Parker v. CSX Transportation Inc
MEMORANDUM OPINION - For the reasons discussed above, the Court grants CSXs motion for summary judgment as to Mr. Parker's FMLA interference claim, his outrage claim, and his claims for negligent/wanton training and supervision. Because the Cour t has reconsidered its initial ruling on Mr. Parker's FMLA retaliation claim sua sponte, if it wishes, CSX may file a supplemental brief regarding FMLA retaliation of no more than 15 pages by July 28, 2021. If CSX files a supplemental brief, then Mr. Parker may respond by August 4, 2021. Signed by Judge Madeline Hughes Haikala on 7/16/2021. (KEK)
2021 Jul-16 PM 04:25
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
WILLIAM ALLEN PARKER,
Case No.: 2:18-cv-00274-MHH
CSX TRANSPORTATION, INC.,
This case concerns the Family Medical Leave Act, which gives an eligible
employee “a total of 12 workweeks of leave during any 12–month period” to, among
other things, care for his spouse “if such spouse . . . has a serious health condition.”
29 U.S.C. § 2612(a)(1)(C). To protect an employee’s right to use FMLA leave, “the
FMLA creates two types of claims: interference claims, in which an employee
asserts that his employer denied or otherwise interfered with his substantive rights
under the Act ... [,] and retaliation claims, in which an employee asserts that his
employer discriminated against him because he engaged in activity protected by the
Act.” Strickland v. Water Works & Sewer Bd. of City of Birmingham, 239 F.3d
1199, 1206 (11th Cir. 2001).
At its core, this is an FMLA retaliation case. William Parker is one of dozens
of employees who CSX Transportation, a freight railroad, disciplined after the
employees used FMLA leave over the holidays between December 24, 2017 and
January 1, 2018. For several years, CSX approved Mr. Parker’s requests for
intermittent FMLA leave to care for his wife. “Eligible employees may take FMLA
leave on an intermittent or reduced schedule basis when medically necessary due to
the serious health condition of a covered family member or the employee or the
serious injury or illness of a covered servicemember.” 29 C.F.R. § 825.203. CSX
has a legitimate interest in ensuring that its employees use intermittent leave
properly. Mr. Parker and other CSX conductors and engineers are on-call 24/7;
holidays are no exception. When a conductor uses FMLA leave, another conductor
must take his place. On-call employees who use intermittent FMLA leave on a
holiday cause CSX to have to call to duty other employees who otherwise would
have had the holiday free, and excessive absences can cause trains to run behind
CSX found that Mr. Parker dishonestly used his approved intermittent FMLA
leave in 2017 on December 24, 25, and 31 so that he could avoid working over the
holidays. CSX fired Mr. Parker for his misuse of FMLA leave at Christmas. Then,
the company fired him again for misuse of FMLA leave over the New Year’s
The evidence in the record, viewed in the light most favorable to Mr. Parker,
demonstrates that his use of intermittent FMLA leave over the 2017-18 holiday
season was legitimate, but for purposes of Mr. Parker’s FMLA retaliation claim, that
is neither here nor there. To avoid summary judgment on his FMLA retaliation
claim, Mr. Parker must present evidence that undermines CSX’s assertion that, based
on its investigation, it believed in good faith that Mr. Parker misused FMLA leave
between December 24, 2017 and January 1, 2018.
During a hearing on CSX’s summary judgment motion, the Court discussed
evidence from which jurors could conclude that the process CSX used to make its
employment decision was deeply flawed. Relying on the Eleventh Circuit Court of
Appeals’ decision in E.E.O.C. v. Total System Servs., Inc., 221 F.3d 1171 (11th Cir.
2000), the Court indicated during the hearing that it did not believe that Mr. Parker
could contradict CSX’s assertion of good faith in its investigation simply by
demonstrating that the investigation process was not sound. (Doc. 55, pp. 59–60).
Having examined the evidence concerning that process more closely and having
reviewed Total System and authority concerning the “good faith” standard in other
employment contexts, the Court finds that significant flaws in a company’s
evaluation of its employee’s exercise of his FMLA rights can create a disputed issue
of fact concerning the company’s exercise of good faith in reaching an adverse
employment decision. In other words, if an employee produces evidence that
establishes that his employer’s FMLA leave verification system was broken by
design and produced unreliable information, then an employer cannot, as a matter of
law, believe in good faith that it had a legitimate basis for disciplining the employee
for his use of authorized FMLA leave.
This opinion addresses Mr. Parker’s FMLA retaliation claim and several other
claims that relate to his use of FMLA leave during the 2017-18 holiday season. The
opinion is organized in three sections. First, the Court outlines the standard for a
Rule 56 motion for summary judgment. Then, the Court discusses the evidence
concerning Mr. Parker’s FMLA use in 2017 and CSX’s decision to terminate him.
Finally, the Court identifies the legal standards that govern Mr. Parker’s FMLA and
state law claims and examines the evidence under those standards. Because the
Court has reconsidered its initial ruling on Mr. Parker’s FMLA retaliation claim sua
sponte and because of the length of time that has passed since the parties briefed
CSX’s summary judgment motion, at the end of the opinion, the Court will offer the
parties the option to file supplemental briefs to discuss the FMLA retaliation analysis
that appears below.
Under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a district 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.” FED.
R. CIV. P. 56(a). To demonstrate a genuine dispute as to a material fact that precludes
summary judgment, a party opposing a motion for summary judgment must cite “to
particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents,
electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including
those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or
other materials.” FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c)(1)(A). “The court need consider only the
cited materials, but it may consider other materials in the record.” FED. R. CIV. P.
When considering a summary judgment motion, a district court must view the
evidence in the record and draw reasonable inferences from the evidence in the light
most favorable to the non-moving party. White v. Beltram Edge Tool Supply, Inc.,
789 F.3d 1188, 1191 (11th Cir. 2015). Accordingly, the Court views the summary
judgment evidence in the light most favorable to Mr. Parker.
Mr. Parker began working for CSX in 2003. He served as a conductor,
switchman, brakeman, RCO, and retarder operator. (Doc. 44-1, p. 5, tpp. 12–13). 1
In December 2017, Mr. Parker was working as a conductor out of CSX’s Bessemer,
Alabama railyard. (Doc. 44-1, p. 5, tp. 13). CSX trains run 365 days per year, and
CSX conductors and engineers are on-call 24/7. When a CSX employee takes
FMLA leave, other employees must cover the work to avoid disruption to operations
and train delays.
(Doc. 44-23, p. 19) (November 21, 2017 bulletin to CSX
employees). To be fair to all employees, CSX must ensure that employees who have
qualified for intermittent FMLA leave do not misuse leave over holidays.
Mr. Parker first qualified for intermittent FMLA leave late in 2015. (Doc. 373, p. 12, tp. 39; Doc. 37-3, pp. 59, 62). 2 Mr. Parker applied for FMLA leave because
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, FEDERAL RAILROAD ADMINISTRATION,
Remote Control Locomotive Operations: Results of Focus Groups with Remote Control Operators
https://railroads.dot.gov/sites/fra.dot.gov/files/fra_net/1204/ord0608.pdf (RCOs or Remote
Control Operators “on Class I railroads are generally switchmen who receive special training to
Mr. Parker applied for intermittent FMLA leave on September 24, 2015. (Doc. 37-3, pp. 58–61).
Mrs. Parker’s physician indicated that she needed care and transportation between September 24,
2015 and October 2, 2015 and that she would need Mr. Parker’s help over the ensuing year four
to six times for approximately five days at a time. (Doc. 37-3, p. 61). Mr. Parker testified that
CSX approved his 2015 application for intermittent FMLA leave, (Doc. 37-3, p. 12, tp. 39), but
the record does not seem to capture the first and last date of the 12-month period for which CSX
approved intermittent leave. It is reasonable to infer that the authorized 12-month period began in
September of 2015 and ended one year later.
his wife suffers from dysautonomia and postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome
or POTS. 3 In support of his 2015 application for FMLA leave, Mr. Parker submitted
a certification from Mrs. Parker’s healthcare provider. Mrs. Parker’s physician
wrote: “Patient will need supportive care and transportation during episodes.” (Doc.
37-3, p. 61).
CLEVELAND CLINIC, DYSAUTONOMIA, https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/6004dysautonomia (last visited Sept. 15, 2020) (“Dysautonomia refers to a disorder of autonomic
nervous system (ANS) function that generally involves failure of the sympathetic or
parasympathetic components of the ANS, but dysautonomia involving excessive or overactive
ANS actions also can occur.”)
CLEVELAND CLINIC, POSTURAL ORTHOSTATIC TACHYCARDIA SYNDROME (POTS),
https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/16560-postural-orthostatic-tachycardia-syndromepots (last visited Sept. 15, 2020) (“POTS is a condition that affects circulation (blood flow). POTS
is a form of orthostatic intolerance, the development of symptoms that come on when standing up
from a reclining position, and that may be relieved by sitting or lying back down. The primary
symptom of an orthostatic intolerance is lightheadedness, fainting and an uncomfortable, rapid
increase in heartbeat.”).
Initially, Mrs. Parker’s physician diagnosed positional vertigo and migraines. (Doc. 37-3, p. 11,
tpp. 36–37; Doc. 37-3, p. 60). Later, Mrs. Parker was diagnosed with dysautonomia and POTS.
(Doc. 37-3, p. 63).
Mrs. Parker explained her illness as “an autoimmune issue that affects [her] heart, I actually have
really low blood pressure, but I also have very high heartbeat, like my heart palpitates, it’s a
constant sense of vertigo with headaches, vomiting, nauseousness, just -- it’s just a -- an all-around
heart -- it’s really like my heart, my heart will palpitate, and -- and my world kind of spins. And
it -- there’s no reason. It just happens. I could literally be sitting at my desk doing nothing, and
my heart will start to race.” (Doc. 44-4, p. 3, tp. 5).
During his first 12-month period of intermittent FMLA leave, Mr. Parker took
leave on the following dates:
December 18, 2015 (7:37 p.m.)—December 19, 2015 (9:51 p.m.)
December 20, 2015 (5:15 p.m.)—December 22, 2015 (10:49 a.m.)
December 24, 2015 (10:50 a.m.)—December 25, 2015 (11:17 p.m.)
March 12, 2016 (7:14 p.m.)—March 14, 2016 (7:38 a.m.)
March 18, 2016 (11:18 p.m.)—March 20, 2016 (4:28 p.m.)
April 8, 2016 (9:00 p.m.)—April 9, 2016 (11:20 a.m.)
April 16, 2016 (11:10 a.m.)—April 17, 2016 (10:20 a.m.)
April 22, 2016 (10:35 a.m.)—April 23, 2016 (3:14 p.m.)
April 30, 2016 (12:51 p.m.)—May 1, 2016 (6:33 a.m.)
May 6, 2016 (9:20 a.m.)—May 8, 2016 (2:24 p.m.)
June 4, 2016 (12:01 a.m.)—June 5, 2016 (8:43 p.m.)
June 11, 2016 (9:39 p.m.)—June 13, 2016 (10:01 p.m.)
June 19, 2016 (2:57 a.m.)—June 19, 2016 (11:51 p.m.)
July 22, 2016 (11:08 p.m.)—July 25, 2016 (10:37 p.m.)
July 29, 2016 (10:50 p.m.)—August 1, 2016 (8:45 a.m.)
August 20, 2016 (8:28 p.m.)—August 22, 2016 (9:51 p.m.)
August 26, 2016 (10:15 p.m.)—August 29, 2016 (5:49 a.m.)
