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Schummer v. Black Bear Distrib., LLC

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

August 15, 2013


Page 494

KARPF, KARPF & CERUTTI, P.C., Christine E. Burke, Bensalem, PA, Counsel for Plaintiff.

SHERMAN, SILVERSTEIN, KOHL, ROSE & PODOLSKY, PC, Jeffrey P. Resnick, Moorestown, NJ, Counsel for Defendant.


Page 495

HONORABLE Joseph E. Irenas, Senior United States District Judge.

This is an employment discrimination case. Plaintiff Troy Schummer was terminated by Defendant Black Bear Distribution, LLC (" Black Bear" ). Schummer brings claims against Black Bear and Defendant Jim Gross under the Family and Medical Leave Act (" FMLA" ) and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (" NJLAD" ). Presently before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment.[1] (Dkt. No. 15) For the reasons given below, the Motion will be granted.


For the purposes of this Motion, the Court resolves any factual disputes in favor of the Plaintiff Troy Schummer.[2] Black Bear is a food product cold storage and distribution company. (DSMF[3] ¶ 1) Schummer began working for Black Bear on February 26, 2007, in its shipping and receiving department. ( Id. ¶ 2; PSMF[4] ¶ 1) In October 2009, he was promoted to third-shift supervisor. (PSMF ¶ 2) His responsibilities included overseeing employees on the third shift, assigning employees product to take to trucks, and making sure the product was loaded onto the trucks in a timely manner. (DSMF ¶ 4)

Defendant Jim Gross was an Operations Manager and Schummer's direct supervisor from 2008 until Schummer's termination. ( Id. ¶ 5; PSMF ¶ 3) Schummer also reported indirectly to John Tsigounis, the General Manager. ( Id. ¶ 4)

In spring 2011, Schummer's mother was diagnosed with a tumor and moved in with him so that he could take care of her. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 7-8) She passed away on May 10, 2011. ( Id. ¶ 10) After she died, Schummer requested time off from Gross. He received five days of bereavement leave and took an additional week off using vacation time. (DSMF ¶ ¶ 8, 10)

Shortly after he returned to work, Schummer began exhibiting signs of depression and anxiety (PSMF ¶ 12), and after approximately one month, he began overmedicating himself with klonopin that his doctor had prescribed for his depression and anxiety. ( Id. ¶ 16-18) Around this time, he began missing work without explanation. After one such absence, Schummer called Gross and told him that he was depressed and overmedicating. (DSMF ¶ 14) Prior to this point, Schummer had not had any performance issues at work. (PSMF ¶ 6)

In response to Schummer's phone call, Gross contacted Kelly Burns, the Human Resources manager, to have her reach out

Page 496

to Schummer. (DSMF ¶ 15) Burns called Schummer, who also told her that he was depressed and overmedicating. ( Id. ¶ 16) Burns then discussed several options that Schummer had so that he could take time off and receive treatment for his depression. ( Id. ¶ 17) One of the options they discussed was taking leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (" FMLA" ). (PSMF ¶ 24) Burns explained that to take FMLA leave, Schummer had to have his doctor sign paperwork stating that could not work because of a serious health problem and submit that paperwork within fifteen days. (DSMF ¶ 17)

After Schummer decided to take FMLA leave, Burns provided him with forms for his doctor to sign. She also gave him paperwork explaining Black Bear's FMLA leave policy, which explicitly stated that Schummer was entitled to twelve weeks of FMLA leave. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 20-21) In addition, Burns referred Schummer to a doctor, Dr. Frederick Hawkins, who could provide treatment for him. Schummer had difficulty getting Dr. Hawkins to sign his FMLA form. However, after he told Burns about Dr. Hawkins's reluctance to sign the forms, Burns called Dr. Hawkins to explain Schummer's situation. Dr. Hawkins signed the form soon thereafter. ( Id. ¶ 22)

On the form, Dr. Hawkins stated that Schummer was suffering from severe anxiety and depression due to his mother's death. He also wrote that Schummer was unable to work from July 31, 2011, until August 22, 2011, because of his anxiety and depression. (PSMF ¶ ¶ 28, 33) Dr. Hawkins further certified that when he returned to work, Schummer would be able to perform his job functions without any restrictions. (DSMF ¶ 28)

Schummer also discussed his problems getting his FMLA paperwork filled out with Tsigouins over the phone while he was on leave. After that conversation, Tsigounis sent an email to Gross and Burns recounting the conversation:

If " you're a good guy and we want to keep to [sic] here" is being mad, sorry. I was firm that he must call me back. He first was telling me he wouldn't be able to get into his doctor and I told him he needed to right away. IF [sic] he doesn't call today, can we just release him?

(Pl.'s Ex. Q) Nothing further came from this email.

Schummer returned to work on August 22, 2011. (PSMF ¶ 37) From August 22 until September 19, Schummer appeared to perform his job duties without any difficulty. (DSMF ¶ 34) On September 19, he reported to the facility and worked his entire shift without being reprimanded or sent home. (PSMF ¶ 39) However, the next morning several employees told an incoming first-shift supervisor, Joseph Nealis, that Schummer had been sleeping on the job, was incoherent, and was slurring his words. (DSMF ¶ 39) Nealis relayed this information to Burns, who then asked for statements from employees who had worked with Schummer that night. (Nealis Dep. 13:20-14:11; Burns Dep. 52:4-13)

According to the employees who saw Schummer on September 19, he was nodding off, slurring his words, and was incoherent at times. He could not log onto his computer for hours and had difficulty standing. (Defs.' Ex. M; Sisholtz Dep. 26:4-6; Nealis Dep. 13:24-14:11; Morrone Dep. 22:10-23:3; Fanelli Dep. 21:2-22:22; Hoey Dep. 18:3-19:16) Several employees stated that Schummer was not ...

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