United States District Court, D. New Jersey, Camden Vicinage
MICHAEL J. VAN ALLEN, Plaintiff,
PRINT ART INC., Defendant.
RENÉE MARIE BUMB UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Michael Van Allen (“Plaintiff”) filed the within
action against Defendant Print Art Inc., d/b/a Omega High
Impact Print Solutions (“Defendant”), alleging
violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act
(“FMLA”) and the New Jersey Law Against
Discrimination (“NJLAD”). Specifically, Plaintiff
asserts that Defendant violated the FMLA when, in January
2014, Defendant failed to provide Plaintiff the FMLA-mandated
notification of his right to take a job-protected leave in
response to his notice that he was suffering from a serious
medical condition. Plaintiff further asserts that Defendant
then failed to designate Plaintiff's FMLA-qualifying
absences as same, and instead fired Plaintiff due to his
absences which were FMLA-protected and NJLAD-qualifying.
has filed a Motion for Summary Judgment [Dkt. No. 18]
asserting that Plaintiff's FMLA claims and NJLAD claims
must fail because the medical condition suffered by Plaintiff
in January 2014 did not constitute a serious health condition
under the FMLA or a disability under NJLAD. Furthermore,
Defendant asserts that it did not deny Plaintiff any benefits
under the FMLA because Plaintiff failed to provide adequate
notice to Defendant that he was suffering from a potentially
FMLA-qualifying condition. Plaintiff has disputed these
arguments, and in addition to filing an opposition to
Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, Plaintiff has
also cross-moved for partial summary judgment [Dkt. No.
For the reasons set forth below, both motions are denied.
judgment shall be granted if “the movant shows that
there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the
movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A fact is “material” if it
will “affect the outcome of the suit under the
governing law . . . .” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute is
“genuine” if it could lead a “reasonable
jury [to] return a verdict for the nonmoving party.”
Id. When deciding the existence of a genuine dispute
of material fact, a court's role is not to weigh the
evidence: all reasonable “inferences, doubts, and
issues of credibility should be resolved against the moving
party.” Meyer v. Riegel Prods. Corp., 720 F.2d
303, 307 n.2 (3d Cir. 1983).
is in the business of providing commercial printing, art, and
advertising for clients all along the East Coast of the
United States. Def.'s Statement of Undisputed Facts
(“DSUF”) ¶ 2. On November 20, 2013,
Defendant hired Plaintiff as a warehouse worker and delivery
driver. Id. Plaintiff's job responsibilities
required him to stage, load, deliver, and document all
products scheduled for delivery on a daily basis for
Defendant. Given this nature of employment, Plaintiff was
also required to have a clean driving history. Id.
employee attendance policy expressly stated excessive
call-outs from work would result in employee discipline.
Excessive call-outs are defined as three (3) or more
unscheduled absences from work during a sixty (60) day
period. Id. ¶ 5. Between January 1, 2015 and
January 21, 2015 (Plaintiff's termination date),
Plaintiff had a total of five (5) unscheduled call-outs from
work. Id. ¶ 6.
avers that on January 19, 2015, he began to “suffer
from a serious rash appearing on his arms, neck, and
back.” Plaintiff's Counterstatement of Material
Facts (“CSMF”), ¶ 33. On that day, at 5:08
a.m., Plaintiff sent a text to his supervisor, Joseph
Fernandez, stating “Joe, my son has off of school for
the MLK holiday. I am going to take the day, to spend it with
him, and drive him home - as he stayed the extra night with
me. I will be in tomorrow at 7 a.m.” DSUF ¶ 13.
The next day, January 20, 2015, at 5:40 a.m., Plaintiff sent
a text message to Fernandez stating, “Joe, I tried to
leave you a voicemail, but the system wouldn't allow it.
I had a family emergency last night and got no sleep. I will
have to use another pto day unfortunately . . . so I can get
some rest. You can call me if you'd like, otherwise I
will be in tomorrow.” Id. ¶ 36. As is
evident from the texts, Plaintiff did not mention a rash in
the course of the day on January 20, 2015, Plaintiff contends
that he attempted to seek medical attention for his medical
condition. Id. ¶ 37. Plaintiff was able to
secure an appointment at MedCom with a new physician on
Wednesday, January 21, 2015. Id. ¶ 38.
on the same day, January 20, 2015, at 1:30 p.m., Plaintiff
sent a text message to Fernandez stating, in part,
“Joe, I tried to get an emergency apt. with my doctor,
however, she is on vacation. I broke out in rashes all over
my arms, eyes, neck. It has caused me to lose sleep from
intense itching. I have an apt with her the week I'm on
vacation to address this & my sleep apnea/breathing.