(Doc. 37-3, pp. 68, 75–76). December 24, 2015 was Christmas Eve, and December
25, 2015 was Christmas Day. May 8, 2016 was Mother’s Day, and June 19, 2016
was Father’s Day. (see Doc. 37-3, p. 75). These holidays are highlighted on the list
above. Otherwise, according to CSX’s records, Mr. Parker’s many days of FMLA
leave during his first 12-month period of intermittent leave did not fall on holidays.4
CSX approved Mr. Parker for a second 12-month period of intermittent
FMLA leave from September 16, 2016 to September 16, 2017. (Doc. 44-3, p. 76).
In an October 2016 letter, CSX warned Mr. Parker that he was using his approved
FMLA leave too frequently “on the weekends or in conjunction with other days off
(i.e. rest days, personal days, vacation, sick days).” (Doc. 37-3, p. 74). In March of
2017, after Mr. Parker used approved FMLA leave over the Martin Luther King, Jr.
and Super Bowl weekends, CSX again advised Mr. Parker that the company had
noticed an “established pattern of marking off FMLA leave on the weekends, in
conjunction with other days off (i.e. rest days, vacation days, etc.), holidays or other
pattern . . . .” (Doc. 37-2, p. 25). The March 2017 warning was a “final warning”
in which CSX stated that if Mr. Parker “continue[d] misusing FMLA,” he might “be
subject to a charge and formal disciplinary handling. The Company will continue to
monitor your FMLA mark offs.” (Doc. 37-2, p. 25) (emphasis in CSX document).
It is difficult to track Mr. Parker’s FMLA leave because the parties placed only parts of different
records of Mr. Parker’s FMLA leave in the record. See, e.g., Doc. 37-2, p. 8 (Ms. Johnson
explaining that she provided “excerpts of Mr. Parker’s work history report” showing his FMLA
usage from 2015 forward), and compare Doc. 37-2, pp. 28–33 with Doc. 37-4, pp. 75–76. The
Court has not found in the record a complete report of Mr. Parker’s FMLA usage from 2015
forward. The FMLA records that Mr. Parker submitted in opposition to CSX’s motion for
summary judgment are more complete than the records CSX filed. Mr. Parker’s submission, Doc.
44-5, provides a full count of the days of FMLA leave that Mr. Parker used during the relevant 12month period that began in June of 2017.
In the two warning letters, CSX offered no corroborating evidence to support its
contention that Mr. Parker was misusing FMLA leave. CSX simply equated the use
of FMLA leave on a holiday as FMLA misuse. CSX explained to Mr. Parker that
“[i]f there are extenuating circumstances that may support your pattern use described
in this letter, you may provide Ms. Johnson with supporting documentation by
emailing the information to her . . . .” (Doc. 37-2, p. 25).
CSX did not single Mr. Parker out for criticism. In an August 2016 letter to
its employees, CSX warned that “[u]sing FMLA leave to avoid certain work
assignments” or “to be off on a holiday” was “considered not only misuse, but
fraudulent use of this federally required benefit.” (Doc. 44-23, p. 16). CSX advised
its employees that, “[g]oing forward,” the company would be “diligently monitoring
employee FMLA usage to identify and address, through disciplinary measures, those
who misuse this benefit.” CSX encouraged employees who were aware of instances
of misuse of FMLA leave “to report it to [their] supervisor or Jolanda Johnson,
Manager Benefits-FMLA.” (Doc. 44-23, p. 16). On November 21, 2017, CSX again
warned its employees that it “[would] not allow FMLA to be misused” and urged
employees to report misuse to Ms. Johnson. (Doc. 44-23, p. 19). CSX’s records
show that on holidays and overall, significantly fewer CSX employees used FMLA
leave in 2017 as compared to 2016. Compare Doc. 44-3, p. 18 and Doc. 44-3, p. 19.
When Mr. Parker reapplied for FMLA leave in June of 2017, Mrs. Parker’s
physician certified that Mrs. Parker’s condition was chronic; that she suffered from
“dizziness & vertigo” and “cardiac palpitations and tachycardia;” that episodes of
dysautonomia and POTS could last 48 to 72 hours; and that during episodes, Mr.
Parker would have to help Mrs. Parker stand, walk, and drive. (Doc. 37-3, pp. 63–
64). Mrs. Parker’s physician, Dr. Paula Moore, certified that Mr. Parker’s request
for FMLA leave was “related to a serious health condition of employee’s spouse.”
The Parkers authorized CSX to contact Dr. Moore “to obtain clarification” of the
physician’s medical certification. (Doc. 37-3, pp. 63–64; Doc. 37-9, pp. 13–18).
CSX approved the application and certified Mr. Parker for 12 workweeks of
intermittent leave between June 27, 2017 and June 26, 2018, to be used for “1-3
episodes per week, up to 3 days per episode, and 2 office visits per year.” (Doc. 373, p. 65).
Between June 27, 2017 and December 22, 2017, Mr. Parker used intermittent
FMLA leave on the following dates:
July 13, 2017 (10:58 p.m.)—July 14, 2017 (10:58 a.m.)
July 29, 2017 (11:27 p.m.)—July 31, 2017 (7:40 a.m.)
August 5, 2017 (2:22 p.m.)—August 7, 2017 (12:57 p.m.)
August 10, 2017 (9:32 p.m.)—August 12, 2017 (12:07 p.m.)
September 1, 2017 (10:01 p.m.)—September 3, 2017 (10:06 a.m.)
September 28, 2017 (11:42 p.m.)—September 30, 2017 (10:14 p.m.)
October 17, 2017 (5:34 p.m.)—October 18, 2017 (9:30 a.m.) 5
October 30, 2017 (9:47 p.m.)—October 31—November 1, 2017 (7:50
November 3, 2017 (3:53 p.m.)—November 6, 2017 (8:13 a.m.)
November 11, 2017 (3:19 a.m.)—November 12, 2017 (2:15 p.m.)
November 18, 2017 (12:44 a.m.)—November 19, 2017 (7:25 a.m.)
November 22, 2017 (10:55 p.m.)—November 23, 2017 (9:38 p.m.)
November 30, 2017 (11:50 a.m.)—December 4, 2017 (7:13 a.m.)
December 6, 2017 (8:39 a.m.)—December 7, 2017 (5:21 a.m.)
December 16, 2017 (8:39 p.m.)—December 18, 2017 (7:28 a.m.)
(Doc. 37-2, pp. 30–31, 35; Doc. 37-12, p. 6; Doc. 44-5, pp. 4, 6, 7, 9, 12, 13, 15, 17,
18). October 31, 2017 was Halloween; November 11, 2017 was Veteran’s Day; and
November 23, 2017 was Thanksgiving. These holidays are highlighted above.
On December 23, 2017, at 2:44 a.m., Mr. Parker marked off from work and
did not mark up again until 12:01 a.m. on December 26, 2017. (Doc. 37-1, p. 55;
Doc. 37-2, p. 35). When Mr. Parker arrived home in the early morning of December
23, his wife was home alone. (Doc. 37-3, p. 19, tp. 66). She was having a POTS
From Mr. Parker’s FMLA report, it is not clear whether he marked up on October 18, 2017. On
October 19, 2017, he was out of service for a reason other than FMLA leave, and he marked up
for service on October 20, 2017. (Doc. 44-5, p. 13). For ease of reviewing Mr. Parker’s FMLA
reports, “W” is CSX’s status code for Mr. Parker’s FMLA leave.
flare-up, and Mr. Parker “helped her get up and go to the bathroom, make it back to
the couch, g[ot] her food and drink and blankets to cover her up whenever she’s cold,
washcloths to wipe her face.” (Doc. 37-3, p. 10, tp. 67). Mr. Parker left the house
on December 23 only to go to the drugstore for supplies for his wife. (Doc. 37-3, p.
19, tp. 68).
Mrs. Parker’s condition did not improve on December 24, 2017. (Doc. 37-3,
p. 19, tp. 69). The family did not celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve. (Doc. 373, p. 20, tp. 70). Mr. Parker continued to provide care to his wife on December 24
and December 25. (Doc. 37-3, p. 20, tpp. 70–71; see Doc. 44-4, p. 5, tp. 10). Mrs.
Parker explained that she did not recall Mr. Parker leaving the house on December
24 or 25, but “[i]f he did, it was to run to the store.” (Doc. 44-4, p. 6, tp. 14). The
night of December 25 at approximately 10:30 p.m., the Parkers’ daughter had a
seizure. (Doc. 37-21, pp. 18–25; Doc. 44-2, p. 18). Because of her POTS episode,
Mrs. Parker could not drive, so Mr. Parker drove his wife and daughter to the
hospital. (Doc. 37-3, p. 21, tpp. 74–76). Mr. Parker marked up for work at 12:01
a.m. on December 26, 2017; his wife’s POTS episode “wasn’t over, but it was
getting to where she could function.” (Doc. 37-3, p. 20, tpp. 73). By December 26,
2017, Mr. Parker had used his three-day window for intermittent leave, so he had to
return to work. (Doc. 37-3, p. 65).
A few days later, on December 30, 2017 from 10:14 a.m. to 11:28 p.m., Mr.
Parker marked off for a scheduled personal day. (Doc. 37-2, p. 35). Immediately
after Mr. Parker was automatically marked up at 11:28 p.m. on December 30, Mr.
Parker marked off on FMLA leave. (Doc. 37-2, p. 35). Mr. Parker was marked off
for FMLA leave from 11:28 p.m. on December 30, 2017 until 7:14 a.m. on January
1, 2018. (Doc. 37-2, p. 35; Doc. 44-5, p. 19). Mr. Parker explained that he
immediately marked off for FMLA leave because his “wife was having another one
of the bad episodes, and I knew if I didn’t mark up and mark back off FMLA I would
be called out and wouldn’t be able to take care of my wife.” (Doc. 37-3, p. 27, tp.
101). Between the evening of December 30, 2017 and the morning of January 1,
2018, Mr. and Mrs. Parker did not leave their house. (Doc. 37-3, p. 28, tp. 102). Mr.
Parker explained he spent New Year’s Eve taking care of Mrs. Parker. (Doc. 37-3,
p. 28, tp. 102).
There is no evidence that CSX received reports that Mr. Parker or any other
CSX employee misused FMLA leave over the 2017-18 holiday season. (Doc. 44-9,
p. 28, tpp. 103–04). Jolanda Johnson, CSX’s FMLA benefits manager, questioned
employees’ use of FMLA leave over the 2017-18 Christmas and New Year holidays
because she believed the number of employees “marking off” near those holidays
significantly exceeded the number of employees who used FMLA leave on most
other days in 2017. (Doc. 37-2, p. 4, ¶¶ 7–9; Doc. 37-2, p. 17). She reports: “Based
on the sharp spike in FMLA usage over Christmas and New Year’s, I believed that
some employees had used leave dishonestly.” (Doc. 37-2, p. 4, ¶ 9). CSX’s charts
of total FMLA mark-offs by day for 2016 and 2017 indicate that the mark-offs for
Christmas 2017 were high; over 700 employees marked off as compared to 200 to
300 mark-offs on other days in 2017. (Doc. 44-3, p. 19). Overall, holiday markoffs in 2017 were significantly lower than the holiday mark-offs in 2016. (Doc. 443, pp. 18–19).
In consultation with CSX’s Labor Relations and Law departments, Ms.
Johnson decided to “charge with dishonesty and remove from service pending a
hearing” employees who marked off on four of the previous ten holidays “or special
occasions” in 2017. 6 Ms. Johnson excepted from the 4-in-10 presumption of FMLA
misuse an employee whose medical condition, in Ms. Johnson’s opinion, “clearly
explained the mark-offs.” (Doc. 37-2, p. 5, ¶ 9). Ms. Johnson exempted employees
who had cancer, who were terminally ill, or who were pregnant with due dates near
Christmas or New Year’s Day. (Doc. 37-2, p. 5, ¶ 9; Doc. 44-9, p. 38, tp. 142).
