United States District Court, D. New Jersey, Camden Vicinage
B. KUGLER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
MATTER comes before the Court on Defendant's
Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 37] dismissing
Plaintiff Deborah Muns' Complaint [Doc. No. 1].
Plaintiff's Complaint includes four claims: interference
with Plaintiff's Family and Medical Leave Act
(“FMLA”) rights (Count I); retaliation under the
FMLA (Count II); age discrimination under the New Jersey Law
Against Discrimination (“NJLAD”) (Count III); and
violation of the New Jersey Wage Payment and Collection Law
(“NJWPCL”) (Count IV). Plaintiff and her attorney
have agreed to withdraw Count IV. For the reasons discussed
in the following Opinion, the Court GRANTS
the Motion for Summary Judgment with regard to Count I and
Count II. The Court declines to exercise supplemental
jurisdiction over Count III.
a case about alleged FMLA interference and retaliation.
Plaintiff Deborah Muns was born in 1957. Complaint
(“Compl.”) [Doc. No. 1] at ⁋ 12. In 1978,
she applied to work for the Camden County Board of Social
Services (“CCBSS”). CCBSS first hired her as a
Clerk Typist. Id. at ⁋ 14. She took on several
positions over the next thirty-seven years. From
approximately 1997 until her retirement in December 2015, she
worked as a Human Service Specialist II. Def St. Mat'l
Fact (“Def. SOMF”) [Doc. No. 37-3] at ¶ 1.
her final year at CCBSS, Plaintiff faced medical and familial
challenges that led to her requesting leave. Her medical
challenges trace back to in or around 2012, when she was
diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. Compl. at ⁋ 19.
This condition caused her to suffer from severe joint pain,
swelling, and stiffness. Id. at ⁋ 20. Then, in
January 2015, her mother unfortunately became ill and died.
Id. at ⁋⁋ 21-24. In total, Plaintiff
applied for FMLA leave four times in 2015. The Court
considers the applications at issue below.
First FMLA Request: Care for Ill. Mother
applied for and received FMLA leave on January 6, 2015 to
care for her ill mother. Def. SOMF at ¶ 3. This period
of FMLA leave permitted care for Plaintiffs mother until
February 17, 2015. Just one day later, on January 7, 2015,
Plaintiffs mother died. Pl. St. Mat'l Fact (“Pl.
SOMF”) [Doc. No. 39], ¶ 5. Her mother's
passing ended her FMLA leave.
then requested additional time away from work to mourn her
mother's passing. CCBSS granted the bereavement request
and provided Plaintiff additional time off. Plaintiff
remained away from work on approved bereavement until January
14, 2015. See Dublin Deposition (“Dublin
Dep.”) [Doc. No. 38-2], 95:4-7. Plaintiff then used two
accumulated sick days and submitted a second FMLA request.
Second FMLA Request: Attend to Mother's Estate
submitted a second request for FMLA leave and was denied on
January 21, 2015. See Muns Deposition (“Muns
Dep.”) [Doc. No. 37-4], 75:15-78:15. In her
application, Plaintiff listed her now-deceased mother as the
“family member for whom you will provide care.”
Def. Exhibit B, (“Second FMLA Request”) [Doc. No.
37-5]. Plaintiff also provided a description of the proposed
“care” in her application. Id. Plaintiff
wrote that “[she] was ‘power of attorney' to
handle all of [her] mother's business and paperwork and
all necessary decisions - [she] was the only child able to
look after [her] mother for reason being 2 of [her] siblings
lived out of town.” Id.
ultimately denied this second FMLA request because
“administering an estate is not covered under
FMLA/FLA.” Def. Exhibit C, (“Notice: Second FMLA
Request”) [Doc. No. 37-6]. Just four days later,
Plaintiff submitted a third, and allegedly unrelated,
application for FMLA leave.
Third FMLA Request: Leave Due to Rheumatoid
January 25, 2015, Plaintiff submitted a third request for
FMLA leave for her own “serious health condition”
and was subsequently denied. Def. Exhibit D, (“Third
FMLA Request”) [Doc. No. 37-7]. This health condition
rendered her “unable to perform the essential functions
of her job.” Id. As such, she requested leave
from January 20, 2015 through February 18, 2015. Id.
provided a certification from a health care provider to
support her application. Dr. Pamela Traisak, a physician with
a specialty in Rheumatology, certified that Plaintiff
suffered from a “serious health condition” that
required treatment and caused incapacity for a continuous
period of time. Def. Exhibit E, Certification of Health Care
Provider, (“Traisak Cert.”) [Doc. No. 37-8]. Dr.
Traisak indicated that Plaintiff has “severe arthritis
in her lumbar spine and knees that causes pain and numbness
and affects her ability to function. She has difficulty
walking or standing. . . she also suffers from chronic
inflammation in her eyes. . .” Id. Dr. Traisak
estimated that Plaintiff's flare-ups, which prevented her
from working, occurred one-to-two times every one-to-three
months. The episodes also lasted two-to-three days.
doubted the validity of Dr. Traisak's certification for
several reasons. First, Plaintiff had lived with Rheumatoid
Arthritis since October 2012 and had never applied for FMLA
leave. Second, and more importantly, CCBSS questioned the
validity of her request because it “came so quickly on
the heels of her being denied leave to handle her
mother's estate.” Def. SOMF at ¶¶ 14, 16.
