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Benson v. Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency

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

October 29, 2019



          Nancy G. Edmunds, United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Damien Benson filed suit in this Court against his former employer, Defendant Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency, alleging violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) (Count I), Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”) (Count II), Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) (Count III), and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) (Count IV).[1] The matter is now before the Court on Defendant's motion for summary judgment on these claims. (Dkt. 15.) Plaintiff filed an untimely response to Defendant's motion, arguing that his claims pursuant to the FMLA and ADA should survive summary judgment. (Dkt. 20.) The Court held a hearing on the motion on October 23, 2019. For the reasons discussed more fully below, the Court GRANTS Defendant's motion for summary judgment in its entirety.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff began working for Defendant, a non-profit organization, on October 13, 2014 as a digital literacy specialist. In October of 2016, Plaintiff submitted a request for intermittent FMLA leave due to his chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (“COPD”), which required the use of breathing treatments. (Dkt. 15-2, PgID 109-114.) Plaintiff's request was approved. (Id. at PgID 105.) In February of 2017, Plaintiff was reduced from full-time to part-time work status. And in September of 2017, he was terminated.

         Defendant has submitted the affidavit of Yvonne Herman, who is the Chief Human Resources Officer of Defendant. (Id. at PgID 187-90.) Her affidavit states that Plaintiff's position was reduced from full-time to part-time because the digital literacy services offered by Defendant were being underutilized. (Id. at PgID 188.) She further avers that every summer, Defendant's budget is reviewed based on client needs and fund availability. (Id. at PgID 189.) In the summer of 2017, the services provided by the digital literacy specialist were still underutilized and thus the budget for the fiscal year starting on October 1, 2017 and ending September 30, 2018, allotted only $15, 500 for digital literacy. (Id.) Because Plaintiff's salary exceeded the budget allocation, a decision was made to eliminate the digital literacy specialist position and offer Defendant's clients digital literacy services using outside vendors. (Id.)

         Following his termination, Plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging he was discriminated against based on his age and disability and retaliated against for requiring FMLA leave. (Id. at PgID 192.) After receiving his right to sue letter, this suit commenced on September 20, 2018.

         In his deposition, Plaintiff did not testify as to any particular comment made by any of Defendant's employees regarding his FMLA leave, disability, sex, or age. (See Id. at PgID 148-52.) When asked if he had a conversation with anyone at Defendant in which he was told that he should not apply for FMLA leave, he stated “[n]o, I can't say they did.” (Id. at PgID 148.) And when asked whether his employee benefit plans were interfered with by Defendant, he stated “[n]ot that I can recall.” (Id. at PgID 151.) Also, when asked which supervisor or employee acted adversely towards him because of his disability, he testified “I can't say they did it officially. It's just the way I felt.” (Id. at PgID 152.) Plaintiff has also provided an affidavit in which he states, in relevant part, “I believe my supervisors implied[] they were frustrated with my request for intermittent leave related to my COPD” and “[s]hortly after my position was terminated, I believe someone else was hired to staff the Butzel Family Center location I taught at.” (Dkt. 20-6, PgID 464.)

         II. Legal Standard

         Summary judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) is proper when “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” When reviewing the record, “‘the court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in its favor.'” United States S.E.C. v. Sierra Brokerage Servs., Inc., 712 F.3d 321, 327 (6th Cir. 2013) (quoting Tysinger v. Police Dep't of Zanesville, 463 F.3d 569, 572 (6th Cir. 2006)). Furthermore, the “‘substantive law will identify which facts are material,' and ‘summary judgment will not lie if the dispute about a material fact is genuine, that is, if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.'” Id. at 327 (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). When considering the material facts on the record, a court must bear in mind that “[t]he mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the plaintiff's position will be insufficient.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252.

         The moving party bears the initial burden “of establishing the ‘absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.'” Spurlock v. Whitley, 79 Fed.Appx. 837, 839 (6th Cir. 2003) (quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986)). “Once the moving party has met its burden, the nonmoving party ‘must present affirmative evidence on critical issues sufficient to allow a jury to return a verdict in its favor.'” Id. at 839 (quoting Guarino v. Brookfield Twp. Trs., 980 F.2d 399, 403 (6th Cir. 1992)).

         III. Analysis

         A. Plaintiff's FMLA Claim

         Plaintiff asserts that Defendant interfered with his FMLA rights. Defendant argues that Plaintiff is unable to demonstrate a causal connection between the exercise of his FMLA rights and any adverse action taken by Defendant.

         The FMLA makes it “unlawful for any employer to interfere with, restrain, or deny the exercise of or the attempt to exercise, any right provided [by the Act], ” 29 U.S.C. § 2615(a)(1), or “to discharge or in any other manner discriminate against any individual for opposing any practice made unlawful by [the Act], ” § 2615(a)(2). The former statutory provision gives rise to what is known as the “interference” or “entitlement” theory of recovery under the FMLA, and the latter gives rise to the “retaliation” or “discrimination” theory. See Seeger v. Cincinnati Bell Tel. Co., 681 F.3d 274, 282 (6th Cir. 2012). Because the record shows that Defendant approved Plaintiff's request for intermittent FMLA leave and allowed him to return to work after taking that leave, this case is properly analyzed under a retaliation, not interference, theory. See Id. at 282-83. And to the extent Plaintiff argues Defendant interfered with his FMLA rights by requiring him to take paid time off rather than unpaid FMLA time, this is not a proper ...

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