DE LUCA v. TRUSTEES OF UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA Civil Action No. 10-5919.
834 F.Supp.2d 282 (2011)
Teresa DE LUCA v. TRUSTEES OF the UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA.
United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania.
November 30, 2011.
Andrew S. Abramson , Abramson Employment Law L.L.C., Blue Bell, PA, for Teresa De Luca.
Corey M. Osborn , Joe H. Tucker, Jr. , Yvonne Barnes Montgomery , Tucker Law Group L.L.C., Philadelphia, PA, for Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania.
DALZELL, District Judge.
Teresa De Luca ("De Luca") brings this suit against her former employer, the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania ("Penn" or "the University"), alleging violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 2601 et seq. ("FMLA"). De Luca specifically alleges that Penn interfered with her rights under the FMLA and retaliated against her for availing herself of her FMLA-protected rights.
Penn has filed a motion for summary judgment, to which De Luca has responded and as to which Penn filed a reply. For the reasons set forth below, we will grant the University's motion for summary judgment.
I. Factual Background
Under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a), "[t]he court shall grant summary judgment 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," where "[a] party asserting that there is a genuine dispute as to a material fact must support that assertion with specific citations to the record." Bello v. Romeo, 424 Fed.Appx. 130, 133 (3d Cir.2011).
We will thus begin by reciting the undisputed facts in this matter and then consider the disputed facts that the parties have supported with specific citations to the record. In so doing, we will keep in mind that "[h]earsay statements that would be inadmissible at trial may not be considered for purposes of summary judgment," Smith v. City of Allentown, 589 F.3d 684, 693 (3d Cir.2009), and that we should not credit statements in affidavits that "amount to (i) legal argument, (ii) subjective views without any factual foundation, or (iii) unsupported assertions made in the absence of personal knowledge." Reynolds v. Dep't of Army, 439 Fed.Appx. 150, 152-53 (3d Cir.2011).
The parties agree on the essential details of De Luca's employment history with Penn. Since the parties allege many facts that are not relevant to our analysis, we will detail only those facts that pertain to our decision in addition to those essential to providing background information.
In December of 2007, Penn hired De Luca as the Interim Patron Services Manager at the Annenberg Center. Pl.'s Opp'n Mot. Summ. J. Ex. A at 38:1. Several months later, De Luca prepared her resume and applied for the permanent position. Penn hired de Luca as the permanent, full-time Patron Services Manager in March of 2008. Id. at 36:11-15. Her interim and full-time job duties and responsibilities were the same. Id. at 37:3-5.
Madison Cario, the Annenberg Center's Director of Operations, was De Luca's supervisor. Id. at 56:4-17. It is disputed whether Cario ever expressed any concerns about De Luca's job performance prior to De Luca's expressed need for any type of FMLA leave. Compare Pl.'s Opp'n Mot. Summ. J. Ex. E ¶ 1 (De Luca Declaration) with Pl.'s Opp'n Mot. Summ. J. Ex. H at 36:19-24, 38:17-22, 44:24-45:3 (Cario Deposition). De Luca's 2009 performance evaluation noted that she "consistently meets and frequently exceeds all of the established goals, expectations." Pl.'s Opp'n Mot. Summ. J. Ex. H at 45:4-17 (Cario Deposition). In a January 28, 2010 email, Cario thanked De Luca for her "flexibility and ... ability to pull everything off at the 11th hour." Id., Ex. E ¶ 2. No other Annenberg Center executive or Human Resources representative ever recorded any issue with De Luca's job performance. Pl.'s Opp'n Mot. Summ. J. 5. In De Luca's 2010 evaluation, she was rated as "meet[ing] established goals/expectations for the position." Id., Ex. H at 40:17-22.
On February 16, 2010, De Luca discussed her intention to take FMLA leave with Cario for the purpose of adopting her as-yet-unborn daughter. Id., Ex. A at 85:1-24-86:13. The next day De Luca spoke with Stuart Jasper, the Annenberg Center's Director of Finance and Administration, and said that she needed to take intermittent leave because she was adopting a child. Jasper stated that he would prepare the paperwork. Id. at 87:1-24-88:1-9. At this time, the to-be-adopted child's mother was expected to deliver on March 26, 2010. Id. at 88:19-22.
