Gomez v. Public Health Trust of Miami-Dade County, FL
ORDER GRANTING MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT and DENYING ALL OTHER PENDING MOTIONS AS MOOT. Closing Case. Signed by Judge Federico A. Moreno on 2/5/2024. See attached document for full details. (mmd)
UNITED STATESDISTRICT COURT FOR THE
SOU TH ERN D ISTRICT OF FLO RIDA
M iam iD ivision
C ase N um ber:23-22034-C 1V -M 0 1V N 0
JAV IER GO M EZ,
PU BLIC HEALTH TRU ST O F M IAM ID A DE COUN TY ,FL d/b/a JA CK SON
M EM O RIA L HO SPITAL a/lc/a JA CK SON
H EA LTH SY STEM ,
O RDER GM NTING DEFENDANT'S M OTION FOR SUM M ARY JUDGM ENT
Plaintiff Javier Gom ez sued his em ployer, the Public H ealth Trust, d/b/a Jackson
M em orial H ospital alleging violations of th: Fam ily and M edical Leave A ct and Florida's
W orkers' Com pensation Law .The Public H ealth Trust responds that G om ez did tlot reportto
w ork for his scheduled shifts on A pril6,7,and 10,2023,and failed to notify any supervisor of
thereason forhisabsence, ThetrénscriptofPlaintiff'sdeposition taken on Septem ber18,2023,
clearly indicatesthatGom ez did notapply forFamily and M edicalLeave related to hiskneepain
on A pril 5,2023.See Plaintiff s D epo. at 79-81.The D efendant em ployer accepted G om ez's
resignationduetojob abandonment.Therefore,summaryjudgmentisappropriatein favorofthe
Public Health Tfust on Counts and 2.The Courtalso finds that summary judgment
appropriateonthePlaintiffsclaim forèoercion underFloridaStatutej440.205asPlaintiffdoes
notrespond to the motion for jummal'y judgmenton this claim and the Courtfinds thatno
reasonable person w ould be dissuaded from m aking a w orkers' com pensation claim under the
circum stances of this case. Finally, the Florida state claim for retaliation under the w orkers'
compensation law,j440.205,isdismissedwithoutprejudicewith leavetorefile,ifappropriate,
in state coul'
TH IS CA U SE cam e before the Coul'tupon D efendant's M otion for Sum m al'y Judgm ent
THE COU RT has considered the m otion,the response,pel-tinent portions of the record,
and being otherw ise f'
ully advised in the prem ises,itis
ADJUDGED thatthe motion forsummaryjudgmentisGRANTED ac setforth in this
A DJUD G ED thata11otherpending m otions are D EN IED as m oot.
Plaintiff, Javier Gom ez, began w orking for the D efendant Public H ealth Trust, d/b/a/
Jackson H ea1th System on M arch 15,2021.Jacqueline Edm ondson,Jay Cruz,and M anuelOl4iz
stlpervised Gomez throughout his employm ent at Jackson Behavioral Hea1th Hospital, the
location w here O om ez w orked as partofthe cleaning staff.Edm ondson w ashis directsupervisor
on A pril 12,2023 - Gom ez's lastofficialday asan em ployee.
Like a11 em ployees, G om ez received an em ployee handbook w ith the Public Hea1th
Trust's current policies,basic inform ation about benefhs and services for em ployees,and the
rules of em ploym ent. The Em ployee H andbook advised G om ez of basic procedures to follow
when aninjury orillnessoccurred,includingthetypesofleaveavailabletohim.Gomezattested
to receiving the Em ployee H andbook, agreed to abide by a11 the em ployer's policies and
procedures,and acknow ledged thathe understood the m aterials provided in the handbook.
Gomez sustained two work-related injuries during his employment with Defendant.
A fter both accidents,G om ez applied for and feceived com pensation and m edical care via the
W orkers'Com pensation Law.Plaintiffs Depo.at63,66.Gom eà subm itted llis firstrequestfor
Fam ily and M edicalLeave on M arch 14,2022.Thisrequestwasdenied becauseGom ez did not
m eetthe tw elve-m onth eligibility criteria. H e resubm itted the requeston M arch 15,2022,w hich
requestwas approved by the M atrix Absence M anagem entSystem . Gom ez subm itted a third
request for Fam ily and M edical Leave on A pril 8, 2022. This request w as denied due to his
failure to provide proper docum entation.Gom ez subm itted a foul'th requestfor leave on July 11,
2022,and this request was also denied due to failure to provide proper docum entation to certify
the leave. On O ctober23,2022,Gom ez subm itted a fifth requestfor Fam ily and M edicalLeave
and this requestw as approved.O verall,he applied for and received Fam ily and M edicalLeave
two outofthe five tim es he applied.