These “holidays” consisted of Christmas Day and Eve, New Year’s Day and Eve, Black Friday,
Thanksgiving, Veteran’s Day, Halloween, Columbus Day, Labor Day, the Fourth of July, and
Father’s Day. (Doc. 37-2, p. 4, ¶ 9).
Under the collective bargaining agreement between CSX and its employees represented by the
United Transportation Union, dishonesty is a major offense. (Doc. 37-1, pp. 19–20). The United
Transportation Union is now the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and
Transportation Workers. (Doc. 37-1, p. 3, ¶ 3).
By letter dated January 8, 2018, CSX advised Mr. Parker that he was being
removed from service and ordered him to “attend a formal investigation” on January
16 to “develop the facts and place your responsibility, if any, in connection with a
review of your work history on December 29, 2017, in which you misused FMLA
leave between December 22, 2017 and December 26, 2017, and all circumstances
relating thereto.” (Doc. 44-2, p. 56). 7 The collective bargaining agreement between
CSX and its employees’ union dictated the hearing procedure. (Doc. 44-3). The
trainmen removed from service under Ms. Johnson’s 4-in-10 test for FMLA misuse
were entitled to a fair and impartial hearing. (Doc. 44-3, p. 27). A notice of hearing
had to advise each trainman of his right to representation and to call witnesses; Mr.
Parker’s notice complied with this requirement. (Doc. 44-2, p. 56; Doc. 44-3, p. 28).
Before the hearing, CXS could “request documents for review from the Trainman
and his representative(s),” and the trainman was obligated to “promptly provide
the responsive documents if available.” (Doc. 44-3, p. 30). The hearings proceeded
A CSXT manager – known as the “hearing officer” – conducts the
hearing, questioning witnesses and ruling on evidentiary objections. A
Company official testifies about the basis for the charges. This manager
is sometimes referred to as the “charging officer,” and is usually but not
always the one who decided to bring the charges. A charged employee
Initially, a CSX crew master called Mr. Parker and told him that he was removed from service.
(Doc. 44-5, p. 20; see also Doc. 44-1, p. 22, tpp. 78-79). Neither the crew caller nor the trainmaster
on duty could tell Mr. Parker why he was being removed from service. In its January 8, 2018 letter
to Mr. Parker, CSX formally advised him that he was removed from service pending an
investigation of his “misused FMLA leave.” (Doc. 44-2, p. 56).
is represented by a union official and can present evidence in his own
defense. After the hearing, the hearing officer may issue findings, but
does not issue discipline. Typically, disciplinary decisions are made by
either the General Superintendent for the Region or his designee, after
receiving a recommendation from Labor Relations. The CSRA sets
deadlines for each stage of the disciplinary process. See Ex. 1 at Art.
10, § 2(A)(1)(a) (10-day time limit for charging employees); id. Art.
10, § 3(A)(1) (discipline must be assessed within 30 days of hearing).
Failure to meet these deadlines can be grounds to overturn the
(Doc. 37-1, pp. 3–4, ¶ 4).
At Mr. Parker’s hearing concerning his use of FMLA leave on December 24
and 25, 2017, Tremaylen Anderson, CSX’s Human Resource Business Partner,
testified about the charge against Mr. Parker. (Doc. 44-2, pp. 80, 101). Ms.
Anderson stated that “the basis of the Charge is for FMLA misuse between 12/22
through 12/26/2017 was based on a high FMLA utilization over the Christmas
holiday in 2017. Mr. Parker also his [sic] usage over the recent holiday.” (Doc. 442, p. 83, tpp. 14–17). Ms. Anderson acknowledged that CSX did not ask Mr. Parker
to provide documentation to support his FMLA leave on December 24 and 25 before
the company removed him from service. (Doc. 44-2, p. 93, tp. 37). With respect to
Mr. Parker’s use of FMLA leave on December 24 and 25, Ms. Anderson explained:
[W]e’re not saying that there could not have been [a POTS] episode on
that particular day. What we are saying is based on the facts
surrounding [Mr. Parker’s] FMLA usage that occurred between
December 22nd and December 26th, 2017, it is clear that Mr. Parker used
FMLA to avoid working the Christmas holidays.
(Doc. 37-4, p. 54). Ms. Anderson added:
I do not know if [Mr. Parker’s] wife had an episode or not. I do not
know that. Okay. So I’m not disputing that his wife may or may not
have had an episode. I’m not disputing that. But, based off of the CSX
FMLA Policy, which clearly states that employees cannot use FMLA
to avoid working over the Christmas holiday or over any holiday, so
that is what we’re basing this off of is our information.
(Doc. 37-4, p. 57). When asked, “So the federal policy states that his wife can have
an episode over the holidays, but CSX states he can’t, or she can’t. Is that correct?”
Ms. Anderson replied, “That’s correct.” (Doc. 37-4, p. 58).
Hearing Officer J.T. Pacey questioned Mr. Parker about his FMLA use over
the Christmas holiday. The following exchange was the entirety of Hearing Officer
Pacey’s examination of Mr. Parker about his use of FMLA leave over the Christmas
Mr. Pacey: Were you laid off FMLA during Christmas holidays?
Mr. Parker: Not the whole time they have charged me for.
Mr. Pacey: Alright. So what days were you laid off?
Mr. Parker: 24th and 25th.
Mr. Pacey: So you were off those 2 specific days FMLA?
Mr. Parker: Yes.
Mr. Pacey: Mr. Brock had made mention in Miss Anderson’s cross
examine that your wife may have had an episode and then
went to the hospital during Christmas, or Christmas Eve,
Mr. Parker: I was at the hospital.
Mr. Pacey: So you were with your wife at the hospital?
Mr. Parker: Yes.
Mr. Pacey: I guess that’s kind of…
Mr. Parker: Yes.
Mr. Pacey: … question I’m asking. But do you have documentation
Mr. Parker: Yes.
Mr. Pacey: Do you have documentation you want to present to the
Mr. Parker: No, I don’t have it with me.
(Doc. 37-4, pp. 66–67). Mr. Parker’s union representative, R.J. Brock, asked Mr.
Parker “[d]uring the time frame you were off FMLA on Christmas Day did you
spend it with your wife in the emergency room in accordance with your FMLA
authorization?” (Doc. 37-4, p. 67). Mr. Parker confirmed he did. (Doc. 37-4, p.
Mr. Pacey questioned Mr. Parker about his failure to bring medical records to
the hearing. He asked:
So with you having a reported reason for laying off FMLA during the
Christmas holidays, be it Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and you have
documentation where you spent Christmas Day in the hospital with
your wife since receiving the Notice that you were coming to an
investigation why wouldn’t you want to present documentation saying
that you were off legitimately instead of fraudulently for FMLA
(Doc. 37-4, p. 69). Mr. Parker replied:
Because I was called at home waiting on a train and they told me I was
pulled out of service effective immediately. Didn’t give me a reason,
wouldn’t tell me why, they just said you’re pulled out of service,
Charge Letter will be sent. Did not know what I was being charged for
until I received the Charge Letter and then it’s too late.
(Doc. 37-4, p. 70, tp. 54). 8
Hearing officer Pacey concluded that CSX proved that Mr. Parker violated the
FMLA leave policy.
(Doc. 44-12, p. 46).
Mr. Pacey made no credibility
determinations about Mr. Parker’s brief testimony. Mr. Pacey made a single finding
of fact: “Parker admitted he was off FMLA for the Christmas Holidays.” (Doc. 4412, p. 46).
After the January 16, 2018 hearing, Mr. Parker gathered medical records
relating to Mrs. Parker’s health in December of 2017 and January of 2018. He
brought them with him to the February 1, 2018 hearing that CSX convened to
determine if Mr. Parker’s use of FMLA leave between December 30, 2017 and
January 2, 2018 warranted discipline. (Doc. 44-3, pp. 48, 97). Trainmaster Russell
Weeks, acting as the Conducting Officer, presided over an investigatory hearing.
(see Doc. 44-3, pp. 48–51).
CSX placed the January 8, 2018 letter in the mail to Mr. Parker on January 8, 2018 and sent it
priority mail two-day service. (Doc. 37-4, pp. 14–15).
Ms. Johnson served as the charging officer and explained why CSX charged
Mr. Parker with FMLA misuse:
The basis for the charge of FMLA misuse between on [sic] 12/30/2017
and 1/2/2018 is based on a few factors. One being the high FMLA
utilization that [CSX] experienced over the New Year’s holiday in
2017-2018. Also, an individualized review was completed. And then
lastly, Mr. Parker did receive a counseling letter in 2017 regarding how
he was using his FMLA.
(Doc. 44-3, p. 59).
Ms. Johnson reported that her individualized review of Mr. Parker’s FMLA
use between June 15, 2017 and 2018 “clearly shows where Mr. Parker has
consistently been off in FMLA status on holidays as well as other events.” (Doc.
44-3, p. 60, tp. 11). Ms. Johnson asserted that “Mr. Parker was notified on at least
6 separate occasions about what is considered FMLA misuse,” and that, “[b]ased on
the facts and circumstances surrounding the FMLA usage that occurred on
December 31st, 2017, it’s clear that Mr. Parker misused FMLA leave, by using
FMLA leave to avoid working over the New Year holiday in 2017.” (Doc. 44-3, p.
62). Ms. Johnson stated that the “high FMLA utilization over the New Year’s
holidays” by CSX employees “certainly negatively impacted the company, which
contributes to crew unavailability and train delays.” (Doc. 44-3, p. 60). Ms. Johnson
explained that there were approximately 74 train delays over the holiday, crew
members who otherwise would have had the holiday off were forced to work, and
“customers were negatively impacted.” (Doc. 44-3, p. 60).
According to Ms. Johnson, “Mr. Parker using FMLA to avoid working over
the New Year holidays, specifically December 31st, 2017, is considered dishonest
and a violation of Operating Rule 104.2(a).” (Doc. 44-3, p. 68). Ms. Johnson did
not ask Mr. Parker why he marked off between December 31, 2017 and January 2,
2018, and she did not know before charging him whether his wife had a POTS
episode over the holiday. (Doc. 44-3, pp. 69, 78).
Ms. Johnson stated that “the Company cannot require” an employee to
provide “any documentation” of a particular use of FMLA intermittent leave after
CSX authorizes a 12-month period of leave, but “employees have the option, if they
want to submit all documentation” to CSX, and if the documentation an employee
volunteered “support[ed] or justif[ied] the employee [FMLA] usage during the
charge period, definitely then we would take that into consideration, take the
appropriate next step.” (Doc. 44-3, p. 74; see also Doc. 44-3, p. 73 (Ms. Johnson’s
internal investigation testimony that “employees are not required to provide
documentation outside of what is stated on the FMLA form” request for intermittent
FMLA leave)). When Mr. Brock, Mr. Parker’s union representative, asked Ms.
Johnson what documentation Mr. Parker could submit “to make it a valid FMLA
layoff during a holiday or weekend,” Ms. Johnson replied, “I cannot state what needs
to be provided,” (Doc. 44-3, p. 73), but Ms. Johnson noted that “Mr. Parker did not
provide any medical documentation to justify the leave,” (Doc. 44-3, p. 74). Because
CSX was not allowed to require Mr. Parker to provide documentation to substantiate
his FMLA leave, to charge Mr. Parker with dishonest use of FMLA leave, Ms.
Johnson simply looked “at how Mr. Parker was off over the recent holiday and as it
clearly shows Mr. Parker has consistently been off FMLA over holidays and other
events.” (Doc. 44-3, p. 70).
During the hearing, Mr. Parker provided to Ms. Johnson a January 31, 2018
letter from Dr. Jordan F. Vaughn at MedHelp and records from Mrs. Parker’s
December 2017 and January 2018 appointments with Dr. Moore. The letter from
Dr. Vaughn states that Mrs. Parker:
had a series of incapacitating episodes throughout the month of
December 2017 and January 2018. These episodes have required
monitoring, physician care and hospitalization. It has been my
recommendation that her husband, Allen Parker, stay with her during
these episodes. While having an episode, [Mrs. Parker] is unable to
safely do everyday tasks (i.e. drive, maneuver stairs, walk to and from
her bed to the bathroom, etc.) without his help. She has had recurring
blackouts and constant vertigo.
