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Milelli v. Collingswood Board of Education

United States District Court, D. New Jersey, Camden Vicinage

March 29, 2018

DAVID M. MILELLI, Plaintiff,
v.
COLLINGSWOOD BOARD OF EDUCATION; AL HIRD; et al., Defendants.

          OPINION

          BUMB, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE:

         This matter comes before the Court upon the filing of a motion for summary judgment [Dkt. No. 37] by Defendants the Collingswood Board of Education (“Collingswood” or the “Board”) and Al Hird (“Hird”, and collectively with Collingswood, the “Defendants”) seeking the dismissal of this matter in its entirety, and a cross-motion for partial summary judgment by Plaintiff David Milelli (“Plaintiff”) [Dkt. No. 40] with respect to Count Three of the Complaint, alleging interference with entitlements as guaranteed pursuant to the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, 29 U.S.C. §§2601, et seq. For the following reasons, Defendants' motion is DENIED, in part, and GRANTED, in part, and Plaintiff's motion is DENIED.

         I. Background

         This dispute arises from Plaintiff David Milelli's termination from the Collingswood Board of Education for allegedly discriminatory reasons.

         Plaintiff was hired by Collingswood as a plumber in November 2007. (Pl.'s St. of Facts ¶ 1). During Plaintiff's employment with Collingswood, Defendant Hird was the Supervisor of the Buildings and Grounds Department for the Board, and he was Plaintiff's direct supervisor. (Def.'s St. of Facts at ¶ 3). At all times relevant to this suit, Scott Oswald was the Superintendent of the Board, and Bethann Coleman served as the Board's Business Administrator. (Id. at ¶4-5).

         Over the course of Plaintiff's employment with the Board, he received yearly performance reviews. The reviews of Plaintiff's work were consistently positive, but beginning in 2011, Plaintiff's reviews indicated that his superiors were concerned with his absences and tardiness. (See Def.'s St. of Facts Ex. K-O, Q). In 2015, Plaintiff was late for work on several occasions and left work early on others.[1] (See Def.'s St. of Facts Ex. P). This led Hird to dock Plaintiff's pay a “handful” of times. (Deposition of Al Hird “Hird Dep.” T68:15-T69:9). When this approach did not improve Plaintiff's timeliness, Hird and Plaintiff implemented a system whereby Hird kept a running tabulation of Plaintiff's hours and Plaintiff either arrived early or worked late to make up for any deficiencies. (Id.; Def.'s St. of Facts Ex. S).

         Beginning in late October 2015, Plaintiff missed several days of work, ultimately resulting in his termination. Plaintiff: called out sick on October 27, 2015; took a personal day on October 28, 2015; called out sick on October 29, 2015; and took a vacation day on October 30, 2015.[2] (Def.'s St. of Facts ¶ 55; Ex. S). On the afternoon of November 2, 2015, Plaintiff's wife sent Hird a text message informing him that Plaintiff

ha[d] not been well and . . . [was] suddenly experiencing chest pressure and dizziness. We are on our way to the doctors where they said they would see him now. It has been a nightmare for all of us and I appreciate your understanding throughout all of this.

(Def.'s St. of Facts Ex. V). The following day, Plaintiff's wife sent Hird another text message informing him that “the Doctor has told Dave to be out for a week, ” and that “he has a follow up doctor's appointment on Monday” and “more testing this week.” (Id. at Ex. W). Hird responded by asking if the doctors had “said what [Plaintiff] is having trouble with” and requesting that Plaintiff's wife keep him “posted.” (Id.)

         On November 6, 2015, Hird sent Plaintiff a message requesting that Plaintiff, “upon [his] return . . . hand in [a] doctors [sic] note providing his [Doctor's] request for [Plaintiff's] absence.” (Id. Ex. X). On November 10, 2015, Plaintiff's wife sent a message to Mike Sinesi (“Sinesi”), Hird's assistant, informing him that “the doctor gave [Plaintiff] another week.” (Id. Ex. Y). Sinesi requested that she fax him Plaintiff's doctor's notes, but she did not do so. (Id.) On November 16, 2015, Plaintiff contacted Hird's office indicating that he was seeing another doctor and would be out for another week. (Hird Dep. T50:11-24). In response, Hird sent Plaintiff a message again requesting a doctor's note.

         On November 19, 2015, Hird recommended Plaintiff's termination to Bethann Coleman, and he sent Plaintiff a text message providing that “due to your lack of communication with my recommendation to contact me I am recommending to Dr. Oswald your dismissal from employment.” (Id. T51:21-52:5; Ex. Z). Plaintiff responded in an email to Sinesi the next day, attaching a letter addressed to Hird and notes from two doctors purporting to excuse Plaintiff from work for the period from October 28 to November 30 for “illness/injury.”[3] (Def.'s St. of Facts Ex. AA, BB). Hird sent Plaintiff another message scheduling a meeting for November 23, 2015 in Coleman's office to discuss Plaintiff's “employment status.” (Pl.'s St. Facts Ex. 13). Plaintiff unsuccessfully attempted to reschedule that meeting. On November 24, 2015, Plaintiff received a letter notifying him that his employment had been terminated. (Pl.'s St. of Facts 45; Ex. 19).

         Plaintiff filed a Complaint in this Court on February 22, 2016. On March 28, 2017, Plaintiff filed a motion seeking leave to amend the Complaint, which was granted on May 1, 2017. On May 2, 2017, Plaintiff filed the Amended Complaint, alleging (1) disability discrimination in violation of the NJLAD; (2) failure to provide reasonable accommodation in violation of the NJLAD; (3) interference and wrongful discharge in violation of the FMLA; and (4) perceived disability discrimination in violation of the NJLAD. On May 5, 2017, Defendants filed an answer to the Amended Complaint and on August 11, 2017 Defendants filed the currently pending motion for summary judgment. On September 5, 2017, Plaintiff filed his opposition to Defendants' motion, including a cross-motion for partial summary judgment on the issue of interference and wrongful discharge under the FMLA.

         II. Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary 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). However, a mere “scintilla of evidence, ” without more, will not give rise to a genuine dispute for trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252. Further, a court does not have to adopt the version of facts asserted by the nonmoving party if those facts are “utterly discredited by the record [so] that no reasonable jury” could believe them. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 373, 380 (2007).

         The movant “always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of ‘the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, ' which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)). Then, “when a properly supported motion for summary judgment [has been] made, the adverse party ‘must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)).

         III. ...


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