On April 5,2023, Gom ez was suffering from knee pain.He did not go to work as
scheduled on April6,7,and 10,2023.Plaintiff'sDepo.at79.Although he spoke to employees
in the W orkers'Compensation U nit,he did notadvise his supervisor,Jacquelyn Edm ondson,that
he wouldnotbe going to work asscheduled.See PlaintiffsDepo.at81(Q:Did you evercall
(or)textyour supervisorand letthem know thatyourwere notgoing to come in for your
regularly scheduled shiflt A.No).The Public Health Trust's PersonalLeave Policy requires
em ployees notify theirm anagers oftheirneed forleave.Rather,G om ez advised his supervisor of
his need to go to lzrgent care. Gom ez also testified that he did not subm it an application for
Family and M edicalLeave dueto hisknee pain on April5,2023.Id (Q:Did you submitan
applicationforFM LA leaverelatedtoyourltneepainonApril5,20237A.No).
On A pril12,2023,the D efendantapplied its A bandonm entofPosition policy N o.310 to
find Gomezhadresigned.Thepollcy statesthat(tunauthorized absencesfrom work foraperiod
ofthree(3)consecutively scheduled workdaysmay be considered abandonmehtofposition by
an em ployee; such em ployee shall be considered to have resigned.'' M r. Jay Cruz, an
A dm inistrator at Jackson B ehavioral H ea1th, sent Gom ez a letter to that effect. That letler
provides an appealprocess and there is no record evidence that G om ez em ployed thatprocess.
M r.Cruz also testified thatG om ez's supelwisors reached outto him to determ ine the reason for
hisabsencesonApril6,7,and 10,2023.Af'terhisresignation duetojob abandonment,Plaintiff
m ade a sixth request on A pril 19,2023 for retroactive Fam ily and M edicalLeave.The Public
HealthTrustdeniedthatrequestbecausePlaintiffwasalready foundto haveabandonedthejob
pursuantto the Trust'spolicies.
PlaintiffcontendsthatDefendant's W orkers'Compensation unit,which isrun by athirdpal'ty agentcalled CorvelCop oration,authorized hisneed forsurgery forhisApril5,2023knee
pain.Plaintiff also contends thathe provided a H ea1th Insurance Portability and A ccountability
Act(HIPAA)authorization fortheW orkers'Compensation division to provide information to
his em ployer.The authorization form , how ever, is incom plete and does not check any boxes
authorizing the release of m edical inform ation.See ECF 31-6. Because the form is facially
incom plete, it does not allow a third-pal'ty to disclose m edical inform ation. The record also
establishes Corvel does not request leave for an em ployee w ith a supervisor or com m unicate
w ith the supervisorregarding an em ployee'sneed form edicalleave.
Gom ez also cites an emailexchange between Defendant's Hum an Resources Director
M r. Cullelnark and a Labor Relations/llum an Resources Specialist M s. Crespo where they
discuss Plaintiff s em ploym enton A pril 11-12,2023.In that exchange,M r.Cullem ark indicates
thatbecausePlaintiffdid notshow up forwork,thatactconstitutesjob abandomrentunderthe
policy. M s.Crespo offered to contact Gom ez,and Plaintiff told her on A pril 12,2023,of his
need forsurgery.She advised him to apply forFam ily and M edicalLeave.
Finally,Gom ez testified thathis supervisor,Edm ondson,spoke poorly to him after his
work-related incidents.ltisundisputed thatGomez only speaksSpanish and Edm ondson speaks
English.A s such,G om ez testified thathe was unaw are of w hatEdm ondson was saying to him .