(Doc. 37-5, p. 41; Doc. 37-14, p. 31 (same)). 9
Mrs. Parker worked for MedHelp as its controller and HR manager. (Doc. 44-4, p. 4, tp. 7). Dr.
Vaughn treated Mrs. Parker for dizziness, vertigo, and fainting. (Doc. 44-6, p. 7, tp. 18). Mrs.
Parker explained that every time she got dehydrated at work, she would “go downstairs and get an
IV bag.” (Doc. 44-4, p. 5, tp. 11). Dr. Vaughn confirmed that when Mrs. Parker was having an
episode, she would have to get IV hydration and might need to go home. If she had to leave work,
she was not allowed to drive. Someone would have to pick her up from work. (Doc. 44-6, pp. 6,
8, tpp. 17, 23–24).
Dr. Moore’s medical record from December 7, 2017 explains that Mrs. Parker
was experiencing “[n]ear syncope, dizziness, migraines, palpitations, racing heart,
[and] chest pain.” (Doc. 37-14, p. 35). 10 Dr. Moore reported that on December 6,
2017, Mrs. Parker had had “a pretty ‘close call’” while driving. “She suddenly felt
her heart starting to race . . . . Shortly after, everything went black, which resulted
in her hitting the concrete barrier on the side of the highway.” (Doc. 37-14, p. 35).
“When she came to completely, she was having some chest pain, tachycardia, and
[shortness of breath].” (Doc. 37-14, p. 35). Mr. Parker went to meet Mrs. Parker.
(Doc. 37-14, p. 35). Dr. Moore noted that Mrs. Parker was experiencing intermittent
tachycardia and chest pain and weekly to biweekly heart palpitations. (Doc. 37-14,
p. 35). Because of Mrs. Parker’s crash and her symptoms, Dr. Moore “asked her not
to drive for the next week. Stay off interstate til end of year.” (Doc. 37-14, p. 37). 11
Dr. Moore instructed Mrs. Parker to return in three to four weeks. (Doc. 37-14, pp.
“Syncope . . . is the medical term for fainting or passing out. It is caused by a temporary drop
in the amount of blood that flows to the brain.”
CLEVELAND CLINIC, Syncope,
https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/17536-syncope (last visited July 12, 2021).
Mr. Parker used FMLA leave on December 6, 2017, the day that Mrs. Parker blacked out while
driving. (Doc. 44-5, p. 17).
In her December 7, 2017 medical record for Mrs. Parker, Dr. Moore directed: “I think that [Mrs.
Parker] is very dehydrated based on her symptoms over the last week really. I have asked her to
see if she can get a liter of IVF when she returns to work today.” (Doc. 37-14, p. 37).
The January 4, 2018 medical records from Dr. Moore state, in part, that Mrs.
Parker reported “room-spinning” dizziness that began on January 3, 2018. Mrs.
Parker was vomiting. Dr. Moore commented that the symptoms were “normal for”
Mrs. Parker. (Doc. 37-14, p. 32). Dr. Moore’s January 4, 2018 record states that
Mrs. Parker had been suffering from heart palpitations and tachycardia for several
weeks. (Doc. 37-14, p. 32). Dr. Moore sent Mrs. Parker to the emergency room for
treatment for acute vertigo, heart palpitations, tachycardia, and nausea. (Doc. 3714, p. 33). Dr. Moore stated that Mrs. Parker could not drive until her symptoms
were resolved. (Doc. 37-14, p. 33). 13
After the February 1, 2018 hearing, to assist CSX in its evaluation of Mr.
Parker’s FMLA usage over the 2017-18 holiday season, Dr. Craig Heligman, CSX’s
Chief Medical Officer, reviewed the letter from Dr. Vaughn and the medical records
from Dr. Moore dated December 7, 2017 and January 4, 2018. Dr. Heligman was
not satisfied with the medical records that Mr. Parker provided, so he asked for the
contact information for Dr. Moore and tried to call her. (Doc. 37-14, pp. 13–14, tpp.
44–46; Doc. 37-14, p. 26 (email from Dr. Heligman requesting information about
Parker certifying physician)). Dr. Heligman did not speak to Dr. Moore. (Doc. 3714, pp. 14–15, tpp. 49–50). Dr. Heligman stated that he could not reach an opinion
At the hearing regarding his use of FMLA leave over the New Year’s holiday, Mr. Parker
explained: “once my wife is out, the children don’t have anyone. So I have to take care of
everyone, not just her.” (Doc. 44-3, p. 84, tp. 35).
about the validity of Mr. Parker’s FMLA usage without speaking to Mrs. Parker’s
certifying physician. Dr. Heligman did not try to call Dr. Moore again after his first
attempt. (Doc. 37-14, p. 14–15, tpp. 49–50).
Macon Jones, a CSX Labor Relations Senior Manager, was responsible for
making disciplinary recommendations to General Superintendent John Layne in
cases involving employees in CSX’s Southwest Region, the region in which Mr.
Parker worked. (Doc. 44-18, p. 7, tpp. 18, 20). Mr. Jones did not submit his
recommendation concerning Mr. Parker’s discipline until 12:08 a.m. on Thursday,
February 15, 2018, two weeks after Mr. Parker submitted Mrs. Parker’s medical
records to CSX. (Doc. 37-12, p. 10). Erica McNair, a CSX staff member, wrote in
an email at 6:55 a.m. on February 15, 2018: “Discipline is due out TODAY.” (Doc.
37-12, p. 12). The same day, at 10:53 a.m., Melissa Wheaton, a lawyer who served
as CSX’s Director of Labor relations, asked Mr. Jones:
Please specify between warning and final warning letter in the emails.
If only a warning and a relatively clean IDPAP record (no other majors
within 3 years etc., then 30 days. Final warning, we can recommend
(Doc. 37-12, p. 10).
At some point later that day, Mr. Jones emailed Ms. McNair with a
recommendation for dismissal. (Doc. 37-12, p. 14). The email prompted Ms.
McNair to issue a dismissal letter to Mr. Parker. (Doc. 37-12, p. 13). Ms. Wheaton
wrote at 4:26 p.m. that she “spoke with Latasha [Garrison-Fullwood, a CSX “Senior
Counsel”], please assess 30 days/time served.
We will revisit for additional
discussions.” (Doc. 37-12, p. 15). Ms. McNair wrote at 4:29 p.m. that “I will [sic]
an amendment for time served which will go out in the morning,” (Doc. 37-12, p.
15), and in another email sent at 4:34 p.m., Ms. McNair wrote: “We will amend
original discipline letter which was mailed within the time limits,” (Doc. 37-12, p.
13). CSX did not amend Mr. Parker’s discipline to time served.
By letter dated February 15, 2018, CSX notified Mr. Parker that he was fired
because he had violated CSX Transportation Operating Rule 104.2 by being
dishonest about his FMLA leave between December 22, 2017 and December 26,
2017. (Doc. 45-8, p. 2). By letter dated March 2, 2018, two weeks after it fired him
the first time, CSX fired Mr. Parker again for dishonesty, this time for his FMLA
use between December 31, 2017 and January 2, 2018. (Doc. 37-21, p. 69).
Mr. Parker appealed his termination under CSX’s collective bargaining
agreement. In a June 4, 2018 letter to Dale Barnett, General Chairman of the
International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers
Union, Mr. Jones defended CSX’s decision with respect to Christmas 2017 and
explained that “[t]he high FMLA utilization on Christmas prompted a review of [Mr.
Parker’s] FMLA usage. Moreover, [Mr. Parker] never submitted any medication
documentation to support his mark offs.” (Doc. 45-1, p. 3). Mr. Jones stated that
Mr. Parker “testified and agreed he marked off the days outlined by [CSX], but
explained his mark offs were legitimate.
When asked about medication
documentation, [Mr. Parker] stated he had documentation, but did not bring it to the
investigation.” (Doc. 45-1, p. 3). Mr. Jones continued:
The facts in this incident are not in dispute. Claimant was approved for
FMLA usage during the time Claimant marked off, but his actions
created a pattern of misuse in an effort to avoid work. To be clear,
Claimant is not charged with marking off on prior holidays in 2017.
Rather, those mark offs are present to show a pattern of Claimant’s
usage on and around holidays. Here, consistent with that pattern,
Claimant marked off on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day 2017. Those
actions, coupled with the insanely high FMLA utilization on Christmas
Eve and Christmas Day 2017, show this is not a simple coincidence,
but an effort by Claimant to mark off to avoid work. Incredibly,
Claimant refused medical documentation to support his actions and
simply explained he did not bring it to the investigation. Apparently,
Claimant wishes to mark off at his whim and the Carrier is left to accept
his word at face value he is properly using FMLA. Claimant was given
the opportunity to legitimize his actions and provide support for his
markoffs, but refused. Considering Claimant’s pattern of behavior and
his refusal to submit documentation, there is sufficient circumstantial
evidence to show Claimant violated the charged rule.
(Doc. 45-1, p. 4). 14
An arbitration board consisting of Mr. Jones, a CSX employee representative,
and a neutral upheld CSX’s first termination decision. (Doc. 37-1, p. 55). The
arbitration board found “that the record contains substantial evidence in support of
the charge and [Mr. Parker’s] violation of CSX Operating Rule 104.2, prohibiting
dishonesty.” (Doc. 37-1, p. 54). In its written decision, the board focused on CSX’s
several warnings to employees that use of FMLA leave to avoid work on a holiday
was fraudulent, CSX’s contention “that [Mr. Parker’s] history of taking FMLA leave
on holidays warranted an individualized review of his FMLA leave use,” and Mr.
Parker’s failure to submit “medical documentation he claimed to have possessed.”
(Doc. 37-1, p. 55).
The identical arbitration board consisting of Mr. Jones, a CSX employee
representative, and a neutral upheld CSX’s second termination decision. (Doc. 371, pp. 57–58). In its written decision, the board again focused on CSX’s several
warnings to employees that use of FMLA leave to avoid work on a holiday was
fraudulent and CSX’s contention “that [Mr. Parker’s] history of taking FMLA leave
Mr. Jones later testified that “the thing that weighed on me probably the most in this was the
fact that [Mr. Parker] provided a very, very specific explanation for his time, but he didn’t provide
any corroborating information related to that. And it’s the type of thing -- the emergency room
visit is the type of information that would be easily assessed if it were true.” (Doc. 37-10, p. 43,
on holidays again warranted an individualized review of his FMLA leave use.”
(Doc. 37-1, p. 55). The board stated: “the facts in the present case are nearly
identical, and  this record likewise lacks any documentary evidence in support of
claimant’s position that his FMLA layoff was defensible under FMLA policy and
the conditions of his FMLA leave.” (Doc. 37-1, p. 58). Consequently, the board
concluded that substantial evidence supported the decision to terminate Mr. Parker.
(Doc. 37-1, p. 58).
The FMLA “prohibits an employer from . . . retaliating against an employee .
. . for having exercised . . . FMLA rights,” and an employer can neither “use the
taking of FMLA leave as a negative factor in employment actions” nor
“discourage[e] an employee from taking such leave.” 29 C.F.R. § 825.220(b) & (c).
Mr. Parker relies on circumstantial evidence to prove that CSX retaliated against
him because he used FMLA leave. (Doc. 46, pp. 36–55).
