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Blades v. Burlington County Jail/Burlington County

February 28, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Jerome B. Simandle


This matter comes before the Court upon several motions including cross-motions for summary judgment and a motion for intervention. This matter originates from an action brought by Plaintiff Robert Blades ("Plaintiff" or "Blades") who was previously employed with the Burlington County Corrections Department ("BCCD" or "Defendant"). Plaintiff has two claims remaining from his original Complaint after this Court's August 3, 2004 Opinion and Order (the "August 3 Order"): (1) that he was unlawfully sanctioned and wrongfully terminated by the BCCD in retaliation for his efforts to seek reasonable accommodations for his disability (brought under Title V, sec. 503 of the Americans with Disabilities Act (the "ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12203); and (2) that the BCCD retaliated against him when they terminated him in violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. § 2917. For the reasons discussed below, Defendant's motion for summary judgment will be granted. In addition, Plaintiff's cross-motion for summary judgment and motion for intervention will be denied.


A. Plaintiff's Medical Condition and Work History

Plaintiff Robert Blades was a corrections officer with the BCCD at the Burlington County Jail from January 18, 1994, to April 10, 2000. (Pl.'s Amended Complaint ("FAC") ¶ 4.) Plaintiff sustained back injuries while working and on May 5, 1997, he requested four weeks of light duty and that the BCCD allow him to use a high back chair due to his back condition. (FAC ¶ 27-30.) This request was granted. (Deposition Transcript of Robert Blades at 63, Def.'s Ex. E; Aff. of Warden Juel Cole, Def.'s Ex. J.) The Correction Department's light duty policy, which was developed for the purpose of lessening the financial hardship to injured employees, consisted of desk work in lieu of the normal, more physical tasks required of a full duty corrections officer. According to the light duty policy, the amount of time a corrections officer could remain on light duty was limited to a period of six weeks. (Light Duty Policy, Def.'s Ex. L.) Plaintiff's request for light duty was granted but his request for a high back chair was denied for security reasons. (FAC ¶ 26.)

On June 6, 1997, at the end of the four week light duty period, Plaintiff sought to extend his light duties for an additional two months. (FAC ¶¶ 32, 35; Cole Aff. ¶ 12.) This request was partially granted, and Plaintiff was granted an additional two weeks of light duty. (Cole Aff. ¶ 12.) On June 18, 1997, Plaintiff was instructed that he had to either return to full duty work or take a leave of absence without pay until such time as he was able to return to work and perform the essential functions of his job as a corrections officer. (Id.) On June 18, 1997 and June 22, 1997, Plaintiff submitted doctor's notes approving him to return to work at full duty status. (FAC ¶¶ 41, 42.)

On June 20, 1997, Plaintiff requested and was granted a leave of absence without pay. (Id.) On July 8, 1997, Plaintiff requested that BCCD extend his leave of absence until September 20, 1997, due to impending back surgery. (Id. ¶ 45.) Defendant partially granted Plaintiff's request and he was ordered to return to work on August 11, 1997. (Id. ¶ 45.) Because he failed to return to work after August 11, 1997, he was disciplined. Finally, on September 20, 1997, Plaintiff received approval for an additional leave. After September 20, 1997, Plaintiff remained absent from work until January 4, 1998 on approved leaves of absence without pay. (Id. ¶ 50, 51.)

B. Plaintiff's Disciplinary History

Plaintiff testified that, at the beginning of his employment, he received and read a manual setting forth the policies and procedures of the Corrections Department of the BCCD. (Blades Dep. Tr. 26.) Specifically, Section V, Article I of the "Burlington County Corrections Department Rules and Regulations for Custody Personnel, Staff and Contract Services Personnel" (the "Rules and Regulations") states that an officer shall not be absent from duty without proper authority nor absent from duty without notice. (Rules and Regulations, Def.'s Ex. at F.) Moreover, the Rules and Regulations state that no officer shall abuse or excessively use sick leave. (Id.)

During the course of his employment, Plaintiff was repeatedly disciplined for matters such as neglect of duty, insubordination and unsatisfactory attendance. (Memo of Augustus Mosca, Def.'s Ex. G.) Sanctions for violation of the Rules and Regulations ranged from reprimands to suspensions and would gradually increase according to progressive discipline guidelines. (Blades Dep. Tr. at 31.) A representative sample of Plaintiff's disciplinary history includes:

* a letter of reprimand for neglect of duty (July 8, 1994);

* a one-day suspension for neglect of duty (October 13, 1994);

* a two-day suspension for neglect of duty (June 2, 1995);

* a six-day suspension for neglect of duty (September 20, 1995);

* a six-day suspension without pay for insubordination and other violations of rules and regulations (April 18, 1996);

* a letter of reprimand for misuse of public property (November 19, 1996);

* a ten-day suspension without pay for violation of rules regarding the abuse of sick days (December 17, 1996);

* a reprimand for failure to return a qualifications inquiry (August 21, 1997).

Moreover, as Plaintiff admits in his deposition, Plaintiff was disciplined between four and five times between 1994 and 1995 for abusing the BCCD's attendance policy. Plaintiff has also received numerous letters and discipline warning memos between 1994 and 1996 including 28 letters of reprimand relating to days when Plaintiff was absent from work without calling, 19 letters for tardiness, and eight letters of reprimand for calling out when he had no sick time left.

Despite repeated suspensions, reprimands and warning memos by BCCD, Plaintiff continued to be neglectful of his duties, refuse orders from superiors and disregard Defendant's Rules and Regulations concerning his attendance. Specifically, in 1997 and 1998, Plaintiff was suspended for 20 days without pay for insubordination. In addition, he ...

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