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Hewett v. Willingboro Board of Education

June 7, 2006

GALE HEWETT, PLAINTIFF,
v.
WILLINGBORO BOARD OF EDUCATION, MARVIN D. HOPKINS, ALOZNO KITTRELLS, JOHN DOES 1-10. DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Jerome B. Simandle, District Judge

OPINION

Plaintiff has moved for partial summary judgment as to liability on her Family and Medical Leave Act claims contained in Counts I and II of the Amended Complaint. Because the Court holds that there are material issues of disputed fact as to whether Plaintiff qualified for FMLA leave, the Court will deny the motion.

I. BACKGROUND

The Following Facts are not in Dispute

Plaintiff Gale Hewett signed an employment contract with the Willingboro Board of Education ("Board of Education" or "Board") on September 19, 2003, for a term of employment commencing September 1, 2003 through June 30, 2004. (Def. Ex. A.) Plaintiff signed another employment contract on September 1, 2004 for the same ten month term. (Def. Ex. B.)

Meanwhile, on October 4, 2004, Plaintiff allegedly injured her right foot following the packaging and transport of personal teaching materials and classroom supplies from McGinley Elementary School, where she had been a pre-Kindergarten teacher, to Twin Hills Elementary School, where she had been reassigned as a kindergarten teacher. Plaintiff visited her primary physician the very next day, and he arranged for her to see a podiatrist, Dr. Donna McAnespey. On October 7, 2004, Dr. McAnespey diagnosed Plaintiff as suffering from a stress fracture of the third metatarsal of her right foot. Dr. McAnespey placed Plaintiff's right foot in a "cam walker" which extended to her knee, and provided her with a note directing that she remain out of work until October 18, 2004.

On October 8, 2004, Plaintiff visited Twin Hills Elementary School to discuss her injury with the school's principal, Barbara Doneghy. Ms. Doneghy was not in that day, however, so Plaintiff left her the note from Dr. McAnespey recommending that she remain out of work until October 18th. Plaintiff also advised the school nurse, Brenda Carey, of her injury. Ms. Carey proceeded to inform the Human Resources Department of Plaintiff's injury, and arranged for Plaintiff to be seen by Dr. Nathaniel Evans. Dr. Evans evaluated Plaintiff's injury, and his diagnosis matched Dr. McAnespey's.

According to Plaintiff, the pain in her foot persisted and prevented her from working until October 12, 2004, at which time, at the advice of Dr. Evans, she returned to work with an assistant. Plaintiff continued to work until October 18, 2004, at which time Plaintiff's assistant was apparently removed at Ms. Doneghy's instructions. Plaintiff was working without an assistant when, on October 21, 2004, she further injured her right foot. The following day, Plaintiff reported her injury to Ms. Carey. Once again, Ms. Carey arranged for an appointment with Dr. Evans. After an x-ray and follow-up visit with another podiatrist, Robert J. Filoramo, it was revealed that Plaintiff had a full fracture of the third metatarsal of her right foot. Dr. Filoramo ordered that Plaintiff not work until a follow-up visit on November 22, 2004.

According to Ms. Doneghy, the Board received at least one written complaint and numerous visits from parents concerning Plaintiff's absences from work. (Doneghy Dep. Tr. at 10:6-12; 11:13-25.) On November 3, 2004, Defendant Alonzo Kittrells, the Superintendent of the Willingboro Public Schools, sent a letter to Plaintiff notifying her of the Board's intention to terminate her contract effective January 3, 2005.(Compl. at ¶ 19; Ex. D.)

Plaintiff filed this action on April 6, 2005, alleging violations under the Family and Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq., and New Jersey state law. Plaintiff subsequently amended the Complaint to include a claim under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, N.J.S.A. § 10:5-1 et seq. Defendants Marvin D. Hopkins, Executive Director of Human Resources and Administrative Services, and Alonzo Kittrells, Superintendent of the Willingboro Public Schools, subsequently filed a motion to dismiss the FMLA claims. By Opinion and Order dated March 15, 2006, the Court permitted the FMLA claims to proceed against those Defendants in their individual capacities.

Meanwhile, Plaintiff filed this motion for partial summary judgment. The Court has considered the written submissions by counsel for Plaintiff and Defendant Board of Education. No opposition has been received on behalf of Defendants Hopkins or Kittrells.*fn1

II. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is appropriate when the materials of record "show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). In deciding whether there is a disputed issue of material fact, the court must view the evidence in favor of the non-moving party by extending any reasonable favorable inference to that party; in other words, "the nonmoving party's evidence 'is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in [that party's] favor.'" Hunt v. Cromartie, 526 U.S. 541, 552 (1999) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986)). The threshold inquiry is whether there are "any genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of ...


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