When relying on circumstantial evidence in an FMLA retaliation case, a
plaintiff may establish a prima facie case by using the McDonnell Douglas burden
shifting test. Jones v. Gulf Coast Health Care of Del., LLC, 854 F.3d 1261, 1271
(11th Cir. 2017); Shannon v. Nat’l R.R. Passenger Corp., 774 Fed. Appx. 529, 544
(11th Cir. 2019) (“Absent direct evidence of a defendant’s retaliatory intent, a
plaintiff’s FMLA retaliation claim is evaluated under the McDonnell Douglas
framework.”); see McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). A
plaintiff may establish a prima facie case by demonstrating that: “(1) [he] engaged
in statutorily protected activity, (2) [he] suffered an adverse employment decision,
and (3) the decision was causally related to the protected activity.” Jones, 854 F.3d
at 1271 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). A plaintiff may establish
causation by showing that his employer “‘was aware of the protected conduct at the
time of the adverse employment action.’” Jones, 854 F.3d at 1271 (quoting Krutzig
v. Pulte Home Corp., 602 F.3d 1231, 1234 (11th Cir. 2010)).
If a plaintiff successfully establishes a prima facie case, then the burden shifts
to the employer to articulate “a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason” for the adverse
employment action, “which, if believed by the trier of fact, would support a finding
that unlawful discrimination was not the cause of the employment action.” St.
Mary’s Honor Ctr. v. Hicks, 509 U.S. 502, 507 (1993) (internal citations and
quotation marks omitted) (emphasis in Hicks).
If the employer articulates a
legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason, then the burden returns to the plaintiff to prove
that the employer’s stated reason for the adverse employment action is pretext for
the retaliatory conduct. Hicks, 509 U.S. at 507. A plaintiff may demonstrate that
his employer’s articulated reasons for an adverse employment action were pretextual
“by revealing ‘such weaknesses, implausibilities, inconsistencies, incoherencies or
contradictions in [the employer’s] proffered legitimate reasons for its actions that a
reasonable factfinder could find them unworthy of credence.’”
Convergys Customer Mgmt. Grp. Inc., 509 F.3d 1344, 1348–49 (11th Cir. 2007)
(quoting Cooper v. Southern Co., 390 F.3d 695, 725 (11th Cir. 2004), cert. denied,
546 U.S. 960 (2005)).
As always, “establishing the elements of the McDonnell Douglas framework
is not, and never was intended to be, the sine qua non for a plaintiff to survive a
summary judgment motion in an employment discrimination case.” Smith v.
Lockheed-Martin Corp., 644 F.3d 1321, 1328 (11th Cir. 2011). “Rather, the plaintiff
will always survive summary judgment if he presents circumstantial evidence that
creates a triable issue concerning the employer’s discriminatory intent.” Smith, 644
F.3d at 1328 (citing Holifield v. Reno, 115 F.3d 1555, 1562 (11th Cir. 1997);
Silverman v. Bd. of Educ. of City of Chicago, 637 F.3d 729, 733 (7th Cir. 2011)). “A
triable issue of fact exists if the record, viewed in the light most favorable to the
plaintiff, presents ‘a convincing mosaic of circumstantial evidence that would allow
a jury to infer intentional discrimination by the decisionmaker.’” Smith, 644 F.3d at
1328 (quoting Silverman, 637 F.3d at 734). The same is true for retaliatory intent
with respect to an employee’s exercise of his rights under the FMLA. Benz v.
Crowley Maritime Corp., 732 Fed. Appx. 794, 804 (11th Cir. 2018).
For purposes of summary judgment, CSX has assumed that Mr. Parker can
establish a prima facie case of retaliation. (Doc. 39, p. 23; Doc. 48, p. 5). 15 CSX
argues that it “did not dismiss Parker solely because he used FMLA leave.” (Doc.
39, p. 24) (emphasis added). CSX reports that it “dismissed Parker for using FMLA
leave dishonestly” and contends that “[t]his is a legitimate, non-discriminatory basis
for discipline.” (Doc. 39, p. 24). An employee’s dishonest use of FMLA leave is a
legitimate reason for an adverse employment action. Parker v. Verizon Pa., Inc.,
309 Fed. Appx. 551, 563 (3d Cir. 2009) (“Just as suspected fraud or violation of
company policy would be a sufficient basis to discharge an employee not on FMLA
leave, it is a sufficient basis to discharge one who misuses FMLA leave.”); see
generally E.E.O.C. v. Total System Servs., Inc., 221 F.3d 1171 (11th Cir. 2000).
The Court has not located an Eleventh Circuit FMLA retaliation decision
concerning an employee’s alleged dishonest use of FMLA leave. In Total System,
the Eleventh Circuit discussed employee dishonesty as a basis for an adverse
employment action in a Title VII retaliation case. In that case, the defendant
employer began an internal investigation regarding complaints that a supervisor had
been sexually harassing employees. Members of the company’s human resources
department interviewed eight female employees and three male employees. One of
CSX still questions whether Mr. Parker legitimately used FMLA leave on December 24, 25, and
31, 2017. The medical evidence in the record indicates that Mrs. Parker was struggling with
dysautonomia and POTS throughout December 2017 and January 2018.
the men reported a rumor that the alleged harasser had approached several female
employees, unzipped his pants, and made lewd remarks. The interviewers asked the
female interviewees about the rumor. One woman, Lindy Warren, indicated that
“she observed the zipper incident.” Total System, 221 F.3d at 1173. Ms. Warren
reported that two female co-workers were present during the zipper incident, but the
co-workers denied seeing the incident. Total System, 221 F.3d at 1173.
HR vice president Elizabeth James questioned Ms. Warren about the zipper
incident and “became convinced that Warren had not told the truth about the
incident.” Total System, 221 F.3d at 1173. Ms. James fired Ms. Warren for lying
during an investigation. Ms. Warren challenged Ms. James’s decision, and the Vice
Chairman of the Board of Total Systems “ordered a reinvestigation into the incident
to determine whether [Ms. Warren] had fabricated that story or the statement was
merely uncorroborated. [Ms.] James conducted the reinvestigation.” Total System,
221 F.3d at 1173. Ms. James interviewed the two female co-workers who Ms.
Warren identified as witnesses to the zipper incident.
Norwood and Silvestri again denied witnessing the incident. Norwood
declared that it would have been impossible for her to miss the incident
Warren described. Moreover, Norwood said that Warren had come to
Norwood’s house and tried to convince her that the incident had indeed
Total System, 221 F.3d at 1173.
“Following the reinvestigation, Warren’s
termination was allowed to stand.” Total System, 221 F.3d at 1173.
On behalf of Ms. Warren, the EEOC sued Total System for retaliation. The
district court granted Total System’s motion for summary judgment, and the
Eleventh Circuit affirmed. The Eleventh Circuit explained that an employer faced
with a charge of retaliation based on its finding that an employee was dishonest
cannot be “forced to prove – presumably in a court of law – more than its good faith
belief that a false statement was knowingly made,” and a defendant “offer[s] a
legitimate nondiscriminatory reason” for an employee’s termination when the
employer asserts that it made a good faith determination that the employee behaved
dishonestly. Total System, 221 F.3d at 1176; see also id. at 1176 (“[A]n employer,
in these situations, is entitled to rely on its good faith belief about falsity,
concealment, and so forth.”).
The Eleventh Circuit opined: “whether to fire an employee for lying to the
employer in the course of the business’s conduct of an important internal
investigation is basically a business decision; this decision, as with most business
decisions, is not for the courts to second-guess as a kind of super-personnel
Total System, 221 F.3d at 1176 (citing Damon v. Fleming
Supermarkets of Fla., Inc., 196 F.3d 1354, 1361 (11th Cir. 1999)). The Court of
When an employer is told of improper conduct at its workplace, the
employer can lawfully ask: is the accusation true? When the resulting
employer’s investigation . . . produces contradictory accounts of
significant historical events, the employer can lawfully make a choice
between the conflicting versions—that is, to accept one as true and to
reject one as fictitious—at least, as long as the choice is an honest
choice. And, at least when the circumstances give the employer good
reason to believe that the fictitious version was the result of a
knowingly false statement by one of its employees, the law will not
protect the employee’s job.
Total System, 221 F.3d at 1176.
Having found that Total System articulated a legitimate nondiscriminatory
reason for Ms. Warren’s termination, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the judgment in
favor of Total System because the EEOC “present[ed] no evidence that Defendant
lacked a good faith belief that Warren lied. The record compels a finding of good
faith.” Total System, 221 F.3d at 1177.
Consistent with Total System, the Court finds that CSX has articulated a
legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for firing Mr. Parker by asserting that it
dismissed him based on its good faith belief that he “us[ed] FMLA leave
dishonestly.” CSX has carried its very light burden. See Woods v. Delta Air Lines
Inc., 595 Fed. Appx. 874, 878 (11th Cir. 2014) (explaining that an employer has an
“‘exceedingly light’ burden to proffer, but not prove, a legitimate, nonretaliatory
reason for its employment action.”) (citing Vessels v. Atl. Indep. Sch. Sys., 408 F.3d
763, 769–70 (11th Cir. 2005)).
Therefore, the burden returns to Mr. Parker to “present evidence that
Defendant lacked a good faith belief that [he] lied” about his need for FMLA leave
over the 2017-18 holiday season. Total System, 221 F.3d at 1177; Godwin v. Corizon
Health, 732 Fed. Appx. 805, 807 (11th Cir. 2018) (noting that in an FMLA
retaliation case concerning employee’s use of intermittent FMLA leave, the “inquiry
into pretext centers on the employer’s beliefs”); Tillman v. Ohio Bell Telephone Co.,
545 Fed. Appx. 340, 349 (6th Cir. 2013) (stating that at the pretext stage, “the key
inquiry is whether the employer made a reasonably informed and considered
decision before taking an adverse employment action.”) (internal quotation marks
and citation omitted).
Mr. Parker cannot avoid summary judgment on his retaliation claim simply
by demonstrating that he was not dishonest in his use of FMLA leave during the
2017-18 holiday season. Elrod v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 939 F.2d 1466, 1470 (11th
Cir. 1991) (“That the employee did not in fact engage in misconduct reported to the
employer is irrelevant to the question whether employer believed the employee had
done wrong.”) (citing Hawkins v. Ceco Corp., 883 F.2d 977 (11th Cir. 1989)).
Rather, Mr. Parker must offer evidence from which jurors may conclude that the
circumstances surrounding CSX’s investigation of his use of FMLA leave over the
2017-18 holiday season reveal that the investigation was not conducted in good faith,
such that CSX could not legitimately conclude that Mr. Parker misused FMLA leave
on December 24, 25, and 31. Total System, 221 F.3d at 1176 (referring to the
circumstances surrounding an employer’s investigation and the employer’s
obligation to make an “honest choice” between conflicting versions of events); Lowe
v. Alabama Power Co., 244 F.3d 1305, 1308 (11th Cir. 2001) (in evaluating an
employer’s articulated good faith assessment of risk concerning a proposed
reasonable accommodation in an ADA case, “[t]he key inquiry is whether the
employer made a reasonably informed and considered decision before taking an
adverse employment action.”) (citing Smith v. Chrysler Corp., 155 F.3d 799, 807
(6th Cir. 1998)). 16
Mr. Parker has presented evidence that contradicts each of the three pillars on
which CSX’s articulated good faith reason for terminating him rests. 17
In Lowe, the Eleventh Circuit cited the Supreme Court’s decision in Bragdon v. Abbott for the
proposition that a good-faith belief “is insufficient if it is not grounded in” objective evidence.
Lowe, 244 F.3d at 1308 (citing 524 U.S. 624, 649 (1998)). In Lowe, the Eleventh Circuit reversed
a judgment in favor of the employer because the record contained disputed evidence concerning
the reasonableness of the employer’s assessment of the employee’s ability to perform the essential
functions of his prior position. Lowe, 244 F.3d at 1309.
Therefore, the pretext analysis in this case differs from the pretext analysis in Total System, and
the Court is not compelled to make a finding of good faith. Total System, 221 F.3d at 1177.
