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Karen Antone v. Nobel Learning Communities

January 19, 2012

KAREN ANTONE
PLAINTIFF,
v.
NOBEL LEARNING COMMUNITIES, INC., LISA REESE AND KELLY HONER DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Joseph E. Irenas

OPINION

IRENAS , Senior District Judge:

This case arises from Defendants' allegedly illegal termination of Plaintiff's employment for taking a protected medical leave of absence. The instant matter comes before the Court on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). *fn1 (Dkt. No. 12) For the following reasons the Motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

I.

The following facts are pertinent only for the purposes of this Motion to Dismiss. Defendant Nobel Learning Communities, Inc. employed Plaintiff Karen Antone from January 2002 through June 2005 and again from August 2007 through her termination in August of 2009. (Compl. ¶¶ 14-16) Defendants Lisa Reese and Kelly Honer were Plaintiff's supervisors. ( Id. at ¶¶ 8, 9 & 16)

In 2009, Plaintiff suffered from health problems including, but not limited to, "Cellulitis, Low CSF (cranal spinal fluid), chronic headaches/migraines," and complications from a prior vascular surgery. ( Id. at ¶¶ 17-18) These health problems caused Plaintiff to suffer physical limitations such as trouble stooping, bending and walking. ( Id. at ¶ 17)

On or about May 28, 2009, Plaintiff informed Human Resources Administrator Chris Duane that Plaintiff would need to take a leave of absence to undergo medical treatment in the hospital. ( Id. at ¶ 20) More than a month later, in July of 2009, Nobel sent Antone a Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA") certification form, which Antone and her physician promptly completed and returned. *fn2 ( Id. at ¶ 22) Specifically, Plaintiff's physician informed Nobel that Plaintiff anticipated returning to work on August 28, 2009. ( Id. at ¶ 23) At no time did Defendants take issue with this start date or inform Plaintiff of her rights under the FMLA. ( Id. at ¶ 28) Defendants did not even notify Plaintiff that she was entitled to take up to twelve weeks of FMLA protected leave.

Defendants did not further communicate with Plaintiff until late August. ( Id. at ¶ 24) At that point, Defendants informed Plaintiff that she would be terminated and replaced because her physician had not cleared her to work until August 28, 2009 -eight days after her FMLA leave would expire. ( Id. at ¶¶ 25-26) Prior to this exchange, however, Defendants had not notified Plaintiff that her leave would expire on August 20, 2009 despite Nobel's knowledge that Plaintiff qualified for FMLA leave. ( Id. at ¶ 28) Indeed, the only communication between the parties during Plaintiff's leave was the certification and the conversation with Chris Duane.

If not for this lack of communication, Plaintiff alleges she would not have missed the August 20, 2009 deadline because the last several days of Plaintiff's recovery were merely precautionary. ( Id. at ¶ 30) In support of this contention, Plaintiff's physician has submitted a certification that Antone could have been cleared to resume work by that date had they been informed of the August 28 deadline. ( Id. at Ex. A)

On June 23, 2011, Plaintiff filed the Complaint. On August 26, 2011, Defendants filed this Motion to Dismiss.

II.

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides that a court may dismiss a complaint "for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." In order to survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must allege facts that raise a right to relief above the speculative level. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2).

While a court must accept as true all allegations in the plaintiff's complaint, and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, Phillips v. County of Allegheny , 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008), a court is not required to accept sweeping legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations, unwarranted inferences, or unsupported conclusions. Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist. , 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). The complaint must state sufficient facts to show that the legal allegations are not simply possible, but plausible. Phillips , 515 F.3d at 234. "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009).

When evaluating a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the Court considers "only the allegations in the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, matters of public record, and documents that form the basis of a claim." Lum v. Bank of America , 361 F.3d 217, 221 n.3 (3d Cir. 2004). A document that forms the basis of a claim is one that is "integral to or explicitly relied upon in the complaint." Id. (quoting In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig. , 114 F.3d 1410, 1426 (3d Cir. 1997)).

III.

Plaintiff alleges two claims against all Defendants and four additional claims specifically against Nobel. Against all Defendants, Plaintiff brings claims for interference and retaliation in violation of the FMLA. Against Nobel, Plaintiff alleges claims for discrimination and retaliation under both the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination ("LAD").

A.

Relevant to this case, the FMLA provides that "an eligible employee shall be entitled to a total of 12 workweeks of leave during any 12-month period . . . [b]ecause of a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the functions of the position of such employee." 29 U.S.C. § 2612(a)(1)(D). A serious health condition is defined as a physical or mental condition that involves: "(A) inpatient care in a hospital . . . or (B) continuing treatment by a health care provider." *fn3 29 U.S.C. 2611(11).

During the medical leave, the employer must maintain coverage under any group health plan at equivalent levels. See 29 U.S.C. § 2614(c)(1). "After an eligible employee returns from an FMLA leave, the employee is entitled to be reinstated to his or her former position, or an equivalent one." Conoshenti v. Pub. Serv. Elec. & Gas Co. , 364 F.3d 135, 141 (3d Cir. 2004); see also 29 U.S.C. § 2614(a)(1).

To invoke the protections of FMLA, an eligible employee has different duties depending on whether the medical condition was foreseeable or unforeseeable. Foreseeable medical leave, such as births or planned surgeries, require the employee to provide the employer with at least 30 days' notice or, if treatment is to begin sooner, "the employee shall provide such notice as is practicable." 29 U.S.C. ยง 2612(e)(2)(B). On the other hand, "[w]hen an eligible employee needs to take FMLA leave that was not foreseeable, '[t]he employee need not expressly assert rights under the FMLA or even mention ...


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