Ward v. Birmingham, City of
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge William M Acker, Jr on 2/8/13. (ASL)
2013 Feb-08 PM 03:57
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
CITY OF BIRMINGHAM,
CIVIL ACTION NO.
Before the court is a motion for summary judgment filed by
defendant City of Birmingham (“City”) as to all claims brought by
plaintiff Felecia Ward (“Ward”).
Ward asserts two
claims under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, 29 U.S.C. §§
Declaration”) and Peggy Polk (“Polk Declaration”), (docs. 23 and
by the City in support of its Rule 56 motion.
the reasons that follow, Ward’s motions to strike will be denied
and the City’s motion for summary judgment will be granted.
termination on October 21, 2010, Ward worked in the Office of
Because of the procedural posture, all facts and their
reasonable inferences are viewed in the light most favorable to
Economic Development as an economic development analyst.
job was to increase the tax base for the City by providing economic
development assistance to existing businesses .
According to Ward, her typical work day involved returning
telephone calls, attending merchant meetings and other meetings
outside of the office, and visiting Birmingham businesses.
Office of Economic Development sent letters to businesses to
Ward would meet with businesses that contacted
the office in response to those letters or on their own initiative.
Ward would also make contact with Birmingham businesses at merchant
association and similar meetings.
In February 2008, Tracey Morant Adams (“Adams”) became the
Director of the Office of Economic Development.
directly to the Mayor’s Chief of Operations, who under Mayor
William Bell was Jarvis Patton (“Patton”).
After Adams settled
into her position in early 2008, she became concerned about Ward’s
job performance and whereabouts. She noticed that Ward would leave
the office everyday around 11:00 or 11:30 AM and very rarely
return. When Adams asked Ward what she was doing during that time,
Ward said that she was meeting with businesses or at merchant
Although Ward could be reimbursed for
submitted reimbursement requests.
Ward never referred to any of
(“Cooper”), whose job it was to provide companies with financial
In June 2009, while Ward was on a medical leave unrelated to
Personnel Director, and developed an improvement plan for Ward.
The improvement plan gave Ward targeted responsibilities that could
Adams met with Ward about the plan when she returned
Continuing Issues with Ward’s Job Performance
In 2009 Ward, in her capacity as economic development analyst,
started to work with the Birmingham Construction Industry Authority
The BCIA provides assistance to minority construction
Adams met with Michael Bell, the Executive Director
of the BCIA, and with Ward and arranged for Ward to work at the
BCIA two days a week beginning in September 2009.
On October 1,
2009, Adams received an email from Michael Bell stating that Ward
had not shown up for her assignment at the BCIA.
the matter with Ward.
The arrangement with the BCIA continued.
Adams let it be known that she expected that if Ward did not go to
the BCIA on a given day, she would be at the office.
to her main assignment with the BCIA, Adams expected Ward to
continue to provide technical assistance to Birmingham businesses,
Ward took a six week leave of absence in 2009 after she
underwent surgery. Ward makes no complaints regarding that leave
visit businesses in the City, and attend merchant association
In January 2010, After Adams did not see any improvement in
Ward’s productivity, she started meeting with Ward monthly.
was required to provide Adams with a monthly report of her work
activities, including a record of every business she visited and
merchant association meetings she attended.
Ward’s January 2010 report states that “on or about” that
month, Ward visited thirteen businesses and attended three merchant
It also reflects that she attended the
Railroad Park bid opening, an Economic Justice Committee meeting,
a luncheon of the Greater Birmingham Ministries for Professional
and Economic Leaders, and that she watched a webinar from her
Ward’s monthly reports for February through August 2010
contain much less.
These reports indicate that Ward only met with
four business during seven months.
The February 2010 report lists
identical entries for merchant association meetings and businesses
visited as the January 2010 report.
The only new information on
the report is information about the Small Business Administration
deposition that the February 2010 report does not include any new
meetings, events, or businesses visited.
The April 2010 monthly report reflects that Ward only met with
one business, the Midfield School of Cosmetology, which is not a
business within the City.
The report also reflects that Ward met
with an individual named Barry Stein about another business not
within the City.
The only other work listed on the report was that
Ward had a second meeting with three businessmen that she had met
with in January 2010.
The May 2010 report indicates that Ward did
not visit any businesses that month.
Ward’s reports for July and
August 2010 reflect that she met with two businesses.