Reason 1 – Statistical Evidence
CSX argues that statistical evidence establishes that it believed in good faith
that Mr. Parker was dishonest in his use of FMLA leave. CSX states:
Parker was one of hundreds of T&E employees who marked off for
FMLA leave over Christmas 2017 and New Year’s 2018. (Doc. 37-2
¶¶ 7-8.) The number of employees who marked off over these holidays
far exceeded the norm. (Id. ¶ 7 (approximately 750 employees marked
off Christmas morning compared with 200-300 most other days).)
What’s more, as soon as the holidays were over, the number of markoffs returned to normal. (Id. ¶ 8 & p. 17.) Had these employees called
out sick rather than taking FMLA leave, they would have accrued
points under the attendance policy and may have been disciplined.
(Doc. 39-1.) Under these circumstances, CSXT reasonably believed
some of its employees had used FMLA leave dishonestly, and
investigated the mark-offs.
(Doc. 39, p. 26).
CSX’s opening argument illustrates why the Eleventh Circuit repeatedly has
cautioned that statistics are meaningless without context. Brown v. American Honda
Motor Co., 939 F.2d 946, 952 (11th Cir. 1991) (statistics without a proper analytic
foundation are “virtually meaningless”); Kilpatrick v. Tyson Food, Inc., 268 Fed.
Appx. 860, 863 (11th Cir. 2008) (same). 18 CSX’s holiday misuse presumption is
See also Craig R. Callen, Adjudication and the Appearance of Statistical Evidence, 65 TUL. L.
REV. 457, 467–68 (1991) (“In order to evaluate the worth of a statistic, one must view the statistic
in the context of empirical events. Illustrative of this proposition is a familiar statistic, the batting
average. Hitters in baseball are often judged in terms of their batting average. Yet, that statistic
does not reflect the number of times each hitter has had an opportunity at bat, received bases on
balls, or had extra base hits. The park or league in which the hitter played may particularly favor
hitters or pitchers; the hitter may not have faced, or may have been unsuccessful against, particular
arbitrary. It takes little imagination to identify legitimate explanations for increases
in the number of employees using intermittent FMLA leave over holidays. The most
obvious is that paid caregivers may not be available over holidays, causing CSX
employees to have to stay home to care for qualified family members.
To narrow the field of possible offenders, CSX adopted Ms. Johnson’s ad hoc
4-in-10 test for identifying the employees who CSX would investigate further for
their presumed FMLA misuse. The test is problematic. For starters, it targets
employees who may have the greatest need for FMLA leave by investigating only
employees who used FMLA leave on at least four of the preceding ten holidays.
Only by examining an employee’s overall FMLA usage could CSX determine if
there was anything suspicious about the use of FMLA leave over several holidays.
For example, if an employee used FMLA leave for ten days in a 12-month period,
and five of those days were holidays, an employer might have reason to suspect
misuse of leave. If an employee used FMLA leave for 60 days in a 12-month period
and five of those days were holidays, there would be much less reason to pursue an
investigation. CSX focused on employees’ use of FMLA leave on holidays without
pitches or pitchers. Without more information, and information better adapted to the task at hand,
scouts or fans cannot make good judgements about hitters based on their batting averages.”).
And the 4-in-10 test that CSX used is both under- and overinclusive. A CSX
employee could lie about the need for FMLA leave on December 25, 2017 and
December 31, 2017 and face no investigation if she had not used FMLA leave on
other holidays and special occasions. 19 Another employee could legitimately use
FMLA leave for every holiday and special occasion between January 1, 2017 and
December 31, 2017 and be removed from service based on the 4-in-10 presumption
that the employee was dishonest, punishing that employee for a substantial need for
Had CSX examined Mr. Parker’s overall FMLA usage before the company
charged him for FMLA misuse and removed him from service, it would have
discovered that he had used a significant amount of intermittent leave between
October 31, 2017 and December 31, 2017. According to CSX’s FMLA records, Mr.
Parker used FMLA leave for part or all of 20 non-holiday days between October 31,
2017 and December 31, 2017. (Doc. 37-12, p. 6). Mr. Parker’s FMLA use was not
isolated to holidays. Had CSX examined its FMLA authorization for Mr. Parker for
the 12-month period that included the two-month period from October 31 to
CSX points out that in 2017, “[a]t least 600 [CSX] employees who used Christmas leave on
Christmas Day were never even charged.” (Doc. 48, p. 4). That is because those employees did
not qualify for Ms. Johnson’s random 4-in-10 test. Logically, given the number of warnings that
CSX issued about FMLA misuse over holidays, an employee would feel much safer fudging an
FMLA day over Christmas or New Year’s if he had not used FMLA leave on previous holidays.
Because of the warnings, an employee like Mr. Parker would know that his conduct was under a
magnifying glass if he frequently used FMLA leave over holidays.
December 31, 2017, CSX would have found that Mr. Parker’s actual FMLA usage
was entirely consistent with the intermittent leave that CSX authorized. See Roberts
v. Rayonier, Inc., 135 Fed. Appx. 351, 360 (11th Cir. 2005) (“[A] reasonable juror
could infer that Rayonier was not motivated by an honest belief that such disclosures
took place based upon the lack of evidence of significant investigation.”).
CSX asserts that “[a]t least 600 employees who used FMLA leave on
Christmas Day were never even charged,” and of the 123 employees who CSX
charged with FMLA misuse, 42 were not disciplined. (Doc. 48, p. 4). But that
means that at least 35% of the employees who CSX charged and removed from
service pending investigation based on Ms. Johnson’s arbitrary 4-in-10 test did not
misuse FMLA leave. And that’s not counting the employees who CSX wrongfully
disciplined. The reverberating message CSX sent to employees with its arbitrary
test is clear: use FMLA leave over the holidays, and you may be taken out of service
to face charges of misuse. The chilling effect of CSX’s mass charging of employees
with FMLA misuse based on an arbitrary 4-in-10 test is unmistakable.
Importantly, CSX had no corroborating evidence of FMLA misuse for the 123
employees Ms. Johnson removed from service based on the 4-in-10 test. (Doc. 372, p. 5, ¶¶ 10, 11; Doc. 44-9, p. 29, tp. 109). No one had reported to CSX that they
saw a CSX employee who took FMLA leave on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day
engaging in conduct that was inconsistent with FMLA leave. (Doc. 44-9, p. 28, tpp.
103–04). Ms. Johnson had CSX managers probe social media and found no
evidence that either Mr. Parker or his colleagues who used FMLA leave between
December 22, 2017 and January 2, 2018 were not ill themselves or caring for
qualified family members. (Doc. 44-9, p. 28, tp. 104). 20 CSX did not surveil
employees like Mr. Parker who had used intermittent FMLA leave over several
holidays to determine whether the employees were, for example, fishing or playing
golf when they “marked off” to care for qualified family members. (Doc. 44-9, p.
28, tp. 104). Despite the dearth of evidence of FMLA misuse, Ms. Johnson
scheduled the 123 employees who she presumed to be dishonest for disciplinary
hearings. Mr. Parker was one of those employees.
Reason 2 – Mr. Parker Used FMLA Leave on Holidays
Besides relying on the statistic that more of its employees used FMLA leave
over the December holidays than at other times of the year, CSX points to the
“inherently suspicious timing” of Mr. Parker’s Christmas and New Year’s mark-offs
and the fact that Mr. Parker used FMLA leave on Halloween and Thanksgiving in
2017. (Doc. 39, p. 26; see also Doc. 48, p. 3). The only thing that is “inherently
suspicious” about the timing of Mr. Parker’s FMLA leave on December 24, 25, and
CSX points out that Ms. Johnson testified that “a lot of the investigations that were conducted
through the social media, the employees had privacy on it. So that’s not to say because there were
no findings, that the employee did not use FMLA inappropriately.” (Doc. 37-8, p. 40, tp. 152);
see Doc. 48, p. 8. Ms. Johnson’s testimony goes to the weight of Mr. Parker’s evidence concerning
CSX’s investigation. Moreover, the Court has found no evidence that Mr. Parker used privacy
settings that prevented CSX from viewing social media relating to him or his wife.
31 is the fact that those days of leave coincide with holidays. Mr. Parker marked off
at 2:44 a.m. on December 23 and marked up at 12:01 a.m. on December 26. He
marked off at 11:28 p.m. on December 30 and marked up at 7:14 a.m. on January 1.
(Doc. 37-2, p. 8, ¶ 19). The specific timing of these mark-offs may be “inherently
suspicious” to CSX, but the company has not explained why the timing should be
suspicious to a factfinder. For example, Mr. Parker explained that when he arrived
home in the early morning hours of December 23, he discovered that his wife was
having a POTS flareup, and he began taking care of her. (Doc. 37-3, p. 10, tp. 67).
CSX has offered no evidence to prove that Mr. Parker was lying, and the Court
accepts his version of events at the summary judgment stage of this case.
If the only thing suspicious about the timing of Mr. Parker’s leave over
Christmas and New Year’s is the fact that Mr. Parker took leave over Christmas and
New Year’s, then the timing argument is merely a repeat of CSX’s statistical
argument, fine-tuned to the exact minutes that Mr. Parker marked off and on for his
periods of intermittent leave. The amount of leave he took – three days between
December 23 and December 26 and two days between December 30 and January 1
– is consistent with the periods of intermittent leave that CSX authorized for Mr.
Parker. (Doc. 37-3, p. 65) (approving FMLA leave for “1-3 episodes per week, up
to 3 days per episode”). CSX admitted as much in its investigation. (Doc. 44-3, pp.
Mr. Parker’s use of FMLA leave over Halloween and Thanksgiving of 2017
is no more remarkable without some corroborating evidence of misuse.
example, Mr. Parker took leave at 9:47 p.m. on October 30, 2017. There is nothing
remarkable about that. He marked up again for work at 7:50 a.m. on November 1,
2017. (Doc. 37-2, p. 35). Nothing remarkable there, either. Jurors could reasonably
infer that he marked back up after he took his children to school, a task that would
be his if his wife was struggling with dizziness and vertigo and unable to drive.
(Doc. 44-3, p. 84, tp. 35) (Mr. Parker’s testimony that when Mrs. Parker could not
drive because of POTS, he had to care for their children); (Doc. 37-3, pp. 63–64)
(medical certification for Parker intermittent FMLA leave stating that Mrs. Parker
would need assistance with driving during episodes).
And there is nothing suspicious, inherently or otherwise, about Mr. Parker’s
use of FMLA leave on the holidays that fell on October 31, November 11, November
23, December 24, December 25, and December 31 when those dates are placed in
the context of Mr. Parker’s full FMLA use between October 31 and December 31,
2017. CSX’s records demonstrate that Mr. Parker used FMLA leave from October
30 to November 1 and then again from November 3 until November 6. Both uses
are authorized uses of up to three days of leave. Likewise, he used FMLA leave not
only on November 11, Veteran’s Day, but also for more than 14 hours on November
12. He used another 31 hours of FMLA leave between November 18 and 19 and
then nine days of FMLA leave between Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Eve. The
evidence viewed in the light most favorable to Mr. Parker – evidence that was
available to CSX and within its control before and after it decided to remove Mr.
Parker from service – indicates that Mrs. Parker was struggling significantly with
POTS and dysautonomia in the two-month period between October 31, 2017 and
December 31, 2017. CSX did not consider this information in evaluating Mr.
Parker’s use of authorized FMLA leave.
Jurors could find that CSX intentionally avoided evidence in its own records
that might contradict its theory of FMLA misuse. As Ms. Anderson testified in Mr.
Parker’s first hearing, it really didn’t matter whether Mrs. Parker experienced an
episode over the holidays; Mr. Parker misused FMLA leave because he took leave
over the holidays – end of analysis. (Doc. 37-4, pp. 54, 57). See Villanueva v.
