below, the Court grants the motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The Court has already provided a detailed factual background for this case when ruling on J. C. Penney's first motion to dismiss. See Taylor v. J. C. Penney Co., Inc., No. 16-cv-11797, 2016 WL 4988054, at *1 (E.D. Mich. Sept. 19, 2016). For the sake of brevity, therefore, the Court recites only the following background that is pertinent to the issues in the present motion.

         On June 8, 2015, Taylor had surgery on her lower back and took medical leave under the FMLA. Id. at *1. Taylor returned to work on August 12 with certain physical restrictions, including no excessive bending or lifting over twenty-five pounds, and she could only work four-hour days. Id. Although she was cleared to work fulltime with the same physical restrictions on October 13, Taylor used her Paid Time Off (“PTO”) from October 15 through 31. Id.; Am. Compl. ¶ 29 (Dkt. 14) (PTO “may be used any time an employee wants to be off work on a regularly scheduled day.”). Taylor was scheduled to return to fulltime work on November 2, 2015. Taylor, 2016 WL 4988054, at *1.

         When Taylor arrived to work on November 2, her store manager, Anita Szostek, informed her that Szostek could not accommodate the restrictions set by Taylor's doctor, and Szostek sent Taylor home. Id. Taylor continued to show up for work from November 2 through November 8, but she was told to return home each day by the acting manager and/or leader of the day. Id. According to Taylor, Szostek “allow[ed] the time and attendance computer attendance system to mark [Taylor's] time sheet as . . . Failure to Report.” Am. Compl. ¶ 22.

         During the week of November 2 through 5, Taylor contacted J. C. Penney's human resources department, which is administered by a group referred to as the “Powerline Specialists, ” to coordinate short-term disability benefits, which J. C. Penney offers its employees and refers to as Illness Recovery Time (“IRT”). Am. Compl. ¶¶ 27-28, 31. The Powerline Specialists initially told Taylor that she was not entitled to IRT, but that Taylor could use her PTO. Id. ¶ 31. The distinction between PTO and IRT is significant, says Taylor, because PTO “is a component of compensation that is earned and banked, ” such that any unused PTO time “is paid to the employee at the termination of employment.” Id. ¶ 29. On the other hand, eligible employees are entitled to a certain amount of IRT, which is not earned or banked through work. Id. ¶ 28. If the employee does not use the IRT, it is lost. Id.

         At a visit to Taylor's doctor on November 10, the doctor removed Taylor's physical restrictions, and she returned to work on November 11. Id. ¶¶ 38-40. On November 20, Taylor received a letter from the Powerline Specialists, which stated that Taylor was approved for IRT from November 3 through November 10. Id. ¶ 41. However, the November 2 absence was classified as PTO time, not IRT. Id. ¶ 75.

         Later, in January 2016, Taylor informed Szostek that Taylor was going to have knee surgery on February 11, 2016. Taylor, 2016 WL 4988054, at *1. On January 25, 2016, Taylor was fired for insubordination and for an incident involving a coupon that a customer had given Taylor on January 18, which was then supposed to be given to Taylor's sister. Id. After her termination, Taylor received a check that included a payout for her accumulated PTO time, which was less one day due to the PTO designation for November 2. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 54, 56, 76-77, 87-90.

         II. STANDARD OF DECISION

         In evaluating a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), “[c]ourts must construe the complaint in the light most favorable to plaintiff, accept all well-pled factual allegations as true, and determine whether the complaint states a plausible claim for relief.” Albrecht v. Treon, 617 F.3d 890, 893 (6th Cir. 2010). To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must plead specific factual allegations, and not just legal conclusions, in support of each claim. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-679 (2009).

         III. ANALYSIS

         In her amended complaint, Taylor asserts one count of FMLA interference and one count of FMLA retaliation. Regarding her claim for FMLA interference, Taylor advances three distinct theories that J. C. Penney allegedly interfered with her exercise of FMLA rights. Because J. C. Penney does not challenge the third theory, see Def. Br. at 11 n.5 (Dkt. 15); Def. Reply at 1, 3 n.2 (Dkt. 17), which is predicated on Taylor's termination for the anticipatory exercise of FMLA leave in February 2016, see generally Am. Compl. ¶¶ 91-97, the Court will confine its analysis to the first two theories of liability.

         Taylor first alleges that J. C. Penney interfered with her right to take intermittent FMLA leave when the Powerline Specialists “fail[ed] and, in fact, refus[ed] to timely certify her” for IRT for the time between November 2 to November 10, 2015. Am. Compl. ¶ 70. The untimeliness purportedly “cut short” Taylor's entitlement to further intermittent FMLA leave, id. ¶ 77, because Taylor “may have claimed additional weeks of FMLA leave” had the IRT request been timely certified, id. ¶ 74 (emphasis added). See also id. ¶ 72 (“Were it not for Powerline Specialists' failure to properly approve her claim for IRT, ...


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