On March 1, 2010, De Luca advised Cario that her to-be-adopted child's expected delivery date would be on March 15, 2010. Id. at 90:12-19. She emailed Cario and Jasper and informed them that she had not yet received any word on her FMLA leave and she needed it to be processed. Id. Cario consulted with Susan Curran, the Human Resources Director for Provost Administrative Affairs. Curran advised Cario that she should ask for a more definitive schedule from De Luca. Id., Ex. K at 8:5-15, 16:14-24-17:1-2. Curran also reported that the University does not maintain guidelines for approving or disapproving proposed intermittent leave schedules. Id. at 17:7-12.
When De Luca's adopted child was born on March 15, 2010, the baby was found to be addicted to opiates. Id., Ex. A at 156:19-21. De Luca told Cario, Jasper, and Curran that her adopted child had this addiction. Id. at 180:22-181:8. De Luca also testified that she told these people nothing beyond that. Id. at 181:3-8. No one from the University ever asked for any documentation regarding the adopted child's condition. Id. at 175:21-176:1.
De Luca took one full week of FMLA leave following her adopted child's birth. On March 10, 2010 she received a letter from Penn regarding the status of her FMLA leave request.
Id. The letter also referenced Penn's Human Resources Policy No. 631 governing the University's FMLA policies and provided a Web link from which one could access the policy. Id.
On March 22, 2010, De Luca's adopted child was discharged from the hospital, id., Ex. A at 156:15-18, and the child was later under the care of Dr. William McNett of Jefferson Pediatrics.
On March 30, 2010, in an email to Cario and Jasper, De Luca sought a reduced thirty-hour per week schedule in the form of intermittent leave. Pl.'s Opp'n Mot. Summ. J. 12. On April 7, 2010, Cario advised De Luca that she could not approve the requested revised schedule as it did not meet the Annenberg Center's needs. Cario thus advised De Luca that her request had been denied. Id. Neither Cario, Jasper, Curran, or anyone else asked or advised De Luca to obtain documentation from a health care provider. Id., Ex. E ¶ 4.
At one point, Cario proposed another intermittent schedule to De Luca, but it required fixed hours. Id., Ex. A at 144:10-19. Cario's proposed schedule was not congenial for De Luca, id. at 159:4-22, and on April 29, 2010, De Luca advised Jasper that she could not continue to work under the current circumstances and requested continuous FMLA leave. Id. De Luca received a letter the next day provisionally granting her request for continuous FMLA leave beginning on May 7, 2010 pending De Luca's submission of "appropriate certification." Id., Ex. S.
De Luca was out on continuous FMLA leave for eleven weeks — until July 26, 2010. Id., Ex. A at 197:23-198:!5. Upon De Luca's return to work, Cario presented her with a document entitled "Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts Expectations for the Patron Services Manager" (the "job expectations document"). Id., Ex. T. At a meeting on her return date, De
Between July 26 and July 29, 2010, De Luca came to work and did what she was required to do under the job expectations document. Id., Ex. A at 250:20-251:3. On July 29 a meeting took place among Cario, Jasper, De Luca, and Swartz at the Provost's Office to review the job expectations document. Id. at 222:14-19. At this meeting, De Luca expressed her concerns about the job expectations document. Pl.'s Opp'n Mot. Summ. J. 21. She stated that she did not think she could fill the expectations the document outlined. De Luca concluded the meeting by saying that she felt that Penn was not working to try to find a resolution to her concerns. Id., Ex. A at 246:10-247:2, 250:4-11. Later that day, De Luca submitted a letter resigning as Patron Services Manager. Id. at 254:1-18.
On a motion for summary judgment, "[t]he moving party first must show that no genuine issue of material fact exists," Adderly v. Ferrier, 419 Fed.Appx. 135, 136 (3d Cir.2011) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986)), whereupon "[t]he burden then shifts to the non-moving party to set forth specific facts demonstrating a genuine issue for trial." Id. "`A disputed fact is "material" if it would affect the outcome of the suit as determined by the substantive law,'" J.S. ex rel. Snyder v. Blue Mountain Sch. Dist., 650 F.3d 915, 925 (3d Cir.2011) (quoting Gray v. York Newspapers, Inc., 957 F.2d 1070, 1078 (3d Cir.1992)). A factual dispute is genuine "`if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.... The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the plaintiff's position will be insufficient; there must be [significantly probative] evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff." Bialko v. Quaker Oats Co., 434 Fed.Appx. 139, 141, n. 4 (3d Cir.2011) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 252, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986)) (bracketed material in original). As already noted, we "draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, and [we] may not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence." Eisenberry v. Shaw Bros., 421 Fed.Appx. 239, 241 (3d Cir.2011) (quotation marks omitted).
