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Rose St. Cyr v. Brandywine Senior Living

June 20, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Joseph H. Rodriguez


This matter is before the Court on Defendant's motion for summary judgment. Oral argument on the motion was heard on May 15, 2012, and the record of that proceeding is incorporated here. For the reasons expressed on the record, and those outlined below, Defendant's motion will be granted in part and denied in part.


Plaintiff Rose St. Cyr is a former employee of Defendant Brandywine Senior Living, LLC. She brings claims against her former employer pursuant to the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, 29 U.S.C. § 2601 ("FMLA"), and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, ("NJLAD"). In short, Plaintiff alleges that (1) Defendant interfered with her right to take FMLA leave and terminated her in retaliation for exercising her rights under the FMLA; (2) Defendant failed to accommodate Plaintiff's disability and terminated her because of her disability in violation of the NJLAD; and (3) Plaintiff was terminated because of her African-American race in violation of the NJLAD.

Defendant provides assisted living services to elderly residents. Plaintiff began working for Defendant in July of 2006 at its Moorestown, New Jersey facility, Brandywine Senior Living at Moorestown Estates, as a Certified Nursing Assistant or "CNA" in the Reflections Unit, which serves residents with Alzheimer's disease and dementia. (Murphy Decl., Ex. A, Boyette Decl., Ex. E, St. Cyr Dep., p. 16-17, 31, 73, 77, 87.) At all relevant times, Plaintiff's shift was 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. (St. Cyr Dep., p. 87.) Pursuant to Defendant's Progressive Discipline Policy*fn1 , on January 4, 2010, Plaintiff received a verbal warning for excessive call-outs. (Murphy Decl., Ex. J.) The same day, Plaintiff was suspended pending investigation for not answering a door alarm that was sounding in the Reflections Unit December 29 into December 30, 2009. (Murphy Decl., Ex. L.) On January 7, 2010, upon completion of the door alarm investigation, Plaintiff was discharged for failing to ensure the safety of Defendant's residents, showing unsafe resident practices, and insubordination to her direct supervisor. (Murphy Decl., Ex. M.) On February 5, 2010, Defendant reinstated Plaintiff to her former position as care manager pursuant to a "Reinstatement Agreement," whereby Plaintiff was placed on probation for a period of ninety days beginning February 7, 2010. (Murphy Decl., Ex. N.) Under the Agreement, Plaintiff agreed that "Any violation of work rules or absenteeism will be cause for immediate termination." (Id.) On April 14, 2010, Plaintiff was placed on final written warning for yelling at her direct supervisor, Wellness Director Marilyn Morales, and treating Morales in a disrespectful manner on April 12, 2010. (Murphy Decl., Ex. O., Boyette Decl., Ex. O.)

In or around August 2010, Plaintiff was examined by Dr. David G. Nazarian, an orthopedic surgeon. (St. Cyr Dep., p. 17-18.) He diagnosed Plaintiff with bilateral knee degenerative arthritis, and determined that she would need total joint replacement surgery, which would keep her out of work for six to twelve weeks. Plaintiff alleges that she went to Defendant's Human Resources Department on August 9, 2010 to request medical leave for her surgery. (St. Cyr Dep., p. 18.) She was informed that the Director of Nursing, Catherine Dallman, would have to approve the leave request. (St. Cyr Dep., p. 18.) Defendant advised Plaintiff of the proper procedure for requesting leave, and provided her with the requisite request forms, one of which was to be completed by Plaintiff's physician. (St. Cyr Dep., p. 19; Pelliccione Dep., p. 11-12.) Defendant contends that Plaintiff never returned the completed FMLA documents. (Boyette Decl., Ex. A, Def. Answer to Interrog. 16; Pelliccione Dep., p. 13.) However, the record includes a "Certification of Health Care Provider (FMLA and NJFLA)" that appears to have been signed by Nazarian on August 26, 2010. (Murphy Decl., Ex. R.)*fn2 Part B of this form appears to be a medical certificate in support of disability benefits, also completed by Plaintiff's physician and dated August 26, 2010, the date of her surgery. (Id., Boyette Decl., Ex. V.)

On August 17, 2010, Plaintiff presented Dallman and Jacqueline Pelliccione, Human Resources Director, with an August 16, 2010 note from Dr. Nazarian detailing Plaintiff's need for medical leave beginning August 26, 2010 as a result of her upcoming knee surgery. (St. Cyr Dep., p. 22.) The note also stated, "any assistance you could provide Ms. St. Cyr with her disability at this time would be both appreciated and appropriate." (Murphy Decl., Ex. P, Boyette Decl., Ex. C.) Dallman signed off on Plaintiff's Request for Leave of Absence form that day. (St. Cyr Dep., p. 22-23, 132-34; Dallman Dep., p. 14.) At that time, Dallman also signed off on a Time-Off Request Form submitted by Plaintiff, requesting fifteen hours off from work on August 24 and 25. (Boyette Decl., Ex. G.)

