United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
K. Majzoub United States Magistrate Judge
OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR
D. BORMAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Toby Hodnett worked as a machinist for Defendant Chardam Gear
Company, Inc. (“Chardam”) until he was fired on
November 7, 2014. Plaintiff alleges he was on medical leave
when he was fired on the basis of injuries he sustained in a
car accident the previous August. Plaintiff brought this
action against Defendant in the Macomb County Circuit Court
on November 6, 2015, and Defendant timely removed it to this
Court on February 19, 2016. Plaintiff asserts two claims: one
under the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”),
29 U.S.C. § 2615(a), and one under the Michigan Persons
With Disabilities Civil Rights Act (“PWDCRA”),
Mich. Comp. Laws § 37.1201 et seq.
the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. The
Court heard argument on August 7, 2017. For the reasons that
follow, the Court will grant Defendant's Motion as to
Plaintiffs employment with Defendant
had worked as a machinist for Defendant for nine and a half
years when Defendant terminated his employment on November 7,
2014. (ECF No. 18, Def.'s Mot. Ex. 26, March 24, 2016
Deposition of Toby Hodnett (“2016 Hodnett
Deposition”) at 29:5-6, 38:10-11; Ex. 15.)
August 21, 2014, Plaintiff was involved in a verbal
altercation with his superior, plant manager Erik Schmidt.
The altercation was memorialized in a document with the
heading “Internal Employee Correspondence” that
same day by Jennifer Taylor, another employee of Defendant.
(Def.'s Mot. Ex. 1.) In that document, Taylor wrote:
“8/21/14 . . . Toby was ranting about Erik the plant
manager telling him if he couldn't do his job to go home.
. . . Toby told me this would probably be the last time I
would see him.” (Id.)
deposition conducted on June 27, 2017,  in a third
lawsuit filed by Plaintiff Hodnett, Schmidt testified that
the altercation was over Plaintiff's complaint about
having to lift a particular piece of equipment:
We had, I would say, a huge disagreement that day on what
Toby should be working on. And, according to him, this part .
. . was too heavy for him to pick up. This part weighs four
pounds. And that's when, you know, that was kind of final
issue that I had, "If you can't handle this, I
can't have you here." And at that time, I don't
know of any medical restrictions or anything else. But
that's all I can say about that.
. . .
He said it had to do something with his shoulder. But, my
biggest issue was I wanted him to train someone else how to
do this operation. And he was unwilling to even hear of --
hear of it that day. He did not want to work with this other
. . .
I told him he needs to go home if he can't, you know,
handle [a] four-pound part. We cut metal.
(Schmidt Dep. 12:11-19, 13:14-18, 35:15-18.) Schmidt
testified that this altercation was the last time he and
Plaintiff spoke. (Schmidt Dep. 35:23-24.)
Plaintiff's car accident (August 21, 2014) and subsequent
Plaintiff was driving after leaving work later that same day,
his car was rear-ended by another vehicle. The collision
pushed Plaintiff's car into the vehicle in front of it.
(Def.'s Mot. Ex. 2 at Pg ID 290-92.) That evening,
Plaintiff went to the emergency department of the Henry Ford
Health System's hospital in Clinton Township, Michigan.
Plaintiff testified that the hospital staff ordered “a
CAT scan, I believe an x-ray and . . . some prescriptions for
pain pills, ” told him that “nothing was broken,
” and released him after a few hours. (2016 Hodnett
Dep. 32:20-33:5.) Plaintiff was also given a note from a
physician stating that he had been treated on August 21,
2014, and should be excused from work on August 22.
(Def.'s Mot. Ex. 3.)
notified Defendant on Friday, August 22 that he would not be
at work that day or on Saturday, August 23 because of the car
accident. (Def.'s Mot. Ex. 4.) Thereafter, Plaintiff was
absent from work on Monday, August 25 and Tuesday, August 26.
An “Internal [Chardam] Employee Correspondence”
dated August 25 lists Plaintiff's name and what appears
to be his employee number, and reads “won't be in .
. . no ride.” (Def.'s Mot. Ex. 5.) A similar record
dated August 26 simply reads “will not be in
today” (Def.'s Mot. Ex. 6), and Defendant
represents that Plaintiff called in on that date to relay
that message (see Def.'s Mot. at 2, Pg ID 261).
No reason was provided for that absence. Defendant then
asserts that on Friday, August 29, Plaintiff “requested
a vacation day for September 2, 2014 (which was the day after
Labor Day), ” and supports this assertion with another
“Internal Employee Correspondence, ” dated August
29, which contains Plaintiff's name and employee number,
and which simply reads “vacation day for 9-2-14.”