Walgreen Co., No. CIV 10-1121 BB/WPL, 2012 WL 13081652, at *7 (D.N.M. Mar.
29, 2012) (stating that in a retaliation case relating to an investigation, “[t]he correct
analysis requires the Court to examine Defendant’s conduct in investigating the
incidents as well as the information provided to Defendant. The Court must then
determine whether issues of fact exist concerning the good-faith nature of the
investigation or as to other circumstances that could indicate Defendant blinded
itself to significant facts contradicting its decision”; concluding that employer’s
investigation was sufficient) (citing Kendrick v. Penske Transp. Servs., Inc., 220
F.3d 1220, 1231 (10th Cir. 2000)).
Reason 3 – Lack of Medical Records
Finally, CSX points to Mr. Parker’s failure to produce medical records to
prove that his wife was experiencing POTS episodes over the Christmas and New
Year holiday. (Doc. 39, pp. 26-27). CSX states:
Parker’s failure to produce hospital records severely undermined his
credibility in CSXT’s eyes. (Doc. 37-10, p. 43: tp. 164:18-165:3
(failure to produce hospital records was “the thing that weighed on [Mr.
Jones] the most”).) Jones reasoned that, if Parker had truly been in the
hospital with his wife, he should have some records to prove it. (Id.)
(Doc. 39, p. 27). This argument is problematic for several reasons.
For starters, during CSX’s hearing regarding Mr. Parker’s use of FMLA leave
on December 31, 2017, Ms. Johnson stated that CSX could not require an employee
to provide documentation of his use of intermittent FMLA leave after CSX
authorized a 12-month period of leave. CSX could offer an employee “the option,
if they want to submit all documentation.” (Doc. 44-3, p. 74, tp. 25; see also Doc.
44-3, p. 73, tp. 24 (Ms. Johnson’s internal investigation testimony that “employees
are not required to provide documentation outside of what is stated on the FMLA
form” request for intermittent FMLA leave)). So, CSX knew when it conducted its
investigation that it could not require Mr. Parker or any other employee to produce
to the company medical records to prove that his use of FMLA leave was proper.
CSX had a legitimate tool to obtain medical evidence relating to an
employee’s use of FMLA leave, and CSX chose not to use the tool. The procedure
is called recertification. By regulation, if an employer has “information that casts
doubt upon the employee’s stated reason for the absence or the continuing validity
of the certification,” then the employer may demand recertification of a serious
medical condition that warrants FMLA leave. 29 C.F.R. § 825.308. “For example,
if an employee is on FMLA leave for four weeks due to the employee’s knee surgery,
including recuperation, and the employee plays in company softball league games
during the employee’s third week of FMLA leave, such information might be
sufficient to cast doubt upon the continuing validity of the certification allowing the
employer to request a recertification . . . .” 29 C.F.R. § 825.308(c)(3). “As part of
the information allowed to be obtained on recertification for leave taken because of
a serious health condition, the employer may provide the health care provider with
a record of the employee’s absence pattern and ask the health care provider if the
serious health condition and need for leave is consistent with such a pattern.” 29
C.F.R. § 825.308(e).
CSX’s written FMLA policy addresses recertification. The policy provides:
CSX may ask you to recertify your need for FMLA leave under the
following circumstances: 1) If you request an extension of your leave;
2) the circumstances described by your previous medical certification
have changed significantly; or 3) CSX receives information that casts
doubt upon either the stated reason for absence or the continued validity
of the medical certification.
(Doc. 44-3, pp. 101, 104) (effective March 9, 2017). CSX’s hearing officers did not
understand recertification, (Doc. 44-3, p. 91), but Ms. Johnson and Ms. Anderson
either understood or should have understood the recertification process described in
CSX’s FMLA policy. 21
Although his second 12-month period of FMLA leave did not expire until September of 2017,
(Doc. 44-3, p. 76), Mr. Parker recertified his need for FMLA leave in June of 2017 to update Mrs.
Parker’s medical information. Recall that in March of 2017, after Mr. Parker used FMLA leave
over the Martin Luther King, Jr. and Super Bowl weekends, CSX advised him that the company
had noticed an “established pattern of marking off FMLA leave on the weekends, in conjunction
with other days off (i.e. rest days, vacation days, etc.), holidays or other pattern . . . .” (Doc. 37-2,
p. 25). The March 2017 warning was a “final warning” in which CSX stated that if Mr. Parker
“continue[d] misusing FMLA,” he might “be subject to a charge and formal disciplinary handling.
The Company will continue to monitor your FMLA mark offs.” (Doc. 37-2, p. 25) (emphasis in
CSX document). CSX explained to Mr. Parker that “[i]f there are extenuating circumstances that
may support your pattern use described in this letter, you may provide Ms. Johnson with supporting
documentation by emailing the information to her . . . .” (Doc. 37-2, p. 25). Instead of waiting to
renew his FMLA leave in September of 2017, Mr. Parker reapplied for leave in June of 2017 and
submitted Dr. Moore’s medical certification. Mr. and Mrs. Parker authorized CSX to contact Dr.
Moore if the company had questions about Mrs. Parker’s serious health condition. (Doc. 37-3, pp.
62–64). Jurors may find from this evidence that Mr. Parker did precisely what CSX asked in
March of 2017 and updated his FMLA certification with supporting documentation, but CSX
turned a blind eye to this information during its investigation.
Had CSX requested recertification after Mr. Parker used FMLA leave on
December 23, 24, 25, or 31 or on any other holiday in 2017, Mr. Parker would have
had to “provide the requested recertification to the employer within the time frame
requested by the employer (which must allow at least 15 calendar days after the
employer’s request), unless it is not practicable under the particular circumstances
to do so despite the employee’s diligent, good faith efforts.” 29 C.F.R. § 825.308(d).
CSX chose not to use recertification to investigate Mr. Parker’s use of FMLA leave
over the 2017-18 holiday season. And on each of the other previous occasions on
which CSX warned Mr. Parker specifically or CSX employees generally that it was
suspicious of FMLA leave on holidays, CSX did not seek recertification of Mr.
Parker’s intermittent FMLA leave to dispel or confirm the company’s suspicions.
(Doc. 44-3, pp. 86–87). 22
CSX argues that the terms of its collective bargaining agreement with Mr. Parker’s union
precluded it from using recertification before charging Mr. Parker. The collective bargaining
agreement provides that CSX must notify an employee within 10 days from the date of an
occurrence whether it will hold a disciplinary hearing. (Doc. 37-1, p. 11). The hearing must take
place not less than five days and not more than 10 days after the date of the notification. (Doc. 371, p. 11). But CSX could have requested a recertification on December 1, 2017 after Mr. Parker
used FMLA leave on October 31, November 11, and November 23 (and on a host of other days).
Had Dr. Moore indicated then that Mr. Parker’s FMLA use was not consistent with Mrs. Parker’s
serious health condition, then CSX would have had a legitimate basis to charge Mr. Parker for his
next use of FMLA leave on a holiday. And Dr. Heligman effectively launched a recertification in
2018 when he attempted to reach Dr. Moore to ask if Mr. Parker’s leave over the holidays was
legitimate. The collective bargaining agreement did not hinder his effort. In any event, CSX’s
argument goes to the weight of the recertification evidence.
Moreover, in the letter setting Mr. Parker’s first hearing, CSX did not ask him
to bring to the hearing medical records to support his FMLA leave. CSX’s witness
at the hearing, Ms. Anderson, testified that no one had asked Mr. Parker for
information about his leave before the hearing. (Doc. 44-2, p. 93, tp. 37). During
the hearing, the hearing officer did not ask Mr. Parker a single question about Mrs.
Parker’s serious health condition so that he might try to understand why Mr. Parker
was authorized to use FMLA leave. CSX’s hearing officer made no effort to explore
the symptoms or consequences of Ms. Parker’s “episodes” or the reason why Mr.
Parker marked off to assist his wife. There is no evidence in the record that the
hearing officer had medical training or knowledge about dysautonomia or POTS.
Poitras v. ConnectiCare Inc., 206 F. Supp. 3d 736, 747 (D. Conn. 2016) (finding
that fact issues precluded summary judgment on employer’s “honest belief” defense
to FMLA interference claim where employer “did not research” employee’s
“medical condition or the details surrounding her need for medical leave”).
The hearing officer assumed from a question Mr. Brock asked of Ms.
Anderson that Mr. Parker took his wife to the hospital on Christmas day because she
needed treatment. After Ms. Anderson testified that she was not disputing that Mrs.
Parker may have been experiencing an episode on December 23, 24, and 25, (Doc.
44-2, p. 97, tp. 41), Mr. Brock pointed out that CSX did not know that “Mr. Parker
spent Christmas Day in the emergency room with his wife.” (Doc. 44-2, p. 102, tp.
46). Working from his understandable but inaccurate assumption, the hearing
officer had the following exchange with Mr. Parker:
Mr. Pacey: Mr. Brock had made mention in Miss Anderson’s cross
examine that your wife may have had an episode and then
went to the hospital during Christmas, or Christmas Eve,
Mr. Parker: I was at the hospital.
Mr. Pacey: So you were with your wife at the hospital?
Mr. Parker: Yes.
Mr. Pacey: I guess that’s kind of…
Mr. Parker: Yes.
Mr. Pacey: … question I’m asking. But do you have documentation
Mr. Parker: Yes.
Mr. Pacey: Do you have documentation you want to present to the
Mr. Parker: No, I don’t have it with me.
(Doc. 37-4, pp. 66–67, tpp. 50–51). When the hearing officer asked Mr. Parker why
he did not bring medical evidence with him to the hearing to defend his use of FMLA
leave over Christmas, overlooking the fact that CSX could not require Mr. Parker to
provide medical documents substantiating his wife’s episodes, Mr. Parker explained
that when CSX initially removed him from service, the company refused to tell him
why he was removed, and it was too late to gather documents once CSX gave him
notice of the basis for his charge. (Doc. 37-4, pp. 69–70, tpp. 53–54).
Mr. Parker’s statement that he was with his wife in the hospital on Christmas
Day (really, Christmas night) was accurate, and he was there pursuant to his FMLA
authorization because Mrs. Parker was having an episode and could not drive the
Parkers’ daughter to the hospital for treatment when she had a seizure. Hospital
records from Mr. Parker’s Christmas Day trip to the hospital would not have satisfied
CSX’s hearing officer or the CSX administrators who decided to terminate Mr.
Parker because those records address only Mr. Parker’s daughter’s seizure. CSX
would have understood why Mr. Parker had to drive his daughter to the hospital only
if CSX had tried to understand Mrs. Parker’s serious medical condition. There is no
evidence that either the hearing officer or the CSX employees who made the final
employment decisions regarding Mr. Parker reviewed the medical certification for
Mr. Parker’s intermittent FMLA leave.
Had the hearing officer reviewed Mr. Parker’s medical certification for
intermittent leave or attempted to understand Mrs. Parker’s serious medical
condition, he would have understood that, absent an emergency room trip for her
own treatment, Mrs. Parker would not have a medical record dated for a holiday.
Common sense and experience will tell jurors that physicians do not have office
hours on holidays, so CSX employees typically will not have medical records dated
for holidays. Dr. Vaughn, one of Mrs. Parker’s physicians, explained that during an
episode, Mrs. Parker would feel dizzy and nauseous, and her heart rate would spike.
(Doc. 44-6, p. 7, tpp. 19–20). Dr. Vaughn stated that Mrs. Parker was not supposed
to visit the doctor for each episode. Instead, she was supposed to follow the
treatments that her doctor ordered during routine visits. (Doc. 44-5, p. 8, tpp. 22–
From this evidence and based on common sense, jurors could find it
unreasonable for CSX to demand that Mrs. Parker or anyone else have medical
records dated for a holiday episode of a chronic illness.