After noticing that Ward’s monthly reports did not change
merchant associations listed on the reports and learned that Ward
had not actually attended the meetings she listed on the reports.
Adams also noticed that some of the entries on the reports were
items worked on by other employees.
Concerned about Ward’s lack of productivity and doubts about
her whereabouts, Adams, on March 5, 2010, implemented an office
protocol for all employees when going to be out of the office.
“Outlook Protocol” required all employees to list when they were
going to be out of the office, the meeting location and purpose,
and the business contact and phone number on their computer’s
Adams also required that she have “viewing
calendars from her computer.
One day in April 2010, Patton asked Adams where Ward was that
day because she was not in the office.
Adams checked Ward’s
Outlook calendar, which indicated that she was at a BCIA meeting.
Patton had just been at the BCIA meeting and Ward was not there.
While Patton was at the BCIA, Michael Bell told him that he had not
seen Ward since October 2009.
Ward admits that she did not go to
the BCIA in December 2009 or January 2010, but claims that Adams
instructed her not to go.
Adams contends that she was under the
impression that Ward was supposed to be going to the BCIA and that
she was, in fact, going during this time.
Ward continued to put
BCIA meetings on her Outlook calender and to provide updates on the
BCIA during staff meetings during this time.
On April 28, 2010, Adams notified Ward that she was being
charged with failing to fulfill her BCIA assignment and failing to
follow the Outlook Protocol.
A Jefferson County Personnel Board
(“JCPB”) determination hearing was held on April 29, 2010, and Ward
received a three-day suspension. Ward does not here complain about
Anonymous and Fraudulent Letters
In April 2010, the Birmingham News notified Adams that it had
received a letter, purportedly on Office of Economic Development
letterhead, which alleged that Adams was being harassed by Mayor
Bell to give the BCIA more money because the Executive Director of
the BCIA, Michael Bell, was the mayor’s brother.
The letter was
dated April 28, 2010, the same day that Ward was notified about
charges against her relating to her assignment with the BCIA.
Adams told the Birmingham News that she did not write the letter
and made Mayor Bell aware of the letter.
Around the same time,
authorizing payment to a contractor.
The letter alarmed Adams
information to her.
The letter was not written by Mayor Bell.
Adams gave both letters to the Birmingham Police Department’s
Internal Affairs division for investigation.
interviewed the employees who worked in the Office of Economic
Affairs, including Adams and Ward.
There was no determination as
to who wrote either of the letters.
Ward testified at her
deposition that she believed that Patton thought she wrote the
letter about Adams and maybe the other letter, and that after
arriving at this conclusion, Patton decided to fire her.
Ward testified, the decision to fire her was motivated by a belief
that she wrote a letter or letters, such a motivation does not
remotely implicate the FMLA, which is the sole statute invoked by
Subject FMLA Leave
In May 2010 while serving her suspension, Ward began to feel
ill and went to see Dr. William Hall (“Dr. Hall”).
diagnosed Ward with high blood pressure and restricted her to
working half-days until her next visit with him.
The court takes
judicial notice of the fact that anger can increase blood pressure.
Dr. Hall later continued the half-day work restriction until July
Adams, as well as the Safety and Health Division of the
City’s Personnel Department, approved a half-day schedule for Ward
from May 12, 2010
until July 15, 2010, when Dr. Hall released the
Ward never requested any other FMLA leave from the
Ward’s Return to Work After Suspension
When Ward returned to work after her suspension in May 2010,
she met with Adams and Patton. Ward secretly recorded the meeting,
during which Adams reviewed a “Tasks Assigned” list that clarified
and/or modified Ward’s performance improvement plan that had been
in place since mid-2009.
For example, one task was for Ward to
visit five businesses per week.
When Ward explained that it would
be difficult for her to visit five businesses a week because she
was only to work half-days, Adams changed the requirement to two
business visits per week.
Adams conceded that Ward could not
achieve a full day of work while on her half-day leave.
Pursuant to the applicable procedure, Ward filed a formal
grievance against Adams with the JCPB on May 24, 2010.
complained that since February 2008, Adams had manifested a pattern
of negative behavior toward her.
That same day Ward sent Adams an
email alleging discriminatory treatment dating back to February
Ward alleged that Adams had acquired preconceived ideas
about her from the former Chief of Operations.
testified at her deposition that prior to her FMLA leave, she felt
that Adams had singled her out, treated her differently from other
employees, and was hostile towards her.