(Def.'s Mot. at 2, Pg ID 261; Ex. 7.) Unlike the other
“Internal Employee Correspondence” documents,
this one bears Plaintiff's signature. Plaintiff did not
return to work after August 29, 2014.
Plaintiff's purported leave period and termination
(September 2014 - November 2014)
affidavit dated June 15, 2017, Plaintiff avers that after his
initial treatment at Henry Ford Macomb Hospital, he
“kept hoping that [his] neck and back would heal and
feel better, but instead the pain continued and
worsened.” (Pl.'s Resp. Ex. 1, Affidavit of Toby
Hodnett at ¶ 3.) Plaintiff sought continuing treatment
at Michigan Spine & Joint Center, PC
(“MSJC”), and was treated
principally by Dr. Adebowale Adegbenro. (Hodnett Aff. ¶
October 1, 2014, Plaintiff submitted an application for
benefits under an insurance policy that he held with
non-party Auto-Owners Insurance Company
(“Auto-Owners”). On that
application, Plaintiff provided information about the August
21, 2014 accident and the treatment he received at the
hospital, characterizing his injury as “Neck (Whiplash)
and Arm Pain” and indicating that he expected to
receive additional medical treatment for it. (Def.'s Mot.
Ex. 10 at Pg ID 309-10.) In the section of the application
entitled “wage loss, ” Plaintiff represented that
he was not “on the job working” when the accident
occurred. (Id. at Pg ID 310.) Plaintiff wrote
“8-21-14” in the section called “Date
Disability from Work Began, ” and wrote
“10-17-14” in the section called “Date
Returned or Anticipate Returning to Work.”
successfully applied for lost-wage compensation benefits from
Auto-Owners, and in a letter dated October 16, 2014,
Auto-Owners notified Plaintiff that in order to continue
receiving those benefits past October 17, 2014, he would have
to submit a “disability slip from your treating
physician . . . [which] should include your current
restrictions and the duration of time you will require
reimbursement for lost wages.” (Def.'s Mot. Ex.
October 18, 2014, Plaintiff was examined by Dr. Adegbenro at
MSJC. Dr. Adegbenro's report regarding that visit stated
that Plaintiff “was advised by this office . . . not to
report for work” from October 18, 2014 to November 18,
2014. (Def.'s Mot. Ex. 12.) Dr. Adegbenro also indicated
in the report that Plaintiff “states he is not
[allowed] to work [with] restrictions (i.e. sedentary
work/light work).”(Id.) Defendant acknowledges
that it received Dr. Adegbenro's report on or around
October 18, 2014. (See Def.'s Mot. at 12-13, Pg
days later, on October 23, 2014, MSJC faxed a form called
“Recommended Work Restrictions” to Auto-Owners.
(Def.'s Mot. Ex. 13.) On that form, Dr. Adegbenro stated
that Plaintiff would require a work restriction of
“[n]o lifting over 15-20 lbs.” (Id. at
Pg ID 317.) Dr. Adegbenro also wrote that Plaintiff's
ability to return to full duty would be determined after his
next reevaluation, but that he could return to limited duty
as of October 18, 2014 “with restrictions if [this] can
be accommoDated: work.” (Id.) Lastly, Dr.
Adegbenro reiterated that “[p]atient states he will not
be allowed to work with restrictions.” (Id.)
Relevantly to this, Plaintiff later testified as follows:
Q. Was there a specific reason [the MSJC treating physicians]
might have told you during your visits why you couldn't
perform whatever jobs that you had had before?
A. Just that I might reinjure myself.
Q. Was there anything specific about your condition they said
prevented you from doing those tasks?
A. I'm not sure, a hundred percent sure.
Q. Did you ever try to return to work and ask for
accommodations maybe within a different position at Chardam
or any other company where you might have been able to get
different responsibilities that wouldn't have been so
physically demanding as your job was before?
(Def.'s Mot. Ex. 14, February 10, 2017 Deposition of Toby
Hodnett (“2017 Hodnett
Deposition”) at 61:4-17 (emphasis
November 7, 2014, “[h]aving had no contact with
Plaintiff since August 29, 2014” (as Defendant
contends), Defendant terminated Plaintiff's employment
via a letter written by company president Mike Brzoska. The
body of the letter read as follows:
As of today, November 7, 2014, Chardam Gear Co has terminated
Please contact Erik Schmidt (Plant Manager) to make
arrangements to pick up any personal items and to return any
property of Chardam Gear.
Per the policies of Chardam Gear your Insurance benefits will
cancel on 11/30/2014. At that time, Basic Cobra
Administration will contact you directly with regards to the
(Def.'s Mot. Ex. 15.)
responded in a letter dated November 13, 2014, but faxed to