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Askew v. Enterprise Leasing Co. of Detroit, LLC

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

August 27, 2019

LA'TASHA ASKEW, Plaintiff,



         I. BACKGROUND

         On February 14, 2017, Plaintiff La'Tasha Askew (“Askew”) filed a Complaint against Defendant Enterprise Leasing Company of Detroit, LLC (“Enterprise”) alleging that Enterprise violated her rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 (Counts I-II); Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (Counts III-V); and the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (“ELCRA”), MCL § 37.2202 (Counts VI-VIII). (Doc # 1) On December 21, 2018, Enterprise filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc # 34) Askew filed her Response on January 30, 2019. (Doc # 37) Enterprise filed its Reply on February 20, 2019. (Doc # 39) The Court notes that on January 10, 2019, the Court extended the briefing schedule, and the Response and Reply are deemed timely. (Doc # 35)

         The facts alleged by Askew are as follows. Askew is an African-American woman who was previously employed by Enterprise. (Doc # 1, Pg ID 3) She worked at various Enterprise locations in Michigan from July 2010 through January 2016. (Id.) She was promoted twice during her tenure with Enterprise. (Id.) While she was at Enterprise's Royal Oak location as a branch manager, she was supervised by Noah Fox (“Fox”), who allegedly discriminated against her because of her sex, pregnancy, and race. (Doc # 34-4, Pg ID 840-841) Although Askew claims that she repeatedly complained to Fox's supervisor, Vincent LaBella (“LaBella”), about how she was being treated by Fox, no actions were taken to remedy the situation. Askew additionally complained to her HR representative, Caitlin Rourke (“Rourke”), about the discrimination Plaintiff faced. (Doc # 37-18; Doc # 34-3)

         On or about April 5, 2015, Askew became pregnant, and soon thereafter, informed Enterprise of her pregnancy. (Id. at 4.) Askew asserts that after Enterprise was notified about her pregnancy, she received a series of unwarranted and pretextual write-ups. (Id.) Askew also claims that she was required to wash cars during her pregnancy because Enterprise remained short-staffed even though Askew had requested for months (even prior to her pregnancy) that Enterprise hire additional staff members to assist her with the branch's responsibilities. (Id.)

         On October 1, 2015, Askew took FMLA-qualified leave for the remainder of her pregnancy. (Id.) Askew's leave was approved with Enterprise in accordance with Enterprise's FMLA leave policies. (Id.) According to Askew, she was replaced by Chris Picklo (“Picklo”), a less-qualified white male, on October 19, 2015. (Doc # 37, Pg ID 1230) Following the birth of Askew's child, on December 2, 2015, she called Enterprise to inquire about when she could return to work. (Id.) Enterprise responded by requiring Askew to obtain clearance from her doctor before she could resume any of her former work activities. (Id.) Askew subsequently provided Enterprise with the necessary clearance from her doctor, and returned to work on December 28, 2015. (Id. at 4-5.) On January 26, 2016, Askew was terminated from Enterprise due to her alleged unsatisfactory performance. (Id. at 5.) Askew argues that her termination was a discriminatory action taken against her on the basis of her sex, pregnancy, and race.

         Askew seeks monetary and nonmonetary compensatory damages, exemplary and punitive damages, and lost wages and benefits, past and future, in whatever amount she is found to be entitled. (Id. at 14.) Askew requests that she be awarded double damages under the FMLA. (Id.) Askew asks that the Court enter an order reinstating her to the positions she would have had if not for her termination. (Id.) Askew additionally requests that the Court issue an injunction prohibiting any further acts of discrimination by Enterprise. (Id.)

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. Standard of Review

          Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedures provides that the court “shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The presence of factual disputes will preclude granting of summary judgment only if the disputes are genuine and concern material facts. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute about a material fact is “genuine” only if “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id. Although the court must view admissible evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, where “the moving party has carried its burden under Rule 56(c), its opponent must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986). Summary judgment must be entered against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. In such a situation, there can be “no genuine issue as to any material fact, ” since a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322-23. A court must look to the substantive law to identify which facts are material. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.

         B. FMLA

         Two of Askew's claims are brought forward under the FMLA, which states “[i]t shall be unlawful for any employer to interfere with, restrain, or deny the exercise of or the attempt to exercise, any right provided under [the FMLA].” 29 U.S.C. § 2615(a)(1). The Sixth Circuit recognizes two distinct theories under the FMLA: (1) the “interference” theory, and (2) the “retaliation” theory. Seeger v. Cincinnati Bell Telephone Co., 681 F.3d 274, 282 (6th Cir. 2012). Under the “interference” theory, “[i]f an employer interferes with the FMLA-created right to medical leave or to reinstatement following the leave, a violation has occurred, regardless of the intent of the employer.” Id. (internal quotations and citations omitted). But, under the “retaliation” theory, the intent of the employer is relevant, and the inquiry is “whether the employer took the adverse action because of a prohibited reason or for a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason.” Id.

         1. Interference Claim

         It is unlawful for employers to “interfere with, restrain or deny the exercise of or attempt to exercise, any [FMLA] right provided.” 29 U.S.C. § 2615(a)(1); Grace v. USCAR, 521 F.3d 655, 669 (6th Cir. 2008). To establish a prima facie case of FMLA interference, also known as failure to restore, a plaintiff must show that: (1) she was an eligible employee; (2) the defendant was 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 her intention to take leave; and (5) the employer denied the employee FMLA benefits to which she was entitled. Id.; Killian v. Yorozu Auto. Tenn., Inc., 454 F.3d 549, 556 (6th Cir. 2006). Employees returning from FMLA leave are not entitled to restoration unless their employment would have continued had they not taken FMLA leave. Grace, 521 F.3d at 669.

         Once a plaintiff establishes a prima facie case of FMLA interference, the burden shifts to the employer to provide a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason to justify its actions. Id. If the employer provides a legitimate reason, ...

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