As such, CCBSS arranged for a second medical opinion from Dr.
Pinsky examined Plaintiff on February 3, 2015, and Plaintiff
discussed her job duties at this appointment. Id. at
¶ 18. While awaiting the results of the second medical
opinion, Plaintiff took vacation time from January 20th
through February 6th. Dublin Dep. at 95:8-9.
February 5, 2015, CCBSS notified Plaintiff that her third
request for FMLA leave was denied based upon the results of
Dr. Pinsky's examination. Def. SOMF at ¶ 20. Dr.
Pinsky determined that there was no medical necessity to
justify Plaintiff's FMLA request because her CCBSS
position was sedentary and her normal job duties could thus
be performed even with her arthritic condition. Id.
at ¶ 21. The letter further instructed Plaintiff to
return to work on February 9, 2015.
Fourth FMLA Request: Intermittent/Reduced Work Week Due to
February 12, 2015, Plaintiff submitted a fourth request for
FMLA leave on an intermittent basis for her serious health
condition and was subsequently denied leave. Def. Exhibit I,
(“Fourth FMLA Request”) [Doc. No. 37-12]. In that
request, Plaintiff sought intermittent leave until August 13,
2015. Def. Exhibit J, (“Fourth FMLA Request
Certification”) [Doc. No. 37-13]. Again, she included a
certification from Dr. Traisak. Id.
denied this request on February 23, 2015 based upon the
results of Dr. Pinsky's examination. Def. Exhibit K
(“Denial: Fourth FMLA Request”) [Doc. No. 37-14].
The letter indicated that Dr. Pinsky “found that since
the essential responsibilities of [her] job are sedentary and
that he did not detect any new or progressing medical
conditions, there was nothing to preclude [her] from
attendance at work on a full-time basis.” Id.
February 24, 2015, Plaintiff requested that CCBSS seek a
third medical opinion regarding her FMLA leave eligibility.
Def. Exhibit L (“Third Opinion Request”) [Doc.
No. 37-15]. Plaintiff understood that the third examination
was the last and binding opinion concerning her leave
eligibility. Def. SOMF at ¶ 30. She was granted
provisional leave pending the outcome of the third opinion.
Pl. SOMF at ¶ 32.
March 26, 2015, Plaintiff emailed Ronalda Dublin,
Defendant's Senior Personnel Technician, and asked if the
days she had missed due to her medical condition qualified
for provisional FMLA leave. Pl. Exhibit D, Request for
Provisional Leave (“Provisional Leave Request)”
[Doc. No. 38-3]. Dublin responded that she could use
provisional leave while waiting for the results of the third
medical opinion. Pl. Exhibit E, Response to Request for
Provisional Leave (“Provisional Leave Response”)
[Doc. No. 38-3].
about April 10, 2015, Plaintiff attended an evaluation with a
third physician, Dr. Barr. On May 14, 2015, Plaintiff
received a letter that stated, “Dr. Barr determined
that, although [she] does have medical issues, based on the
job duties that [she] described to him, and the results of
his examination, he did not see any reason why [Plaintiff]
cannot continue to work without restrictions.” Def.
Exhibit N (“Intermittent Leave Denial”) [Doc. No.
37-17]. Dr. Barr's evaluation was binding upon Plaintiff.
Further, the evaluation terminated Plaintiff's pending
requests for FMLA leave. Pl. SOMF at ¶ 34.
January 27, 2017, Plaintiff filed a Complaint [Doc. No. 1] in
this Court alleging various causes of action arising from the
facts above. Specifically, she claims that Defendant
interfered with her FMLA rights (Count I), retaliated against
her for attempting to exercise her FMLA rights (Count II),
discriminated against her because of her age (Count III), and
refused to pay her all the sick time she had accumulated
during her employment (Count IV).
Camden County Board of Social Services (“CCBSS”)
now moves for Summary Judgement on Plaintiff's
interference and discrimination claims. Defendant argues that
Plaintiff's interference claim fails as a matter of law
because the regulation that governs an employer's right
to seek a second medical opinion (29 U.S.C. §
2613(c)(1)) does not impose a reasonableness requirement.
Defendant also argues that any interference resulting from
alleged violations of the FMLA's regulations fails as a
matter of law because the undisputed facts demonstrate that
Plaintiff was not prejudiced in any way.
directs the Court to five specific occasions to support her
claim that Defendant CCBSS violated her FMLA rights: (1) when
Defendant required a second medical opinion and subsequently
denied Plaintiff's third request for FMLA leave, (2) when
Defendant denied Plaintiff's fourth request for
intermittent FMLA leave, (3) when Defendant failed to grant
Plaintiff provisional leave pending the outcome of the second
and third medical opinions, (4) when Defendant failed to
provide Plaintiff with a copy of the second ...