Plaintiff alleges that Dallman called her at home that evening and indicated that if Plaintiff was going to take three months of leave, as opposed to six weeks, Plaintiff should indicate as much so Dallman could hire a replacement. Plaintiff informed Dallman that she was to be evaluated six weeks post-surgery, and her doctor would make a determination at that time. (St. Cyr Dep., p. 42-43; 127-28.)

On Wednesday, August 18, 2010, Plaintiff alleges that upon completing her rounds, she went to the sitting room, where a co-worker, Francine Allen, was watching a program on the Black Entertainment Television ("BET") network. Plaintiff sat down and after her co-worker left the room, remained in the sitting room with the television tuned to BET. (St. Cyr Dep., p. 24-25.) She has testified that her legs were hurting, so she took two pain tablets and sat down to wait for the medicine to take effect. (St. Cyr Dep., p. 26.) Shortly thereafter, Ms. Allen left the Unit to pick up food she had gotten delivered to the front desk. (St. Cyr Dep., p. 26.) At that point, Plaintiff acknowledges she was responsible for watching all 32 residents. (St. Cyr Dep., p. 126.)

At approximately 11 p.m. on August 18, Reflections Coordinator and Plaintiff's direct supervisor Kelly Moebius entered the resident lounge and found Plaintiff alone watching television; at the time, two residents were wandering around the Reflections Unit. (Moebius Dep., p. 11.) When Moebius inquired as to whether Plaintiff thought the programming she was watching was appropriate for the residents, Plaintiff responded to the effect that "They don't watch it; it doesn't matter what is on."*fn3 (Moebius Dep., p. 21; St. Cyr Dep., p. 43-45.) At that time and up to Plaintiff's termination date, Moebius did not know that Plaintiff intended to take medical leave. (Moebius Dep., p. 10-12.) Moebius reported this incident to Pelliccione, who had also witnessed Plaintiff as she continued to watch television with her feet propped up on a chair. (Moebius Dep., p. 10.) Pelliccione said, "Hello," and Plaintiff responded, "Hi," and continued to watch the show.

Plaintiff contends she worked without incident on August 19 and 20, 2010. (See Boyette Decl., Ex. Q; St. Cyr Dep., p. 32, 157-58.) On Monday, August 23, 2010, however, Plaintiff alleges that one of her co-workers informed her that Morales had left a message that Plaintiff should go back home and come in the following day to talk. (St. Cyr Dep., p. 32-33.) On Tuesday, August 24, 2010, in a meeting with Moebius, Pelliccione, and Morales, Plaintiff was terminated. (St. Cyr Dep., p. 34.) The reason given was that while she was on "final written warning" for having two previous write- ups and working subject to the Reinstatement Agreement, Plaintiff was in the sitting room watching BET, an age-inappropriate channel for the Unit, when she should have been watching residents, two of whom were wandering around the Unit. (Murphy Decl., Ex. S, Boyette Decl., Ex. H; St. Cyr Dep., p. 35-36.) Morales has testified that she did not believe this was the type of incident for which an employee should have been terminated. (Murphy Decl., Ex. E, Boyette Decl., Ex. W, Morales Dep., p. 35.)

Plaintiff filed the Complaint in this matter on November 11, 2010. The Defendant has now moved for summary judgment, arguing that it had legitimate reasons, unrelated to Plaintiff's request for FMLA leave and unrelated to Plaintiff's alleged disability and race, for terminating Plaintiff's employment, and Plaintiff has presented no evidence that such non-discriminatory reasons were pretextual. Plaintiff opposes the motion.


A. Summary Judgment Standard

"Summary judgment is proper if there is no genuine issue of material fact and if, viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Pearson v. Component Tech. Corp., 247 F.3d 471, 482 n.1 (3d Cir. 2001) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986)); accord Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). The Court will enter summary judgment in favor of a movant who shows that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, and supports the showing that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact by "citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations . . . admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1)(A).

An issue is "genuine" if supported by evidence such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in the nonmoving party's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A fact is "material" if, under the governing substantive law, a dispute about the fact might affect the outcome of the suit. Id. In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the court must view the facts and all reasonable inferences drawn from those facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).

Initially, the moving party has the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once the moving party has met this burden, the nonmoving party must identify, by affidavits or otherwise, specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id.; Maidenbaum v. Bally's Park Place, Inc., 870 F. Supp. 1254, 1258 (D.N.J. 1994). Thus, to withstand a properly supported motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party must identify specific facts and affirmative evidence that contradict those offered by the moving party. Andersen, 477 U.S. at 256-57. "A nonmoving party may not 'rest upon mere allegations, general denials or . . . vague statements . . . .'" Trap Rock Indus., Inc. v. Local 825, Int'l Union of Operating Eng'rs, 982 F.2d 884, 890 (3d Cir. 1992) (quoting Quiroga v. Hasbro, Inc., 934 F.2d 497, 500 (3d Cir. 1991)). Indeed, the plain language of Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, 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.

Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. That is, the movant can support the assertion that a fact cannot be genuinely disputed by showing that "an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the [alleged dispute of] fact." ...

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