In addition, our Court of Appeals has recently reaffirmed the "continued vitality and importance" of the sham affidavit doctrine. Jiminez v. All American Rathskeller, Inc., 503 F.3d 247 (3d Cir. 2007). Judge Smith's opinion for the Court noted that:
Id. at 253. Our Court of Appeals embraces a "flexible" approach to the doctrine, noting that not all contradictory affidavits are necessarily shams.
Our Court of Appeals has formulated this sham affidavit analysis standard as follows: "`[w]hen there is independent evidence in the record to bolster an otherwise questionable affidavit, courts generally have refused to disregard the affidavit.'" Id. at 254 (quoting Baer v. Chase, 392 F.3d 609, 625 (3d Cir.2004)). This corroborating evidence "may establish that the affiant
A. Plaintiff's "Sham" Statement in Her Subsequent Declaration
Paragraph three of De Luca's post-discovery affidavit, Pl.'s Opp'n Mot. Summ. J. Ex. E, ¶ 3, contained in De Luca's unsworn and un-notarized declaration signed on June 3, 2011,
We arrive at this conclusion for three reasons. First, De Luca's deposition was taken on March 24, 2011 — over two months before De Luca wrote her declaration. As stated in the Factual Background section, De Luca twice testified, under oath, that she solely requested intermittent leave because of the adoption of her daughter. But two months later De Luca abruptly changed her story, and, with no citation to any corroborating factual evidence in the record, she attempted to manufacture a genuine issue of material fact. Second, since De Luca cannot identify any corroborating evidence, she cannot establish that she was somehow "understandably mistaken" or not in possession of all the facts during her deposition. Only De Luca knew what her reason was for seeking intermittent leave, and her prior testimony twice unequivocally answered that question. Third, De Luca has not offered any explanation — let alone a satisfactory one — for the conflict between her subsequent affidavit and her prior deposition. Thus, we will not here consider paragraph three of her June 3, 2011 declaration.
B. Plaintiff's FMLA Interference Claim
The Interference Standard
De Luca claims that the University interfered
Though the statute and its implementing regulations allow for both continuous and intermittent leave, different statutory provisions, rules, and regulations apply to the use of each category of leave. Intermittent leave — the category of leave De Luca alleges Penn interfered with — may be requested pursuant to § 2612(b) which provides that:
The Fourth Circuit has summarized these provisions and distilled them into this rule:
Dotson v. Pfizer, Inc., 558 F.3d 284, 293 (4th Cir.2009); see also Maynard v. Town of Monterey, Tennessee, 75 Fed.Appx. 491, 493 (6th Cir.2003).
Our Court of Appeals has also commented on the FMLA interference cause of action in Sommer v. The Vanguard Group, 461 F.3d 397, 399 (3d Cir.2006):
Id. at 399.
The Fourth Circuit summarized this same principle when it wrote that "it is the employer's responsibility to determine the applicability of the FMLA and to consider requested leave as FMLA leave." Dotson, 558 F.3d at 293. And in Cavin v. Honda of America Manufacturing., Inc., 346 F.3d 713, 719 (6th Cir.2003), the Sixth Circuit fleshed out the list of elements required to mount an FMLA interference claim, unpacking our Court of Appeals's use of the term "entitlement":
Our analysis of De Luca's interference claim primarily focuses on the fourth element listed above.
Although the FMLA imposes a burden on the employer to investigate additional information as necessary to confirm the employee's entitlement, this duty is only triggered if the employee provides proper notice to her employer. If the need for the leave is foreseeable, then an employee seeking leave under § 2612(a)(1)(C) "shall provide the employer with not less than 30 days' notice, before the date the leave is to begin ... except that if the date of the treatment requires leave to begin in less than 30 days, the employee shall provide such notice as is practicable." 29 U.S.C. § 2612(e)(2)(B); 29 C.F.R. § 825.302(a).