On June 28, 2010, Ward amended her grievance to include the
allegation that, while taking intermittent FMLA leave, she was
“harassed” when she was questioned about work absences by the
Ward stated that she believed that the questioning
was in retaliation to her filing the May 2010 grievance against
Specifically, Ward concluded her amended grievance by
I feel that these actions are a direct result of my
Grievance filed on May 24, 2010 and slanderous in nature.
I conceive that this retaliatory efforts by you, Mrs.
Tracy Morant Adams because of the Grievance Proceedings
that began May 24, 2010.
The only mention of Ward’s FMLA leave in these grievances
appears in the May 24, 2010 grievance and letter to Adams in which
Ward complains about having to meet with the Personnel Department
of Health and Safety to provide documentation of the medical basis
for her leave.
Only after searching the record on its own did this
containing her requests to the hearing officer as “step 3" of the
allegations that since she had been working a reduced schedule, she
had been “subjected to continuous harassment and retaliation.”
There is no earlier indication in the record of any contention by
Ward of FMLA retaliation.
grievance, and on July 10, 2010, Ward presented her grievance with
She testified that over a two year period Adams had made
her environment increasingly hostile and that the hostility had
escalated on March 5, 2010 with the implementation of the Outlook
Adams and Polk met with Ward again on June 7, 2010.
again secretly recorded the meeting.
Adams reminded Ward that she
was required to visit two businesses per week and to complete all
paperwork associated with the visits.
Ward was provided with a
list of businesses that she could visit and a packet with a sample
introductory letter, followup letter, and a survey to complete
after she visited each business.
Adams and Polk met with Ward again on June 21, 2010.
meeting Adams asked Ward to provide a one page summary of grant
ideas. In response, Ward sent an email with information copied and
pasted from the internet.
When Adams asked Ward to redo the
summary and to include her own thoughts, Ward converted the email
summary into a memorandum and gave it to Adams without adding any
Adams contends that she saw no improvement in Ward’s work
performance between the May 12, 2010 meeting and the June 21, 2010
businesses as she was instructed to do, and in her deposition Ward
admitted that she had not done so.
A fourth meeting was held on August 5, 2010.
Ronnie Bates, a representative from the Birmingham Association of
City Employees with her to the meeting.
She recorded the meeting
Ward was still not meeting with two businesses a week.
Although she was not meeting with businesses, Ward continued to be
out of the office every afternoon, even after her FMLA reduced
schedule ended in July 2010.
Hostile Work Environment Complaint About Ward
In September 2010, another employee, Cooper, complained that
Specifically, Cooper alleged that Ward was not contributing to the
team and was having a negative impact on others in the office.
September 29, 2010, Adams sent Patton a letter requesting his
assistance with the problem.
In the letter
Adams recounted the
trouble that she had experienced with Ward’s productivity, lack of
regard for authority, and insubordination.
That day Ward received
a letter3 informing her that she would be placed on administrative
leave with pay until an investigation into the complaint was
Pursuant to the City’s established practice, Ward was
escorted out of the office by Patton and three Birmingham police
She was also required to relinquish her work keys and
On October 1, 2010, Polk investigated the allegation against
Ward by interviewing Ward’s co-workers.
Polk interviewed all of
Ward’s co-workers except one who was out of town.
- [I]t is extremely stressful because I work hard and
everybody else works hard except one person.
It has been
going on for a long time. It’s kind of flaunted that this
person acts like “I can do whatever I want to.” If you are
giving 100%, it’s depressing to watch someone who isn’t and
nothing is being done.
- I have a past history with [Ward] so I only interact with
her when it is work related.
I have a good working
relationship with everybody but [Ward].
- [Ward] stares at [Adams] like she can just spit on her. She
also treats [Cooper] like that. I am not comfortable around
her because she behaves like a bully. There are two things
that annoys [sic] her and they are somebody in authority and
somebody holding her accountable.
- [Ward] has no respect for [Adams]. When the election of a
new administration came, she would walk around [Adams’] door
The letter informing Ward of the complaint against her was
incorrectly dated September 10, 2010. It is undisputed that only
after Cooper complained about Ward that Ward was given the letter
and placed on administrative leave while the complaint was being
saying “tic-tock, tic-tock” as if to indicate that [Adams]
time was running out. We all would love to get paid for doing
nothing, but we have a better work ethic.