Yet Gomez testified that he was able to m ake repeated claim s for w orkers' com pensation
benefits and Fam ily and M edical Leave.ln fact, other than one instance where a workers'
com pensation claim w as denied and then latergranted,Gom ez testified thathe w asnever denied
y judgmentis appropriate where there (is no
The existence of som e factual disputes betw een litigants w ill not defeatan otherw ise properly
ground motion forsummary judgment;Etthe requirementisthatthere be no genuine issue of
materialt-act.--Anderson v.Liberty Lobby,lnc.,477 u.s.242,248 (19à6)(emphasis added).
M ere Etm etaphysicaldoubtas to the m aterialfacts''w illnotsuffice.M atsushita Elec.Indus. Co.
The basic issue before the coul'ton a motion for summal'y judgmentisçûwhetherthe
evidencepresentsa sufficientdisagreementto require submission to ajury orwhetheritisso
m oving pal'
ty has the burden of show ing the absence of a genuine issue as to any m aterial fact,
and in deciding w hether the m ovant has m et this burden 'the cou14 m ust view the m ovant's
evidence and a1lfactualinferences arising from it in the lightm ostfavorable to the nonm oving
differ on the inferences arising from undisputed facts, then a coul'
t should deny sum m al'y
judgment.''M irandav.B (:QB CashGroceryStore,Inc.,975F.2d 1518,1534(11th Cir.1992).
L eaalA nalvsis
y andM edicalLeaveActInter# renceClaim
To recoveron a Fam ily and M edicalLeave A ctinterference claim ,Plaintiffm ustsatisfy
prejudice,resultingfrom theemployers'interferencewith ghisjexercise(orattemptedexercise)
ofanFM LA benefit.''Gravesv.Brandstar,Inc.,67F.4th 1117,1121(11thCir.2023)(citing
Whitev.BeltralnEdgeToolkvîwp/y,Inc.,789F.3d 1188,1191(11th Cir.2015)).Therecord
evidence establishes,by Plaintiff's ow n testim ony,thathe did notrequestFam ily and M edical
applied forFam ily and M edicalLeave A cton tw o prioroccasions and the Public Hea1th Trust
had granted thoserequests.
To be entitled to an FM LA benefit,Plaintiffm ustdem onstrate thathe (Csoughtleave for a
qualifyingreason andthatglheprovidednoticemeetingcertain criteria.''Ramjiv.Hops.
y5..,LLC,992F.3d 1233,1242(11th Cir.2021).Plaintiffargu'
PublicH ea1th Truston notice thathisabsence w aspotentially qualifying underthe Fam ily and
M edicalLeave Actby seeking treatm entatD efendant's m edicalfacility forhisA pril5,2023
knee pain,by being approved by athird-party w orkers'com pensation unitforsurgel'y,and by
advising his supervisorthathe w as going to urgentcare.These instancesfallshol4 ofthe
The Courtfindsthatseeking treatm entatD efendant'sm edicalfacility is insufficientto
provide notice to the D efendantin its role asPlaintiff's em ployer.To suppol'tthis position,
Plaintiffprovidesthe Coul'tw ith an incom plete H ealth Insurance Portability and A ccountability
Act(HIPAA)autholization.(ECF 31-6).Eveniftheform wascomplete,itdoesnotauthorizethe
D efendantas a m edicalproviderto advise Plaintiff's supervisors ofhispending surgery.See 45
C.F.R.j 164.508(b)(2)(ii)-(c)(1)((CAnauthol-ization isnotvalid,if...gtlheauthorizationhas
G etting treatm entata facility operated by the D efendant,which isthe County H ospital,isnot
sufficientto putPlaintiff s supervisorson notice thathis absence from w ork qualified asFam ily
and M edicalLeave.A lso,forthe D efendantto have relied on an incom plete H IPA A
authorization form to provide notice to the supervisorsofPlaintiff'sm edicalcondition w ould
haveconstitutedaviolationofthat1aw byDefendant.SeeBailey v.City ofDaytonaBeach
personalhealthinformation inemployment-relateddecisions.h).Finally,theFamilyandM edical
Leave A ctdoesnotClrequire em ployersto play Sherlock Holm es,scanning en em ployee'sw ork
history forclues as to the undisclosbd,true reason foran em ployee's absence.''See de la Ram a v.
111.D ep 't.t/J'
know ledge thatan em ployee w èntto em ergency room and then began calling in sicltdid not
suffice as sufficientnotice thatthe em ployee w assuffering from a condition qualifying forleave
because he gottreatm entin one ofD efendant's facilities,ùspecially considering thathis HIPAA
authorization specifically didnotallow fordisclosureofhispersonalm edicalinform ation.