Our Court of Appeals in Sarnowski spoke to the issue of sufficient employee FMLA notice. Sarnowski, cited above in note 7, involved an employee who did not dispute that he was required to provide his employer with notice. The central question in the decision was whether the employee in fact provided legally sufficient notice to entitle him to FMLA benefits. Our Court of Appeals surveyed the "notice standards" the Fifth and Sixth Circuits adopted, and set a "reasonableness" standard of its own:
The Seventh Circuit in Aubuchon v. Knauf Fiberglass GmbH, 359 F.3d 950 (7th Cir.2004) (Posner, J.), also addressed the adequacy of an employee's notice. It noted that "[c]onditioning the right to take FLMA leave on the employee's giving the required notice to his employer is the quid pro quo for the employer's partial surrender of control over his work force." Aubuchon, 359 F.3d at 951-52. Judge Posner's opinion in Aubuchon explains that the employee has a two-fold notice obligation: the employee must (1) demand FMLA leave, and (2) supply the employer with a reason to believe that the employee is entitled to such leave, unless the employer already knows that the employee has an FMLA-authorized ground for such leave. Id. at 952; see also Hayduk v. City of Johnstown, 580 F.Supp.2d 429, 455-56 (W.D.Pa. 2008) (citing Aubuchon extensively), aff'd, 386 Fed.Appx. 55 (3d Cir.2010) (citing Aubuchon), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 131 S.Ct. 1002, 178 L.Ed.2d 834 (2011).
Aubuchon specifically holds that:
Id. at 953. The court must thus treat the employee's demand for leave and the substance of that demand as two necessary conditions for adequate notice to trigger the employer's duty to engage in further investigation. Id. at 952-53 (collecting cases from the Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Eleventh Circuits in support of this proposition).
Aubuchon persuasively explains that "most leaves requested by employees are not based on a ground entitling them to leave under the FMLA, so that if [merely demanding leave without stating a reason] were accepted [as the standard for an employee's notice-giving obligation,] the consequence would be to place a substantial and largely wasted investigative burden on employers." Id. at 953. Aubuchon also cautions that "[e]mployees should not be encouraged to mousetrap their employers by requesting FMLA leave on patently insufficient grounds and then after the leave is denied obtaining a doctor's note that indicates that sufficient grounds existed, though they were never communicated to the employer." Id.
Given this framework for an FMLA interference claim, the jurisprudence stresses that an employee must give her employer adequate notice of her intent to take leave in order to satisfy an essential element of an FMLA interference claim. Thus, we proceed to a discussion of De Luca's interference claim with our attention focused on the adequacy of De Luca's notice to the University about her alleged desire to take leave predicated on the care of her adopted child who had a serious health condition.
Plaintiff's Interference Argument
Plaintiff premises her FMLA interference claim on Penn's failure to provide "De
Using Sarnowski and Aubuchon as guides, we must determine whether De Luca gave Penn the required notice that she was requesting FMLA leave to care for her adopted child who had a serious health condition. Such notice would trigger Penn's duty to request additional information from the employee's doctor or some other reliable source.
De Luca's claim of FMLA interference fails as a matter of law because she did not provide the University with the requisite employee FMLA notice. De Luca's demand for FMLA leave was not predicated on her need to care for a child with a serious health condition. Rather, she merely stated that her child suffered from a condition and did not supply any additional information about the child's need for continuous treatment or her concomitant need to be present for such treatment. Absent such information, Penn could not interpret the available information and reasonably glean that De Luca was properly seeking leave under the FMLA. See Sarnowski, at 510 F.3d at 402; Aubuchon, 359 F.3d at 953. Since De Luca failed to provide her employer with the required notice, she did not satisfy her FMLA employee notice obligation. She therefore failed to satisfy an essential element of her interference claim and thus that claim cannot withstand the University's motion for summary judgment.