Until then I'll have to suffer through it. I tried my
best to be seen today.” Id. ¶ 39.
Approximately one-and-one-half hours later, on January 20,
2015, Plaintiff sent a text message to Supervisor Fernandez
stating: “Okay Joe, my doctors [sic] office called me
back. They can get me in at 2:30 tomorrow. I have to be seen.
I will have the doctor provide me with a note for the days
I've been out.” Id. ¶ 40. Defendant
terminated Plaintiff's employment on January 21, 2015,
due to excessive absenteeism. DSUF ¶ 24.
has moved for summary judgment on his FMLA Interference
claim, arguing no disputed facts exist. In opposition,
Defendant has also moved for summary judgment as to the FMLA
interference claim because: (1) Plaintiff failed to provide
adequate notice to it; and (2) Plaintiff did not suffer from
a “serious health condition” as defined under the
FMLA. The FMLA declares it “unlawful for any employer
to interfere with, restrain, or deny the exercise of or the
attempt to exercise, any right provided” in the FMLA.
29 U.S.C. § 2615(a)(1). Such a claim is typically
referred to as an “interference” claim, and is
acknowledged to “set floors for employer
conduct.” Callison v. Phila, 430 F.3d 117, 119
(3d Cir. 2005). To assert an interference claim, the employee
must show that he was entitled to benefits under the FMLA and
that he was denied them. Id. at 119 (citing 29
U.S.C. §§ 2612(a), 2614(a)). To invoke rights under
the FMLA, an employee must provide adequate notice to his
employer about his need to take leave. 29 U.S.C. §
2612(e)(2). In doing so, the employee “need not
expressly assert rights under the FMLA or even mention the
FMLA.” 29 C.F.R. § 825.303(b).
the leave is unforeseeable, the employee's obligation is
to “provide sufficient information for an employer to
reasonably determine whether the FMLA may apply to the leave
request.” Id. (emphasis added). This is not a
formalistic or stringent standard. Sarnowski v. Air
Brooke Limousine, Inc., 510 F.3d 398, 402 (3d Cir.
2007). “[W]here the employer does not have sufficient
information about the reason for an employee's use of
leave, the employer should inquire further of the employee .
. . to ascertain whether leave is potentially
FMLA-qualifying.” 29 C.F.R. § 825.301(a). The
“‘critical test' is not whether the employee
gave every necessary detail to determine if the FMLA applies,
but ‘how the information conveyed to the employer is
reasonably interpreted.'” Lichtenstein v. Univ.
of Pittsburgh Med. Ctr., 691 F.3d 294, 303 (3d Cir.
Defendant's first argument, the evidence is sufficient to
establish a genuine dispute as to whether Plaintiff gave
adequate notice. Plaintiff advised his supervisor on January
20, 2015 that he tried to get an emergency appointment with
the doctor and that he had broken out in rashes all over.
One-and-one-half hours later, Plaintiff advised that he had a
doctor's appointment the next day and would provide a
doctor's note for the days off. Although Plaintiff's
complaints to his employer were vague and sometimes (but not
always) entirely non-suggestive of any request for FMLA
leave, the interpretation of all of the communications is
exactly that: a matter of interpretation. It is not
appropriately resolved at summary judgment, be it through
Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment or
Defendant's. See Lichtenstein, 691 F.3d at 303
(“How the employee's notice is reasonably
interpreted is generally a question of fact, not
law.”). As such, Plaintiff's motion for partial
summary judgment is denied because he has not established his
right to relief on this disputed element of his claim.
to Defendant's second argument in favor of summary
judgment as to this claim, under the FMLA, a “serious
health condition” is defined as “an illness,
injury, impairment, or physical or mental condition that
involves-- (A) inpatient care in a hospital, . . . or (B)
continuing treatment by a health care provider.” 29
U.S.C. § 2611(11). A serious health ...