- I have an excellent relationship with my colleagues and I
think they feel the same about me with the exception of
- I feel that [Ward] makes the atmosphere difficult.
- I have a good working relationship with most of the people,
but I have no working relationship with [Ward]. I have known
. . . and this goes back ten years . . . if you give her an
assignment, it goes in a dead hole. I don’t know why nothing
has ever been done about her behavior. You can sit in a staff
meeting and when everybody else describes what they have been
doing . . . she doesn’t do anything or have anything
worthwhile to contribute.
- The rest of us work like a team. In Business Retention 9
out of 10 people are looking for money . . . so you have to
have a network. If they are looking for industrial sites, I
refer them to Griffin. If they are looking for money, I refer
them to [Cooper]. [Ward] doesn’t want to do it and she has no
intention of doing it.
During the interviews, Polk did not mention Ward’s FMLA leave that
had ended two and a half months earlier.
Ward or Adams.
Polk did not interview
At the end of the investigation, Polk concluded
that Ward had created a hostile, uncomfortable, and difficult work
Adams recommended to Patton that he terminate Ward based on
Ward’s failure to improve her productivity, complete disregard for
authority, low level of performance, lack of contribution, not
completing tasks assigned to her, and Polk’s conclusion that her
behavior created a hostile work environment in the office.
Ward was charged as follows:
You have met several times with your direct supervisor
regarding your assignments; however, you have failed to
Allegations that your behavior has created a hostile work
environment have been sustained after an investigation
conducted by the City of Birmingham’s Personnel Officer.
Attempts to deliver notice of the charge to Ward by certified mail
were unsuccessful. Therefore, on October 8, 2010, police delivered
the notice to Ward’s home.
In plain clothes and an unmarked police
car, City of Birmingham Police Officer Herman Harris (“Officer
Harris”) delivered the notice.
Because Ward lives outside of the
City, Office Harris asked a police officer from Ward’s city to meet
Sheriff’s Deputy was also present when the notice was delivered.
The officers also delivered a notice of an amended determination
hearing on October 13, 2010.
The hearing was held on October 18, 2010, where Ward was
represented by an attorney.
The decision was that Ward would be
terminated, effective October 21, 2010. Ward appealed the decision
to the JCPB.
After four days of testimony before the JCPB,
including that of Ward, the Hearing Officer, on December 20, 2011,
recommended that the termination be upheld.
litigation4 before the JCPB and the Circuit Court of Jefferson
The somewhat complicated procedural history of this case is
as follows. On January 20, 2012, the JCPB ordered that Ward be
reinstated, but that she was not entitled to back pay. On April
17, 2012 the Circuit Court of Jefferson County, Alabama reversed
County, the Hearing Officer, Personnel Board, and Circuit Court all
upheld Ward’s termination.
Ward’s application to the Alabama
Department of Industrial Relations for unemployment benefits was
Motions to Strike
In Ward’s her motions to strike portions of the Adams and Polk
declarations she argues that they are (1) based on speculation,
conjecture, and legal conclusions, rather than the declarant’s
personal knowledge, and (2) constitute a “sham,” as prohibited by
the sham affidavit doctrine adopted by the Eleventh Circuit in Van
T. Junkins & Assoc., Inc. v. U.S. Indus., 736 F.2d 656, 657 (11th
The requirements for affidavits and declarations offered in
support of or in opposition to a motion for summary judgment are
outlined in Rule 56(c)(4), Fed. R. Civ. P. That rule requires that
a declaration must be based “on personal knowledge, set out facts
that would be admissible in evidence, and show that the . . .
declarant is competent to testify on matters stated.” Fed. R. Civ.
Additionally, statements in a declaration may be
the JCPB decision. On June 12, 2012, the JCPB determined that
the Hearing Officer’s December 20, 2011 recommendation was due to
be affirmed and upheld Ward’s termination. Finally, on September
17, 2012, the Circuit Court of Jefferson County found that there
was no substantial evidence to support to JCPB’s prior decision
to reinstate Ward and upheld the Hearing Officer’s recommendation
to sustain Ward’s termination.
stricken as a matter of law when it is obvious that they constitute
Tippens v. Celotex Corp., 805 F.2d 949, 953 (11th Cir.