Plaintiff Misconstrues the Employee Notice Obligation
De Luca conflates her FMLA notice obligation with the need to provide a qualifying certification. She cites Aubuchon v. Knauf Fiberglass, 359 F.3d 950, 953 (7th Cir.2004), Lincoln v. Sears Home Improvement Prods., No. Civ. 02840DWFSRN, 2004 WL 62716 (D.Minn. Jan. 9, 2004), Peter v. Lincoln Technical Inst., Inc., 255 F.Supp.2d 417, 441 (E.D.Pa.2002), and 29 C.F.R. § 825.208(e)(2),
As our discussion of an employee's FMLA notice obligation makes plain, an employer's investigatory obligation is not automatically triggered by any employee action that the employee subjectively conceives to be sufficient notice. This would be, as the Seventh Circuit persuasively held, an automatic trigger that "would ... place a substantial and largely wasted investigative burden on employers." Aubuchon, 359 F.3d at 953. Thus, De Luca's reading of Lincoln, Peter, and Aubuchon overlooks the crucial role that an employee's notice obligation plays in surviving a motion for summary judgment. To be sure, Lincoln and Peter both hold that the employee satisfied the employee FMLA notice requirement, thus activating the employer's duty to conduct further research. See Lincoln, 2004 WL 62716, at *5-6; Peter, 255 F.Supp.2d at 440 (finding sufficient notice largely because employer was acutely aware that the employee had stopped working at employer's behest "for the purpose of seeing a medical professional about [the employee's] `illness'[.]"). By contrast, here we are called upon to determine whether, at the threshold, De Luca provided Penn with adequate FMLA notice that she sought to take FMLA leave to care for her child and not solely for the adoption of that child.
Plaintiff Failed to Provide Required Notice
A close analysis of Sarnowski, the cases it cites, and the Seventh Circuit's opinion in Aubuchon illuminate the contours of an employee's notice obligation under the FMLA. These cases teach why De Luca failed to satisfy her end of the FMLA quid pro quo.
In Sarnowski, our Court of Appeals found that the employer had sufficient notice of the employee's intent to take FMLA leave such that the employer was barred from interfering with his FMLA rights because the employee had previously: (1) missed about six work weeks for quintuple coronary artery bypass surgery and his employer was aware of the reason for his absence; (2) informed his supervisor of his "need for monitoring and possible additional surgery"; and (3) "made it clear to his employer that his health problems were continuing." 510 F.3d at 403.
More to the point, our Court of Appeals also noted that other Courts of Appeals have found that employers did not have sufficient notice of an employee's intent to take FMLA leave where an employee: (1) "never informed his supervisor of a serious medical condition," see Seaman v. CSPH, Inc., 179 F.3d 297, 302 (5th Cir.1999); (2) "did not explain that his absence had been due to a serious medical condition until after the fact," see Brenneman, 366 F.3d at 423-24; and (3) "expressed that he was stressed and felt his health was at risk but never provided any information to indicate that his absence from work was due to a serious health condition," see Woods v. DaimlerChrysler Corp., 409 F.3d 984, 990 (8th Cir.2005), Sarnowski, 510 F.3d at 403.
In addition, the Seventh Circuit in Aubuchon held that an employer did not have sufficient notice that his employee intended
Four reasons confirm that De Luca did not offer sufficient notice of her intent to take FMLA leave predicated on her need to care for her child who was allegedly battling a serious health condition.
First, there is no dispute that De Luca herself twice testified under oath that she sought intermittent leave only because of the recent adoption. It is undisputed that De Luca never mentioned her adopted child's alleged serious health condition as a reason for her requested intermittent leave. Pl.'s Opp'n Mot. Summ. J. Ex. A at 83:24-84:24, 158:7-13. De Luca cannot point to any evidence in the record to suggest that she ever demanded leave on the ground of her need to care for her child because of the child's medical condition. Since De Luca never expressly requested leave on this basis, the University cannot be liable for interfering with FMLA rights that De Luca never put into play. Unlike the employee in Sarnowski who affirmatively invoked his need for FMLA leave predicated on his ongoing serious health condition, De Luca took no such affirmative step to invoke her alleged need to care for her adopted child with a serious health condition. Where Aubuchon found an employee's failure to state a reason fatal to his otherwise bald demand for leave, De Luca's claim is flawed for the inverse reason that she proffered a ground for leave without ever demanding leave on that ground.