To establish notice,Plaintiffalso arguesthatD efendant'sW orkers'Com pensation
adm inistrator,a third-party,approved the surgely.Therefore,he argues the Public H ea1th Trust
w ason notice ofthe qualifying condition. Gom ez statesthathe'w as approved forsurgery on
tûm ake a reasonable effortto schedule the treatm entso as notto disruptunduly the operationsof
theemployer...and ...ifthe date ofthetreatm entrequiresleavetobegin in lessthan 30 days,
the em ployee shallprovide such notice asispracticable.'' Thatthe W orkers'Com pensation
A dlninistratorapproved the surgery is insufficientto satisfy the notice l'equirem entunderthe
A ct.M oreover,Plaintiffcalm otbe considered incapacitated w hen he w as authorized forsurgery
on M arch 24,2023 and requested to go to urgentcare on April5,2023.ECF 31-18.
The only dired contactin therecord isthaton A pril5,2023,G om ez advised his
supervisorsthathe needed to go to urgentcare. Regulationsestablish thatdccalling in sick''
w ithoutproviding m ore inform ation w illnotbe considered sufticientnotice to triggeran
Plaintiff stestim ony establisllesthathe did notrequestFam ily and M edicalLeave forhis April
5,2023 kneepain and in fact,he did noteven oallin sick on April6,7,and 10,2023.The
D efendant'sPersonalLeave Policy reqtliresem ployeesnotify theirm anager oftheirneed for
Public H ealth Tlnzston notice ofa need forleave,nor does itconstim te a requestforFam ily and
M edicalLeave.Accordingly,Plaintifffailsto show thathewasentitled to leavebecausehe
carm otshow thathe putthe D efendanton adequate notice.
tw ere to find there isan issue ofm aterialfactas to w hetherthe Public
H ealth Trustw as on notice,the record doesnotestablish thata requestfor leave w asdenied.ltis
undisputed thatthe Public Health Trustdid notdeny a leave requestin 2023.Ratherthan identify
a denialofa requestforFM LA leave,Plaintiffinstead arguesthe D efendantim properly found he
leave.H e cites to an em ailexchange betw een M r.Cullem ark,the H um an ResourcesD irector,
and M s.Crespo dated A pril 11,2023.A fterPlaintifffailed to show forw ork forthree days,M r.
Cullemark wroteto M s.Crespoindicating thatPlaintiff'sfailureto show up forwork forthree
daysconstitutedjob abandonment.M s.CresporespondedonApril12,2023,sayingshe
contacted the em ployee and advised him he needed to apply forFM LA leave.On A pril 12,2023,
the Public H ea1th Trust'
,tluough itsA dm inistratorofOperations PascualJay Crtzz,issued the
Plaintiffrequested leave.M r.Cruz indicated in hisdeclaration thatpursuantto the Public H ealth
Trust's Leave Policy num ber319,itisthe em ployee'sresponsibility to advise the em ployer of
a11leaves ofabsencesin m 'iting.M r.Cruz testified thatGom ez w as on lightduty atthe tim e of
his knee pain on April5,2023.H e'added thatGom ez w as scheduled to be atw ork on A pril6,7,
and 10,2023,and during those days,Gom ez's supervisorsreached outto him by phone and text
m essage to determ ine w hy G om ez w asnotshow ing up forhisshifts. Gom ez's supervisors
advised thathe did notrespond to those textm essages'
orcalls on those dates.A s such,M r.Clalz
sentan A cciptance ofResignation due to Job A bandonm entLetter. Thatletleradvised Gom ez
thathehad the rightto petition Em ployee/Labor Relations & W orkforce Com pliance within 21
calendar days ofreceiptofthe Job A bandom nentLetterforreview ofthe factsregarding his
resignation.The record doesnotestablish thatGom ez petitioned for a review ofhis resignation.
G iven these facts,the Coul'
tdoesnotfind thatG om ez wasdenied benefits.He neitherform ally
butratheran application ofthe D efendant's policy.