This occurs when there is a “flat contradiction” between
the declaration and the declarant’s prior, sworn testimony.
On the other hand, “[i]ssues of credibility of witnesses and weight
of evidence are questions of fact which require resolution by the
trier of fact.”
Id. at 954; see also Choudhry v. Jenkins, 559 F.2d
1085, 1090 (7th Cir. 1977) (“[E]very discrepancy in an affidavit
does not justify a district court’s refusal to give credence to
A declaration, or portions of it, will be
unambiguous questions . . . [and that person attempts] thereafter
[to] create such an issue with an affidavit that merely contracts,
without explanation, previously given clear testimony.”
805 F.2d at 954 (quoting Van T. Junkins & Assocs. v. U.S. Indus.,
736 F.2d 656, 657 (11th Cir. 1984)).
Ward contends that portions of the Adams declaration are (1)
a “sham” because they contradict Adams’ prior, sworn testimony; (2)
irrelevant; and (3) conclusory statements that go to the ultimate
All three of Ward’s arguments lack merit.
declaration are due to be stricken because they contradict her JCPB
hearing testimony and her September 29, 2010 letter to Patton, in
which Ward contends that Adams stated that she only had problems
with Ward’s performance over the “course of several months.”
relevant portions of the Adams declaration relate to issues Adams
experienced with Ward’s work performance outside of this time
frame. Notably, Adams’ letter to Patton is not “prior, sworn
testimony” and therefore is not subject to the sham affidavit
Nowhere in her testimony does Adams state that she
only had problems with Ward’s job performances over the “course of
instances in which she testifies regarding continuing issues that
she had with Ward’s job performance. There is no “obvious sham” or
“flat contradiction” to warrant application of the sham affidavit
Ward next contends that ¶44 of the Adams declaration should be
stricken because it contradicts Adams’ JCPB hearing testimony.5
Paragraph 44 of the declaration states that “Lisa Cooper complained
that plaintiff was creating a hostile work environment in the
Ward asserts that this flatly contradicts Adams’ hearing
testimony that Cooper stated that “she was concerned about the
environment in the Office of Economic Development being conducive
to the work relationship.”
The argument that these statements are
Ward also argues that ¶44 contradicts the September 29,
2010 letter that is not prior, sworn testimony subject to the
sham affidavit doctrine.
contradictory is facially specious.
The statement that someone
created a hostile work environment is entirely consistent with
expressing concern about relationships at work.
While these two
statements are not identical, they are certainly not contradictory.
Furthermore, Ward’s argument that Adams’ use of the words “hostile
work environment” is an attempt to provide legal meaning to her
statement is incorrect.
There has been no Title VII violation
alleged in this action.
The term “hostile work environment” as
used in this action is a layman’s term.
Ward’s contention that ¶17 contradicts Adams’ JCPB hearing
testimony is equally baseless.
In ¶17 Adams states that “[i]n
January 2010, I began meeting monthly with Mrs. Ward . . . .”
argues that this is inconsistent with Adams’ testimony that she
inaccurately describes Adams’ testimony. Attempting to demonstrate
a contradiction, Ward cites testimony in which Adams confirms that
there were four specific meetings with Ward in 2010.
Adams testify that she only had four meetings with Ward.
meetings Ward cites occurred on May 12, June 7, July 21, and August
It is clear from Adams’ testimony that these meetings were in
addition to the meetings or work sessions she had with Ward from
January to April 2010.
Ward herself testified at her deposition
that, starting in January 2010, she met with Adams at least
Ward cannot create a contradiction where one does not
Ward’s next argues that several paragraphs of the Adams
declaration are irrelevant and are therefore due to be stricken.
Ward contends that ¶11 and ¶¶ 26-31 are irrelevant because they
relate to anonymous and fraudulent letters sent to Adams and The
This argument is strange because Ward herself
Specifically, in the complaint Ward alleges
She also testified that she believes that she was fired
because Patton thought she wrote at least one of the letters.
Based on Ward’s own contentions, the letters are relevant.
Ward’s arguments based on the relevance of other paragraphs of
the Adams declaration are equally unconvincing.
Ward argues that
¶¶12-14 and ¶¶20-25 should be stricken as irrelevant because they
relate to her work with the BCIA, and her discipline associated
therewith, as well as with issues regarding her noncompliance with
the Outlook Protocol’s calendaring aspect. It is difficult for the
court to understand how Ward can contend that these items are not
Ward’s alleged failure to perform her work and any
subsequent discipline prior to her termination would be probative
in a trial of this case.