After the January 16 hearing, Mr. Parker collected medical records that
demonstrated that Mrs. Parker was experiencing severe POTS and dysautonomia
symptoms in December 2017 and January 2018.
Mr. Parker presented those
documents at his February 1 hearing. A January 31, 2018 letter from Dr. Vaughn
stated that Mrs. Parker “had a series of incapacitating episodes throughout the month
of December 2017 and January 2018. These episodes have required monitoring,
physician care and hospitalization.” (Doc. 37-5, p. 41). Dr. Vaughn explained:
“While having an episode, [Mrs. Parker] is unable to safely do everyday tasks (i.e.
drive, maneuver stairs, walk to and from her bed to the bathroom, etc.) without [Mr.
Parker’s] help. She has had recurring blackouts and constant vertigo.” (Doc. 37-5,
A December 7, 2017 record indicated that Dr. Moore restricted Mrs. Parker’s
driving because she (Mrs. Parker) blacked out while she was driving on December
6, 2017. (Doc. 37-14, p. 37). Dr. Moore ordered an EKG and placed Mrs. Parker
on a Holter monitor. (Doc. 37-14, p. 37). 23 She directed Mrs. Parker to get an IV of
fluid when she returned to work at MedHelp, and she instructed Mrs. Parker to return
to see her in three to four weeks. (Doc. 37-14, p. 37). Mrs. Parker was hospitalized
on January 4, 2018 because her tachycardia was so severe. (Doc. 37-14, p. 33). In
her January 4, 2018 medical record, Dr. Moore wrote that Mrs. Parker’s POTS
symptoms had been “worse over the last few weeks.” (Doc. 37-14, p. 32). Jurors
could find from this evidence that Mrs. Parker was experiencing those symptoms on
December 24, 25, and 31, 2017, well within a few weeks of January 4, 2018.
CSX’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Heligman, was not satisfied with these
documents because the records that Mr. Parker provided did not specifically
“reference Mrs. Parker’s condition over Christmas or New Year’s.” (Doc. 39, p.
18). When asked at Mr. Parker’s second hearing what type of documents Mr. Parker
could have submitted “to make it a valid FMLA layoff during a holiday or weekend,”
Ms. Johnson replied, “I cannot state what needs to be provided.” (Doc. 44-3, p. 73,
“The Holter monitor is a type of portable electrocardiogram (ECG). It records the electrical
activity of the heart continuously over 24 hours or longer while you are away from the doctor’s
visited July 16, 2021).
CSX had Mrs. Parker’s December 7, 2017, January 4, 2018 and January 31,
2018 medical records when it made the decision to fire Mr. Parker the first time on
February 15, 2018. The company had the records when it decided to fire Mr. Parker
the second time on March 2, 2018. The company had those records when an
arbitration board in March of 2019 stated that the record “lack[ed] any documentary
evidence in support of claimant’s position that his FMLA layoff was defensible
under FMLA policy and the conditions of his FMLA leave.” (Doc. 37-1, p. 58).
Jurors could conclude that CSX saw only what it chose to see in Mrs. Parker’s
medical records and unreasonably demanded more precise medical documentation
from Mr. Parker.
Thus, there is disputed evidence as to each justification CSX has offered for
its decision to terminate Mr. Parker in conjunction with his use of FMLA leave over
the 2017-18 holiday season. The hearing officer in Mr. Parker’s first hearing based
his finding of FMLA misuse at Christmas on a single factual finding: “Parker
admitted he was off FMLA for the Christmas Holidays.” (Doc. 44-12, p. 46). Mr.
Jones was convinced that Mr. Parker used FMLA leave dishonestly over the 201718 holiday season, but to fire an employee for his use of FMLA leave, an employer
must have conducted a reasonable investigation to support the finding that an
employee misused leave. The record here contains disputed questions of fact
concerning the reasonableness of CSX’s investigation of Mr. Parker’s use of FMLA
leave over the holidays. Those questions are for a jury to resolve at trial. See Lowe,
244 F.3d at 1309 (finding question of fact regarding the employer’s assessment
underlying asserted good faith belief); Poitras, 206 F. Supp. 3d at 747 (finding that
fact issues precluded summary judgment on employer’s “honest belief” defense to
FMLA interference claim); Hooks v. Lockheed Martin Skunk Works, 14 Fed. Appx.
769, 772 (9th Cir. 2001) (holding in Title VII race discrimination case that “[a]
‘sham’ investigation can be evidence of a company’s lack of good faith efforts to
comply with anti-discrimination laws” but ultimately concluding that employer’s
investigation was adequate) (citing Bruso v. United Airlines, Inc., 239 F.3d 848,
860–61 (7th Cir. 2001)); see generally Benz, 732 Fed. Appx. at 804 (“The foregoing
evidence, when viewed in the light most favorable to Benz, creates a triable issue as
to whether Crowley terminated Benz in retaliation for requesting FMLA leave.”).
To establish an FMLA interference claim, “a [plaintiff] need only
demonstrate by a preponderance of the evidence that he was entitled to the benefit
denied.” Strickland, 239 F.3d at 1206–07. Under the FMLA, an eligible employee
has the right to “a total of 12 workweeks of leave during any 12–month period” to
care for a spouse who has a “serious health condition” and the right following leave
“to be restored by the employer to the position of employment held by the employee
when the leave commenced” or to “an equivalent position.”
29 U.S.C. §
2612(a)(1)(C); 29 U.S.C. § 2614(a)(1); Strickland, 239 F.3d at 1206.
Here, Mr. Parker used FMLA leave over Christmas 2017 and New Year’s Day
2018. CSX restored Mr. Parker to his position as a train conductor after he returned
from FMLA leave over the 2017-18 holidays and after every other occasion on
which he used FMLA leave. CSX did not remove Mr. Parker from service for
alleged FMLA misuse until January 2, 2018. (Doc. 44-5, p. 20). Therefore, Mr.
Parker has not demonstrated that CSX denied him a benefit to which he was entitled
under the FMLA.
Mr. Parker’s interference theory is not really that CSX prohibited him from
taking FMLA leave but that CSX disciplined him for doing so. Therefore, Mr.
Parker’s FMLA interference claim is “essentially the same as” and “is largely a clone
of [his] FMLA retaliation claim.” Hawkins v. BBVA Compass Bancshares, Inc., 613
Fed. Appx. 831, 841 (11th Cir. 2015). The Court already has addressed Mr. Parker’s
Mr. Parker argues that CSX’s 4-in-10 FMLA policy limits the number of
holidays during which an employee may use FMLA leave. (Doc. 46, pp. 32–34).
Perhaps, but the test did not limit his use of FMLA leave, and he does not have
standing to assert claims for other CSX employees. Because Mr. Parker has not
demonstrated that he was deprived of a benefit to which he was entitled under the
FMLA, CSX is entitled to judgment on his FMLA interference claim.
Mr. Parker asserts a claim against CSX under Alabama law for the tort of
outrage. “The tort of outrage is an extremely limited cause of action.” Potts v.
Hayes, 771 So. 2d 462, 465 (Ala. 2000). As the Alabama Supreme Court has
It is so limited that this Court has recognized it in regard
to only three kinds of conduct: (1) wrongful conduct in the
family-burial context, Whitt v. Hulsey, 519 So.2d 901
(Ala.1987); (2) barbaric methods employed to coerce an
insurance settlement, National Sec. Fire & Cas. Co. v.
Bowen, 447 So.2d 133 (Ala.1983); and (3) egregious
sexual harassment, Busby v. Truswal Sys. Corp., 551
So.2d 322 (Ala.1989). See also Michael L. Roberts and
Gregory S. Cusimano, Alabama Tort Law, § 23.0 (2d
ed.1996). In order to recover, a plaintiff must demonstrate
that the defendant’s conduct ‘(1) was intentional or
reckless; (2) was extreme and outrageous; and (3) caused
emotional distress so severe that no reasonable person
could be expected to endure it.’ Green Tree Acceptance,
(Ala.1990) (citing American Road Service Co. v. Inmon [,
394 So.2d 361 (Ala.1980) ] ).”
Potts v. Hayes, 771 So.2d 462, 465 (Ala.2000). That is not to say,
however, that the tort of outrage is viable in only the three
circumstances noted in Potts. Recently, this Court affirmed a judgment
on a tort-of-outrage claim asserted against a family physician who,
when asked by a teenage boy's mother to counsel the boy concerning
his stress over his parents’ divorce, instead began exchanging addictive
prescription drugs for homosexual sex for a number of years, resulting
in the boy’s drug addiction. See O’Rear v. B.H., 69 So.3d 106
(Ala.2011). It is clear, however, that the tort of outrage is viable only
when the conduct is “‘so outrageous in character and so extreme in
degree as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency, and to be
regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized
society.’” Horne v. TGM Assocs., L.P., 56 So.3d 615, 631 (Ala.
2010) (quoting Inmon, 394 So.2d at 365).
Little v. Robinson, 72 So. 3d 1168, 1172–73 (Ala. 2011).
Mr. Parker’s evidence is not sufficient to warrant submission of his outrage
claim to a jury. Viewed in the light most favorable to Mr. Parker, CSX fired him
because he used FMLA leave. Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to
Mr. Parker, he can establish that CSX’s arbitrary test caused him to be pulled from
service and that CSX’s failure to properly investigate his use of FMLA led to his
wrongful termination. But Mr. Parker has not presented evidence of conduct so
outrageous that it goes beyond all bounds of decency so as to warrant a new category
of outrage claim under Alabama law. “[I]f the tort of outrage were recognized under
the circumstances alleged in this case, it would mean that the tort of outrage would
exist in every . . . case when an employer . . . discriminates or retaliates against a[n]
. . . employee—a result not consistent with the ‘extremely limited’ nature of the tort
of outrage in Alabama.” Estate of Reed v. Ponder Enters., Inc., No. 1:11-cv-554CSC, 2012 WL 1031487, at *8 (M.D. Ala. Mar. 27, 2012) (citing Little, 72 So. 3d
Accordingly, the Court will enter judgment in favor of CSX on Mr. Parker’s
Negligent/Wanton Training and Supervision
Mr. Parker alleges that CSX negligently or wantonly trained and supervised
the employees, supervisors, and management who were involved in his termination.
(Doc. 14, pp. 13–16). CSX has asked the Court to enter judgment in its favor on
these claims because under Alabama law “[a] negligent training or supervision claim
requires proof that the defendant committed a state-law tort; a violation of federal
law is not sufficient.” (Doc. 39, p. 42) (citing Shuler v. Ingram & Assocs., 441 Fed.
Appx. 712 (11th Cir. 2011)).
In Shuler, the Eleventh Circuit stated that the plaintiffs’ “wanton and reckless
supervision and training claim fail[ed] as a matter of law because they  failed to
establish that Ingram’s employees committed any tort under Alabama law—
including fraud, invasion of privacy, or defamation—as discussed above.” Shuler v.
Ingram & Assocs., 441 Fed. Appx. at 721. The same is true here. Because the Court
has concluded that CSX did not commit the tort of outrage, and because Mr. Parker
does not allege another underlying state-law tort against CSX’s employees, the Court
will enter judgment in favor of CSX on Mr. Parker’s negligent/wanton training and
For the reasons discussed above, the Court grants CSX’s motion for summary
judgment as to Mr. Parker’s FMLA interference claim, his outrage claim, and his
claims for negligent/wanton training and supervision.
Because the Court has
reconsidered its initial ruling on Mr. Parker’s FMLA retaliation claim sua sponte, if
it wishes, CSX may file a supplemental brief regarding FMLA retaliation of no more
than 15 pages by July 28, 2021. If CSX files a supplemental brief, then Mr. Parker
may respond by August 4, 2021.
DONE and ORDERED this July 16, 2021.
MADELINE HUGHES HAIKALA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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