H aving found thatthe record evidence does notestablish Plaintiff's entitlem entto Fam ily
and M edicalLeave because he failed to putthe em ployeron notice nordoes itestablish denialof
the rightto Fam ily and M edicalLeave,the Courtneed notaddressthe dam agesprong ofthe
B. Retaliation forFam ily and M edicalLeave
Count2oftheComplaintisaclaim forretaliationtlndertheFamilyandM edicalLeave
Act.To establishaprimafaciecaseOfFM LA retaliation,aplaintiffmustestablishthat(1)he
Educ.,?79F.3d 1249,1252(11th Cir,2004).Gomez'sclaim forFM LA retaliationissubjectto
the burden shifling fram ew ork ofM cD onnellDouglas Corp.v.Green,411 U .S.792,801-05
reason forthe adverse action and there is no evidence ofpretext.
Plaintiffs ow n testim ony beliesthathe engaged in a statutorily protected activity ashe
didnotputinarequestforFamily andM edicalLeavebeforeheproceededtobeabsentfrom the
job.lndeed,heputin arequestseven daysafterMr.Cruzissuedthejobabandonmentletter.
Dragov.Jenne,453F.3d 1301,1308(11thCir.2006)(holdingthatGtin aretaliationcase,when
anemployercontemplatesanadverseemploymentaction beforean employeeengagesin
protected activity,tem poralproxim ity between the protected activity and the subsequentadverse
employmentactiondoesnotsuffcetoshow causation.'').M r.Cruz'sdeclaration alsoestablishes
thathe did notltnow thatPlaintiffneeded tim e offforknee pain and he was sim ply applying the
Defendant'sjob abandonmentpolicyduetoPlaintiff'sfailuretocometowoik onApril6,7,and
extent,Plaintiffattem ptsto establish thatthe decision w as related to hispriorrequests forFam ily
andMedicalLeaveinApril2021andDecelnber2022 duetowork-relatedinjuries,thelength of
long to find a causalconnection.See Thom as v.Cooper Lighting,Inc.,506 F.3d 1361,1364
letteron A pril l2,2023,itw as M r.Cullem àrk who had finalapprovaland M r.Cullem ark knew
LaborRelations iscopied on the letter,the letterdoes notrequire M r.Cullem ark's signature.
lndeed,the letterprovides a m echanism forPlaintiffto appealthe decision.A ccordingly,even if
the Cou14 w çre to find the letterconstitutes an adverse enp loym entaction ,the Plaintiffcannot
a causalconnection betw een thata'
ctivity and the decision;
hasarticulated alegitimatenon-retaliatory reason fortheem ploym entaction. The legitim ate
nondiscrim inatoly reason w asthatGom ez violated the D efendant'sleave policy and abandoned
hisposition w hen he failed to appearforw ork and failed to notify his supervisors ofhisneed for
leave. Atthis stage,the burden shifts back to Gom ez to offeradm issible evidence from which a
dism issalw asa m ere pretextforretaliation.See M cvjl
p in,61 F.4th at932.Gom ez w ould need to
producesufficientevidencefrom which areasonablefactfinderwould concludethe employer's
proffered reasonsw ere notw hatactually m otivated its conduct,orthatthe proffered reasons are
There isno record evidence to tind thatthe reasons forthe Trust'sdecision w ereipretextual.
G om ez,him self,adm itted he faile'
d to repol'tto w ork as scheduled and failed to 1ethis
supervisors ltnow asrequired by the Trust's policy.
C . W orkers'Com pensation Coercion Claim
To supporta claim for coercion,Plaintiffm ustshow he suffered a m aterially adverse
action thatm ighthave dissuaded a reasonable w orkerfrom engaging in protected activities.See
Jubackv.M ichaelsStores,Inc.,143F.Supp.3d 1195,1206(M .D.Fla.2015).Gomez's
com plaintalleges thathe w as denied necessary treatm entto supporthisclaim forcoercion under
thatG om ez w as tw ice approved forw orkers'com pensation benefits.He testified thatno one
m ade him feellike he could notm ake a claim for workers'com pensation benefits.The Public
Health Trustalso accom m odated him by placing him on lightduty.Plaintiff doesnotrespond to
Coercion claim because there isno evidenceto show a reasonable w orkerw ould have been
dissuaded from engaging in protected activities.
coercion claim .
D ON E AN D ORD ERED in Cham bers atM iam i,Florida,this
FED ERIC A . REN O
UN ITED ST ES D ISTRICT JU D GE
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