According to the City, from 2008 until
Ward’s termination, Adams repeatedly found that Ward did not
perform her duties. The issues relating to the BCIA assignment and
failing to follow the calendar protocol are examples of such
Ward moves to strike ¶50 of the Adams declaration as a
conclusory statement that goes to the ultimate issue of the case.
This paragraph of the declaration states that “I never did anything
to interfere with Felecia’s [sic] Ward requests for FMLA leave but
in fact tried to assist her in that leave.
against Ms. Ward for taking any leave.
I also never retaliated
I never harassed Ms. Ward
or created any hostile environment for her. Every action I took in
regards to Ms. Ward was taken for legitimate reasons.”
complaint alleges that Adams interfered with her FMLA rights and
retaliated against her.
Adams is certainly entitled to respond to
conclusions, but as Adams’ account of her actions and motivations.
For the foregoing reasons, Ward’s motion to strike portions of
the Adams declaration will be denied.
Ward advances similar arguments in support of her motion to
strike portions of the Polk declaration.
contends that certain paragraphs are (1) a “sham” because they
irrelevant; and (3) conclusory statements that go to the ultimate
Ward argues that ¶¶4-5 of the Polk declaration should be
stricken because they contradict Polk’s JCPB hearing testimony.
The relevant portion of the declaration states that Polk believed
At the JCPB hearing, Polk testified that Ward
created an “uncomfortable work environment.”
Again, Ward is
parsing words in an attempt to create a contradiction where one
contradictory dishonors the English language.
Next, Ward contends that ¶6 should be stricken because it
policies and procedures.
This is not the type of contradiction
that the sham affidavit doctrine is intended to prevent.
testimony. See e.g., Duvall Chems. v. Osterman & Co., No. 4:04-cv0059, 2006 WL 6848733, at *2 (N.D. Ga. Mar. 14, 2006).
Ward has not claimed that Polk testified in contradiction to her
Ward seeks to have the court strike ¶8 of the Polk declaration
as self-serving and irrelevant. First, the fact that the statement
is helpful to the City is not a ground to strike.
Stallworth v. Okaloosa County Sch. Dist., No. 3:09-cv-404, 2011 WL
4552187, at *5 (N.D. Fla. Sept. 30, 2011) (“There is nothing
inherently wrong with considering self-serving testimony at the
summary judgment stage.”) (citing Price v. Time, Inc., 416 F.3d
1327, 1345 (11th Cir. 2005), modified on denial of reh’g on other
grounds, 425 F.3d 1292).
Furthermore, Polk’s statements regarding
her FMLA training are relevant to the claims at issue.
claims include specific allegations against Polk and how certain of
Polk’s actions violated FMLA.
As such, the fact that Polk had
training on FMLA compliance is relevant.
Ward moves to strike ¶9 of the Polk declaration on the ground
that it is a conclusory statement that goes to the ultimate issue.
This arguments fails for the same reasons that it failed when
asserted in relation to the Adams declaration.
For the foregoing reasons, Ward’s motion to strike portions of
the Polk declaration will be denied.
Motion for Summary Judgment
The FMLA recognizes two types of claims: interference claims
and retaliation claims. A plaintiff makes a claim for interference
when she asserts that her employer denied or otherwise interfered
with her substantive rights under FMLA.
Hurlbert v. St. Mary’s
Health Care Sys., Inc., 439 F.3d 1286, 1293 (11th Cir. 2006).
claim for retaliation under FMLA is appropriate when an employer
activity protected under FMLA.
The City seeks summary
judgment both as to Ward’s claim for FMLA interference and her
claim for retaliation.
The Eleventh Circuit is clear that to establish an FMLA
interference claim, a plaintiff must demonstrate that (1) she was
entitled to a benefit under FMLA and (2) the benefit was denied.
Hurlbert, 439 F.3d at 1293; Strickland v. Water Works & Sewer Bd.
of City of Birmingham, 239 F.3d 1199, 1206-07 (11th Cir. 2001)
(citing O’Connor v. PCA Family Health Plan, Inc., 200 F.3d 1349,
1353-54 (11th Cir. 2000)).
One such benefit is that an employee
may take leave due to, among other things, a serious medical
See 29 U.S.C. § 2612(a)(1)(D).