Second, it is not contested that De Luca's deposition testimony alleges that she only told Penn that her child "was born addicted to opiate" without further informing her employer of the type of care or medical treatment the child needed. Id. at 181:5-12. It is also uncontroverted that, according to De Luca, the University only "learn[ed] of [her] daughter's illness," and nothing more. Id. at 177:14-16. De Luca's testimony is consistent with Cario's unchallenged deposition testimony that she did not know that the child was suffering any health issues after being released from the hospital. Id., Ex. H at 27:11-14. Thus, unlike the employer in Sarnowski, Penn had no knowledge of the child's
Third, the employer in Sarnowski knew that the employee's chronic heart problems and prior surgery greatly increased the likelihood that the employee might need FMLA leave. But here the University had no such antecedent knowledge to guide its understanding of De Luca's FMLA needs. De Luca's deposition testimony reveals, and it is not in dispute, that De Luca repeatedly sought intermittent leave because of the recent adoption of her child and not for any other reason supported in fact. Id., Ex. A at 83:24-84:24, 158:7-13. Penn thus had no basis to infer that De Luca wanted intermittent leave to care for her child because all of her previous requests pointed only to adoption-tethered reasons for leave.
Fourth, the uncontroverted record confirms that De Luca only affirmatively argued that she sought intermittent FMLA leave to care for her adopted child, and presented the functional equivalent of a "doctor's note" to substantiate her claim, after months of negotiations about her discretionary adoption-tethered intermittent leave request. Notably, this contention followed the exhaustion of her twelve-week FMLA leave allotment, her decision to resign shortly after returning to her job after her eleven weeks of continuous leave, and the initiation of this litigation. Such post hoc rationalization is exactly what Brenneman, 366 F.3d at 423-24, and Aubuchon, 359 F.3d at 953, explicitly proscribe as "patently insufficient grounds." It will also be recalled that the Seventh Circuit found that a doctor's note advancing a reason for FMLA-requested leave would have allowed a reasonable employer to understand that the employee might take FMLA leave if that note had been proffered "before the company acted on [the employee's] request for leave." Id. The undisputed delay in the timing of De Luca's post hoc claim is fatal under the teaching of the Sixth Circuit in Brenneman and the Seventh Circuit in Aubuchon.
De Luca cannot point to any fact of record that creates a genuine issue as to any of the material facts just discussed. Since De Luca failed as a matter of law to have given Penn the requisite FMLA notice, her FMLA interference claim must succumb to summary judgment.
C. Plaintiff's FMLA Retaliation Claim
The Retaliation Standard
Our Court of Appeals has held that when an FMLA retaliation claim arises after a plaintiff-employee has taken FMLA leave, liability must be predicated on 29 C.F.R. § 825.220(c) and not §§ 2615(a)(1) or (a)(2). Erdman v. Nationwide Insurance Co., 582 F.3d 500, 508 (3d Cir.2009) (citing Conoshenti v. Public Service Electric & Gas Co., 364 F.3d 135, 146-47 (3d Cir.2004)).
FMLA retaliation claims are analyzed using the McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973), burden-shifting framework. The first and third steps of the
If a plaintiff succeeds in establishing a prima facie case, the burden of production shifts to defendant-employer to "articulate some legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the" adverse employment decision. McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802, 93 S.Ct. 1817. Upon meeting this "relatively light burden," Fuentes v. Perskie, 32 F.3d 759, 763 (3d Cir.1994), the burden rebounds to plaintiff. In this third step, plaintiff-employee bears the burden of demonstrating that the employer's purported justification is but a pretext designed to mask discrimination. Our Court of Appeals has explained that:
DiCampli v. Korman Communities, 257 Fed.Appx. 497, 500 (3d Cir.2007).
Plaintiff's Retaliation Argument
De Luca contends that upon her return from continuous FMLA leave, Penn, in retaliation for her taking FMLA leave, did not restore her to an "equivalent position"
Assuming for argument's sake that the job expectations document was an adverse employment action and all other prima facie case requirements under McDonnell Douglas step one are satisfied, Penn nevertheless asserts that it was justified in taking this action because of "Plaintiff's repeated failure to show up for work during relevant times and perform her supervisory responsibilities." Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. 46. The University also contends that "the job expectations document was a culmination of ongoing conversations with Plaintiff about her attendance issues.... [,] that Plaintiff and her supervisor had addressed these concerns before Plaintiff ever revealed her intention to adopt a child, before Plaintiff took her continuous leave" or returned from leave. Id. at 47.
Because De Luca has not "demonstrate[d] such weaknesses, implausibilities, inconsistencies, incoherencies, or contradictions in the employer's proffered legitimate reason for its action that a reasonable factfinder could rationally find them unworthy of credence and hence infer that the employer did not act for [the asserted] non-discriminatory reasons[,]" DiCampli, 257 Fed.Appx. at 500, we will grant Penn's motion for summary judgment on her retaliation claim.
