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Wallace v. Lockheed Martin Corp.

United States District Court, D. Arizona

May 14, 2019

Stacy Wallace, Plaintiff,
v.
Lockheed Martin Corporation, Defendant.

          ORDER

          DAVID G. CAMPBELL SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Defendant Lockheed Martin Corporation (“LMC”) moves for summary judgment on Plaintiff Stacy Wallace's claim that LMC unlawfully interfered with her rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), 29 U.S.C. Ch. 28. Doc. 19. Wallace filed a response (Doc. 25), and LMC replied (Doc. 28). The Court concludes that oral argument will not aid the Court's decision. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 78(b); Partridge v. Reich, 141 F.3d 920, 926 (9th Cir. 1998). For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant in part and deny in part LMC's motion.

         I. Background.

         The following facts are undisputed unless noted otherwise.

         Wallace worked for Defendant at Luke Air Force Base as a Computer Systems Security Analysis Manager from 2014 until April 2017. Doc. 20 at ¶ 1. Her direct supervisor was Darin Crowley. Doc. 20 at ¶ 4. His supervisor was Mark Cheeks. Id. David Sellers is a “higher-up” in LMC's security division, but the parties dispute whether Sellers was in Wallace's chain of command. Doc. 20 at ¶ 5; Doc. 23 at 5.

         In late 2015, after receiving a cancer diagnosis, Wallace told Crowley and Carolyn Jones, a human resources supervisor, that she needed to take medical leave. Doc. 23 at ¶¶ 50-51. Jones suggested intermittent-FMLA leave as “the best of both worlds.” Id. Crowley asked Wallace to delay her leave as long as she could. Doc. 23 at ¶¶ 52-53.

         Around the same time, Wallace informed Sellers that she planned to take leave. Doc. 23 at ¶ 53. According to Wallace, Sellers started mocking her health problems and openly stating he wanted to replace her with Adam Young, another LMC employee. Id. On January 26, 2016, Wallace threatened to report Sellers to the LMC Ethics Department if he did not stop this behavior. Doc. 23-1 at ¶ 16. The next day, Sellers reported Wallace to the Ethics Department for violating company policies, and the Ethics Department initiated an investigation. Doc. 20 at ¶ 7; Doc 23 at ¶ 7.

         Sellers' ethics report alleged Wallace had engaged in romantic relationships with Crowley and an LMC client, and had falsely accused the client of rape. Doc. 20 at ¶ 7. Wallace denies that she made the rape accusation, stating that she referred to rape in only one conversation with a human resources investigator, but quickly confessed that she lied because Sellers had pressured her to make the allegation. Doc. 23 at ¶ 24.

         On January 27, 2016, Wallace officially requested leave under the FMLA for anxiety and depression (Doc. 20 at ¶ 36), which she alleges was caused by her cancer diagnosis (Doc. 23-1 at ¶ 22). She received FMLA paperwork on February 1, 2016. Doc. 23 at ¶ 54.

         On February 8, 2016, Wallace made a verbal request for FMLA leave to Jones and Danielle Minus, another human resources employee. Doc. 23 at ¶ 54. Minus told Wallace she could not take FMLA leave, but that she was placing Wallace on administrative leave for her safety. Doc. 23 at ¶ 55. Later that month, Minus told Wallace that her prior determination was mistaken and that Wallace was, in-fact, eligible for FMLA leave. Doc. 23-1 at ¶ 33. On February 9, 2016, Cheeks, Crowley's supervisor, announced that Adam Young would replace Wallace while she was on a “non-adverse” leave of absence. Doc. 23 at ¶ 56.

         In early March, the Ethics Department found that the allegations regarding Wallace's romantic relationships with Crowley and the LMC client were true and violated LMC policy. Doc. 23 ¶ 29. The Ethics Department presented its conclusions to LMC's Administrative Review Committee (“ARC”) to determine whether the misconduct warranted disciplinary action. Doc. 20 at ¶ 29.

         LMC alleges that ARC decided to terminate Wallace from her original position. Doc. 20 at ¶¶ 31-32. Wallace disputes that this was the ARC's decision because a letter from LMC's general counsel to Congressman Trent Franks explained that Wallace would be allowed to seek a new position within the company or be terminated. Doc. 23 at ¶ 31.

         On March 3, 2016, Wallace's previous counsel sent an evidence preservation letter to LMC specifically referencing potential FMLA claims. Doc. 23 at ¶ 53. Six days later, LMC issued a report against Wallace's security clearance. Doc. 23 at ¶ 60.