While there may be some
condition,” there is no dispute that the City provided her with
every arguably available benefit when it allowed her to work a
reduced schedule from May to July 2010.
Ward testified at her
deposition that she received all the leave she requested.
Instead, in support of her interference claim, Ward argues
that she is entitled to FMLA relief because she was harassed after
her intermittent leave and was ultimately terminated.
Hulbert, 439 F.3d at1293; cf. Simpson v. Office of Chief Judge of
Circuit Court of Will County, Ill., 520 F. Supp. 2d 998, 1009 n.10
interference claim . . . because to establish an interference claim
[plaintiff] must show the defendants denied her a right under
Ward has offered no evidence that she was denied a benefit to
cognizable injury to sustain an FMLA interference claim. Graham v.
State Farm Mut. Ins. Co., 193 F.3d 1274, 1275 (11th Cir. 1999) (per
curiam) (“[A] plaintiff suffers no FMLA [interference] injury when
she receives all the leave she requests.”).
claim for FMLA interference fails as a matter of law.
In FMLA retaliation cases, the Eleventh Circuit applies the
same burden-shifting framework established in McDonnell Douglas
Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S. Ct. 1817 (1974), that it uses
to evaluate claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Schaaf v .Smithkline Beecham Corp., 602 F.3d 1236, 1243 (11th Cir.
Under this framework, Ward must first establish a prima
facie case by demonstrating that (1) she engaged in statutorily
protected activity, (2) she suffered an adverse employment action,
and (3) a causal connection between the statutorily protected
activity and the adverse employment action. Id.; see also Krutzig,
602 F.3d at 1234.
If Ward establishes such a prima facie case, the
burden then shifts to the City to articulate a legitimate reason
for the adverse action. Schaaf, 602 F.3d at 1243 (citing McDonnell
Douglas Corp., 411 U.S. 792, 93 S. Ct. 1817). If the City provides
such a reason, Ward must then show that the City’s proffered reason
for the adverse action is pretextual.
Douglas Corp., 411 U.S. 792, 93 S. Ct. 1817).
Ward cannot establish a prima facie case6 of retaliation
because there is no evidence that the City’s decision to terminate
her was causally related to her FMLA leave.
To establish the
protected activity, here Ward’s FMLA leave, and the adverse action,
here Ward’s termination,
were “not wholly unrelated.”
602 F.3d at 1234 (quoting Brungart v. Bellsouth Telecomm., Inc.,
231 F.3d 791, 799 (11th Cir. 2000)).
Causation may be inferred by
close temporal proximity between the protected conduct and the
adverse employment action.
Thomas v. Cooper Lighting, Inc., 506
F.3d 1361, 1364 (11th Cir. 2007).
Close temporal proximity,
however, is not the only method by which a plaintiff can prove a
Even when a significant amount of time has
elapsed, as in this case, a causal connection may exist when the
protected activity and the adverse employment action are linked by
The parties dispute whether Ward was entitled to FMLA.
Ward has presented sufficient evidence that she suffered from
high blood pressure and was under a doctor’s continued care for
her condition to qualify as a “chronic condition” under 29 C.F.R.
a chain of intervening retaliatory acts.
See Wideman v. Wal-Mart
Stores, Inc., 141 F.3d 1453, 1457 (11th Cir. 1998).
In this case a causal connection is not established solely on
close temporal proximity.
Temporal proximity, without more, must
be “very close,” and in this case is not close.
Inc., 506 F.3d at 1364 (citing Clark County Sch. Dist. v. Breeden,
532 U.S. 268, 121 S. Ct. 1508, 1511 (2001)).
The Eleventh Circuit
has held that as small as a two month gap between a statutorily
protected act and the adverse employment action is too long to
create a jury question as to the essential causal connection
Williams v. Waste Mgmt., Inc., No. 10-13121, 2011 WL
207932, at *3 (11th Cir. Jan. 25, 2011) (affirming summary judgment
based on lack of causal connection when there was a two month gap
action); see also Cooper Lighting, Inc., 506 F.3d at 1364 (three
month gap); Drago v. Jenne, 453 F.3d 1301, 1308 (11th Cir. 2006)
(three and a half month gap); Higdon v. Jackson, 393 F.3d 1211,
1221 (11th Cir. 2004) (three month gap).