At Cario's March 17, 2011 deposition, De Luca was put on notice that Cario had communications with her staff about De Luca during De Luca's continuous leave. Pl.'s Opp'n Mot. Summ. J. Ex. H at 57:8-20. Cario revealed that through these communications she became aware that De Luca was not working the hours required for the position. Id. Though Cario did not then identify her sources for this information, plaintiff's counsel also did not ask her to identify the sources, nor did her counsel use the remaining two months of discovery to investigate this issue.
Nearly three months later — and only after the University filed its motion for summary judgment — De Luca prepared an unsworn, un-notarized declaration in which she alleged that (1) "Gill and Pliszka were not pleased with the discipline" De Luca had administered to them; (2) Jennifer
Second, even if Cario had asked the staff to collect negative information about De Luca and report back the findings, this does not create an issue of material fact about the employer's proffered reason for generating the job expectations document. Penn may have asked staff to collect negative information about De Luca, but she does not allege why Cario sought such information. And this, of course, is the crux of the material issue we are to consider at this step of the analysis. De Luca must demonstrate the flaws in Penn's proffered reason for creating the job expectations document, and she must identify admissible
Furthermore, plaintiff's 2009 performance evaluation, her receipt of a subsequent note of thanks for her efforts, and the dearth of other negative feedback from her prior performance evaluations do not create an issue of material fact about Penn's proffered reason for creating the job expectations document. A reasonable factfinder would only be able to infer from these documents that Penn perceived a difference in De Luca's job performance between the dates these documents were authored and when Cario presented her with the job expectations document on July 26, 2010. A reasonable factfinder could not infer from this record that the University's justification in creating the job expectations document was a post hoc fabrication. De Luca has not proffered any evidence that calls into question the employer's motivation for its creation of a new job expectations document.
In addition, plaintiff's attempt to contrast Penn's treatment of other employees who requested FMLA leave with her own treatment misapprehends our Court of Appeals's inquiry. While De Luca may be correct that she and these employees are "similarly situated," these other employees are not "not within the protected class" because all referenced employees are entitled to the protections of the FMLA. See Simpson v. Kay Jewelers, 142 F.3d 639, 645 (3d Cir.1998). Thus, De Luca's argument on this point is beside the point.
Plaintiff also argues that during the course of her deposition she disavowed Penn's proffered reason for creating the job expectations document. Pl.'s Opp'n Mot. Summ. J. 32. Her difference of opinion has no bearing on our analysis. First, plaintiff fails to cite any record evidence where she "disavows" Penn's proffered reason. In her declaration De Luca only notes that Cario had not "discussed any concerns she had with [De Luca's] job performance[ ]", id. Ex. E ¶ 1, prior to her FMLA leave. True, De Luca cites her deposition testimony, Pl.'s Opp'n Mot. Summ. J. 21, that references her perception of Penn's reasons for implementing the job expectations document: "I felt under scrutiny, ... I felt that the expectations came about in retaliation for me having changed my schedule — or, ... requested to change my schedule." Id., Ex. A at 246:14-18; see also Pl.'s Opp'n Mot. Summ. J. 7 ("De Luca believed that Cario was angry that De Luca had requested a change in her schedule.") (emphasis added) (citing Pl.'s Opp'n Mot. Summ. J. Ex. A at 103:22-104:2). Rule 56 and our Court of Appeals oblige us to only credit disputes premised on facts in evidence, not disputes based on one party's subjective perception or "feelings". See Bialko, 434 Fed.Appx. at 141 n. 4 (citing
De Luca also misconstrues her burden and the relevant "issue" at play in the third step of the McDonnell Douglas analysis: a plaintiff must adduce evidence sufficient to allow a factfinder reasonably to infer that her employer's proffered non-discriminatory reason was a post hoc pretext. De Luca does not point us to any evidence of record as to any flaw in Penn's proffered reason that is premised on her failure to show up for work and supervise properly. In the absence of such evidence, a reasonable factfinder could not reasonably find Penn's explanation unworthy of credence or a pretext for discrimination. No issue of material fact exists as to Penn's motivation or reason for crafting the job expectations document.
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