         On March 28, 2016, LMC approved Wallace's request for intermittent FMLA leave, through July 28, 2016. Doc. 23 at ¶ 39. LMC retroactively designated the leave to January 29, 2016, the date Wallace made her first formal request for leave. Id. On April 27, 2016, Minus told Wallace that she would no longer receive payments for non-FMLA leave time, effective May 2, 2016. Doc. 23 at ¶ 62.

         On June 21, 2016, Wallace asked human resources about not receiving a reinstatement date. Doc. 20 at ¶ 43. On July 8, 2016, Wallace's counsel sent another letter to Minus notifying her of FMLA violations and requesting that Wallace be reinstated to prevent further violations. Doc. 23 at ¶ 66. On July 12, 2016, Minus told Wallace not to report to work because no work was available for her. Doc. 23 at ¶ 67. She claimed Wallace's functions had been reassigned to others in the department. Id. Wallace disputes that work was not available. Doc. 23 at ¶ 64. She alleges that at least one customer had requested her return to work as soon as possible in a June 22 email to Mark Cheeks. Doc. 23 at ¶ 64. The email stated: “the IA team is pretty busy and [Wallace's] presence would alleviate the managerial workload that's currently being shared by others.” Doc. 23-2 at 36.

         On July 26, 2016, Minus informed LMC's disability center that Wallace had been “returned back to work.” Doc. 20 at ¶ 41. Wallace asked Minus to clarify this change given Minus's prior instruction that Wallace not report for work. Id. Minus explained that Wallace's short-term disability leave had expired and she therefore was back to her original work arrangement of reporting to work only upon expiration of all FMLA leave. Doc. 28 at 7 (citing Doc. 23-2 at 47, Ex. 13). Wallace subsequently requested an extension of her FMLA leave, which was granted through January 28, 2017. Doc. 20 at ¶ 41.

         On August 15, 2016, Wallace complained again about not being reinstated. Doc. 20 at ¶ 44. On November 21, 2016, she raised FMLA complaints to corporate investigators, and did the same a week later in a letter to LMC's CEO. Doc. 23 at ¶¶ 70, 73. On December 28, 2016, Sellers informed customers that Wallace's job had been changed and she was “no longer supporting a classified contract” while on intermittent-FMLA leave. Doc. 23 at ¶ 73.

         On January 20, 2017, Wallace sought another extension of her FMLA leave, but was denied because she did not meet the FMLA's 1, 250 hours requirement, having worked only 899 hours during the preceding 12-month period. Doc. 20 at ¶ 42. Wallace alleges she did not qualify because LMC had refused her requests for reinstatement. Doc. 25 at 8.

         By March 15, 2017, Wallace had exhausted her FMLA leave benefits. Doc. 20 at ¶ 47. LMC invited Wallace to apply to any open, non-leadership positions at locations other than Luke Air Force Base by April 15, 2017, or face “administrative separation.” Id. Wallace did not apply and was terminated. Id

         II. Legal Standard.

         A party seeking summary judgment “bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Summary judgment is appropriate if the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, 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). Summary judgment is also appropriate against a party who “fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit will preclude the entry of summary judgment, and the disputed evidence must be “such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

         III. Analysis.

         The FMLA establishes the “minimum labor standard for leave” in the United States. Bachelder v. Am. West Airlines, Inc., 259 F.3d 1112, 1122 (9th Cir. 2001). Employees covered by the FMLA are entitled to take up to 12 weeks of leave each year for family or medical reasons and must be reinstated to their original or an equivalent position on return. 29 U.S.C. §§ 2612(a), 2614(a).

         A. Interference Claim.

         It is unlawful for an employer to “interfere with, restrain, or deny the exercise of or the attempt to exercise, any right provided” by the FMLA. Id.; § 2615(a)(1). Generally, any action by an employer that deters an employee from participating in FMLA-protected activities qualifies as an interference with the employee's FMLA rights. Bachelder, 259 F.3d at 1124.

         The Department of Labor interprets § 2615(a)(1) as prohibiting employers from refusing to authorize leave, discouraging an employee from using such leave, or using an employee's taking of FMLA leave “as a negative factor in employment actions, such as hiring, promotions or disciplinary actions.” 29 C.F.R. § 825.220(c). Thus, an employee will prevail on a claim for unlawful interference with FMLA rights if she shows that (1) she was eligible for FMLA protections, (2) her employer was covered by the FMLA, (3) she was entitled to leave under the FMLA, (4) she provided sufficient notice of her ...


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