In the present case, approximately two and a half months
elapsed between the end of Ward’s FMLA leave in mid-July 2010 and
Ward’s being informed of the charges against her on September 29,
2010, that, along with other issues, led to her termination.
and a half months is too long.
See e.g., Williams, 2011 WL 207932,
Ward argues that a causal connection nevertheless exists based
on other evidence of retaliatory intent. Specifically, Ward points
out that on June 21, 2010, during the time she was on the approved
half-day schedule, Adams told an Internal Affairs investigator that
“it wasn’t right for Ward to get a paycheck for every day but not
to stay all day.”
Ward argues that this comment is evidence of
Adams’ retaliatory intent and creates a reasonable inference that
she was discharged in retaliation for taking FMLA leave.
investigator was that “it’s just not right to come to work get a
paycheck every day and not work when you’re facing [what] we’re
facing things that we are facing right now, it simply is not fair.”
On its face, this comment is not about Ward’s medical leave.
Instead, it is a comment about coming to work and doing one’s job.
In context, Adams was talking about Ward’s suspension for not
showing up for her assignments, an event which occurred prior to
Ward’s FMLA leave.
When Adams did discuss Ward’s leaving work
around noon, she discussed it in terms of how Ward had been leaving
the office unaccounted for since before Adams joined the office.
Ward also argues that Adams’ September 29, 2010 letter to
Patton, which stated that Ward had productivity issues over the
course of several months, “links” Ward’s productivity issues to the
time she was on leave, evidencing Adams’ animosity toward Ward for
taking medical leave.
This argument misstates the contents of the
The letter does not state that Adams had problems with
Ward for only several months.
office for a few months.
Patton had only been working in the
The letter states “[a]s you know over the
course of several months” because that is the amount of time that
Patton had been working with Adams and Ward.
It is undisputed that
Adams had issues with Ward’s performances since 2008, not just the
several months before Ward’s termination.
Neither of Ward’s two
arguments for a link between the FMLA leave and her termination is
supported by the evidence.
Even if Ward could prove causation and thus a prima facie case
of retaliation, she has not provided any real evidence that the
City’s legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for discharging her
were a pretext for retaliation.
The City says that it terminated
Ward because she failed to improve her productivity, had a complete
disregard for authority, exhibited a low level of performance and
contribution, failed to complete assigned tasks, and created a
hostile or very difficult work environment in the office. Ward has
not offered evidence upon which a reasonable jury could find that
any of these proffered legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons wre
inventions to cover up a retaliatory motive.
Ward admits that one of her job responsibilities was to visit
businesses in the City.
It is undisputed that between February
2010 and August 2010, Ward met with only four businesses (not all
of which were even within the City).
During this time, Ward was
supposed to be visiting two businesses per week.
businesses per week, but reduced the requirement to two business to
accommodate Ward’s reduced schedule from May to July 2010.
also undisputed that Ward was not attending merchant association
meetings, was not working with the BCIA, and was not following the
Ward has offered no evidence to dispute the
obvious fact that Adams believed that Ward was not performing her
job at an acceptable level.
Ward also does not dispute that her
co-workers complained about her and felt that she created a hostile
or unpleasant work environment.
Polk’s interviews with Ward’s co-
workers, excerpts of with are reproduced above, are undisputed.
In a move that somewhat perplexes the court, Ward offers a
couple of reasons as to why Adams and Patton treated her as they
allegedly did - neither of them related to her FMLA leave.
testified at her deposition, in a conclusory manner, that Adams had
preconceived ideas about her acquired from a previous staff member.
This is a matter of conjecture and not a fact.
She contends that
beginning in 2008, Adams was hostile to her, singled her out, and
treated her less favorably than others in the office.
claims that Patton decided to terminate her when he concluded that
she wrote the one of the anonymous letters. Ward’s contention that
she was discharged in retaliation for taking FMLA leave is not only
unsupported by the evidence, but is contradicted by Ward’s own
Ward has not shown that the City’s proffered reasons for her
termination were a pretext for retaliation based on her FMLA leave.
There is nothing for a jury to decide in this case.
The City is
entitled to summary judgment on Ward’s retaliation claim.
For the foregoing reasons, the two motions to strike filed by
Ward are hereby DENIED, and the motion for summary judgment filed
by the City will be granted by separate order.
Done this 8th day of February 2013.
WILLIAM M. ACKER, JR.
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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