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Barnes v. Vibra Healthcare, LLC

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

May 26, 2015

FLORA BARNES, Plaintiff,
v.
VIBRA HEALTHCARE, LLC, Defendant.

Matthew S. Wolf, Esquire, Melissa A. Schroeder, Esquire, Matthew S. Wolf, Esquire, LLC, Cherry Hill, New Jersey, Attorneys for Plaintiff.

Brian D. Pagano, Esquire, Burns White LLC, Cherry Hill, New Jersey, Attorneys for Defendant.

OPINION

NOEL L. HILLMAN, District Judge.

In this action, Plaintiff, Flora Barnes, alleges that her former employer, Defendant Vibra Healthcare LLC, [1] doing business as Marlton Rehabilitation Hospital, interfered with her rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act (hereafter, "FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq., when she took maternity leave. Defendant moves to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) or, in the alternative, for summary judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56, asserting that Plaintiff fails to state a claim under the FMLA because she is not an "eligible employee" as defined by the FMLA.[2] Defendant also seeks dismissal of Plaintiff's claim for wrongful termination under New Jersey state law. Plaintiff opposes the motion with respect to her FMLA claim but does not contest dismissal of her state law claim.

The Court has considered the submissions of the parties and decides this matter pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 78. For the following reasons, Defendant's motion to dismiss will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff alleges that she was employed by Defendant as a Licensed Practical Nurse at the Marlton Rehabilitation Hospital for four years, working from 7:00 A.M. to 3:00 P.M. every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. (Compl. ¶ 3.) Plaintiff became pregnant in 2013 and, on or around June 5, 2013, took a leave of absence due to her pregnancy. (Id. ¶¶ 4, 5.) Plaintiff gave birth on October 22, 2013 via caesarian section. (Id. ¶ 6.) Plaintiff was then advised by her obstetrician on December 3, 2013 that she would not be able to return to work until December 17, 2013. (Id. ¶ 7.)

On December 6, 2013, Plaintiff contacted Joanne Cernava, the Director of Human Resources, seeking to extend her disability leave by two weeks because she had delivered via caesarian section. (Id. ¶ 8.) Plaintiff left a message for Cernava at that time and eventually spoke with her on December 9, 2013. (Id. ¶¶ 8-12.) During the conversation, Cernava purportedly advised Plaintiff that her position had been given to someone else because Plaintiff was only allowed twelve weeks of leave under the FMLA, which time had expired. (Id. ¶ 18.) Plaintiff contends that she was unaware that her twelve weeks of FMLA leave had expired or that her job was in jeopardy, as she was allegedly under the impression that her disability benefits and FMLA coverage only started once her child was born. (Id. ¶¶ 19, 21.)

Although Plaintiff's position was no longer available, she was offered a shift from 3:00 P.M. to 11:00 P.M. or the opportunity to work on a per diem basis, but Plaintiff contends she was unable to accept either position. (Id. ¶¶ 24, 25.) Plaintiff subsequently applied for baby bonding leave to continue a source of income, and received a letter of approval on December 21, 2013. (Id. ¶ 34.) Plaintiff has not, however, returned to work at Marlton Rehabilitation Hospital. (Id. ¶ 35.)

Defendant now moves to dismiss this action on the threshold issue of whether Plaintiff was an "eligible employee" under the FMLA, arguing that Plaintiff did not meet the requirement that an employee must work 1, 250 hours in the twelve month period preceding medical leave. (Mem. of Law in Supp. of Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss Pl.'s Compl. with Prejudice for Failure to State a Claim [Doc. No. 5-3], at 10.) In support, Defendant submits the affidavit of its Human Resources Director, Cernava, which states that Plaintiff worked 1, 095.5 hours from May 25, 2012 to May 25, 2013, and 1, 075.5 hours between June 5, 2012 and June 4, 2013. (Aff. of Joanne Cernava [Doc. No. 5-6] ¶¶ 6-7.) These hours were determined by reference to a report generated by Marlton Rehabilitation Hospital's time clock/payroll system, and the data was derived from Plaintiff's time clock swipes. (Id. ¶ 6.) Defendant has also submitted the report of hours worked from May 25, 2012 to May 25, 2013, which report demonstrates that Plaintiff worked 1, 095.5 hours during the designated time period. (Certification of Counsel in Supp. of Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss Pl.'s Compl. with Prejudice for Failure to State a Claim [Doc. No. 5-1], Ex. D.)

Plaintiff contests the calculation of her hours and submits her own affidavit to challenge the report submitted by Defendant. (Br. in Opp. to Mot. to Dismiss [Doc. No. 10] (hereafter, "Pl.'s Opp. Br."), at 2.) Plaintiff represents that the time clock did not always work, and managers on occasion had to sign off on the hours worked by employees. (Aff. of Flora Barnes [Doc. No. 10-1] (hereafter, "Barnes Aff.") ¶¶ 2-3.) Plaintiff thus contends that the time clock swipe system may not account for all of the hours that Plaintiff worked. (Id. ¶ 3.) Further, Plaintiff asserts that "[u]pon filing this lawsuit, it was [her] belief that [she] worked in excess of 1, 250 hours" because she recalled working on average more than twenty-four hours per week. (Id. ¶ 4.) Plaintiff also represents in her affidavit that she was told by Cernava that she was approved for FMLA leave when she filled out her FMLA paperwork on June 5, 2013. (Id. ¶ 5.)

Defendant acknowledges in its reply papers that the initial affidavit submitted by Cernava contained inaccurate information. (See Reply Br. in Response to Pl.'s Br. in Opp. to the Mot. to Dismiss of Def. [Doc. No. 12] (hereafter, "Def.'s Reply Br."), at 2.) Defendant has provided a second affidavit from Cernava in which she confirms Plaintiff's statement that the time clock system was not always accurate. (Second Aff. of Joanne Cernava [Doc. No. 12-1] ¶ 5.) Cernava asserts, however, that she now obtained a different report that includes adjustments for time clock errors. (Id. ¶ 6.) According to Cernava, the report demonstrates that Plaintiff worked 1, 103 hours for the time period June 2, 2012 to June 2, 2013, and 1, 092.5 hours during the calendar year 2012. (Id.) The report, therefore, purportedly demonstrates that Plaintiff did not work 1, 250 hours during the relevant time period.

II. JURISDICTION

Plaintiff brings this action against Defendant asserting claims under the FMLA and New Jersey state law. The Court has jurisdiction over Plaintiff's federal claim under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. The Court exercises supplemental jurisdiction ...


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