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Germanowski v. Harris

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

February 19, 2016

PATRICIA HARRIS, Individually and in her Capacity as Register of Deeds, and COMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS Defendants.



Plaintiff Heidi Germanowski was terminated from her position as First Assistant Registrar in the Berkshire Middle District Registry of Deeds (“Registry”) in February of 2015. On April 20, 2015, she filed this action against her former supervisor, Patricia Harris, individually and in her official capacity as Register of Deeds (“Harris”), and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (collectively “Defendants”) alleging her termination violated her rights under the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993, 29 U.S.C. § 2615 (“FMLA”) and violated state law. Defendants moved to dismiss the two counts brought pursuant to the FMLA and requested the court decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state law claims, thereby disposing of the action in its entirety. For the reasons explained below, the court grants Defendants’ motion.

I. Background[1]

Plaintiff began working at the Registry as a recording clerk in 2002. (Compl. ¶ 6, Dkt. No. 1.) She received several promotions over the next ten years and in October of 2012 she was promoted to serve as First Assistant Register. (Id. at ¶¶ 6, 12.) During 2012 one of her colleagues at the Registry, Harris, then the Second Assistant Register, was running for the position of Register. (Id. at ¶¶ 9-10.) Plaintiff actively participated in Harris’s campaign. (Id. at ¶ 11.) In November of 2012, Harris was elected Register and, in January of 2013, after beginning her term as Register, Harris asked Plaintiff to continue as First Assistant Register. (Id. at ¶¶ 14-16.) The following year, in the spring of 2014, Plaintiff began experiencing fatigue, hair loss, aches, anxiety, stress, and gastrointestinal pains. (Id. at ¶¶ 18-19.) She visited several physicians at that time and informed Harris about her health issues. (Id. at ¶ 19.)

Plaintiff continued to have medical issues and, in September of 2014, she again consulted with a physician about her symptoms, including uncontrollable crying, anxiety, weight loss, and symptoms related to stress. (Id. at ¶ 29.) A practitioner diagnosed Plaintiff with an anxiety disorder. (Id.) She told Harris about her symptoms and informed Harris that she was under a physician’s care. (Id.) On October 2, 2014, Plaintiff had a nervous breakdown while at work. (Id. at ¶ 30.) A coworker took Plaintiff to Harris’s office and Harris drove Plaintiff home, even though Plaintiff told Harris that she did not want to be driven home. (Id.) Later, Plaintiff was taken to an emergency room, where she was prescribed medicine, sent home, and instructed to contact other providers. (Id.) Several days later, on October 6, 2014, Plaintiff’s father-in-law passed away. (Id. at ¶ 32.) During the time she was away from work, Plaintiff tried to contact Harris to discuss her work duties and absence. (Id. at ¶¶ 32-34.) The complaint is silent as to whether any discussion resulted from Plaintiff’s attempts to contact Harris.

Also in October of 2014, Plaintiff began treatment with a psychiatrist and therapist. (Id. at ¶ 35.) Once again, she told Harris about her symptoms and treatment. (Id.) Plaintiff tried to return to work on October 20, 2014, but Harris suggested she return home and rest for the remainder of the week. (Id. at ¶ 36.) On October 27, 2014, Plaintiff and Harris had lunch and agreed Plaintiff would return to work the following day. (Id. at ¶ 37.)

Several months later, on Thursday, January 29, 2015, Harris erroneously, and without basis, accused Plaintiff of having an affair. (Id. at ¶ 43.) That afternoon, Harris left Plaintiff a voicemail message in which she instructed Plaintiff not to come to work the following day. (Id. at ¶ 44.) About three and a half hours later, Plaintiff received a second voicemail from Harris, again instructing her not to go to work the following day. (Id. at ¶ 45.) The following morning, Plaintiff went to the Registry building to drop off keys for a basement storage room and was denied access to the building because Harris had erroneously and without basis told one or more court officers that Plaintiff posed a threat. (Id. at ¶¶ 46-47.) Two days later, on Sunday, Harris sent Plaintiff a text message stating “We are going to have to talk today. I’m not going to have time Monday or Tuesday. What time will work for you?” (Id. at ¶ 48.) The complaint is silent as to whether Harris and Plaintiff had further communications that day.

The following day, Harris left Plaintiff two voicemails ordering her not to return to work on Tuesday February 3, 2015. (Id. at ¶ 49.) These messages caused Plaintiff to believe her job was in jeopardy. Plaintiff sent Harris an email the following day stating that she would be out sick for the rest of the week and was scheduled to see her doctor. (Id. at ¶ 50.) When Plaintiff saw her psychiatrist on February 5, 2015, she was advised to take a leave of absence from work in order to seek treatment. (Id. at ¶ 51.) The psychiatrist made the recommendation in a letter, but the complaint is silent as to who received the letter and when. (Id.) The next day Plaintiff received a voicemail from the chief court officer informing her that her employment had been terminated and directing her to turn in her badge and keys to him by the end of the day. (Id. at ¶ 52.) Several minutes later, Plaintiff received a termination notice in an email from Harris. (Id.)

II. Jurisdiction

Plaintiff filed a five count complaint. Counts I and II assert claims of violation of FMLA, a federal statute.[2] Counts III, IV, and V are based on state law. This court has subject matter jurisdiction over Counts I and II pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and may exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the state claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1367.

III. Legal Standard

A party moving to dismiss an action pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) has the burden of demonstrating that the complaint lacks “sufficient factual matter” to state a claim for relief that is actionable as a matter of law and “plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)); Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Though “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice, ” once a plaintiff has put forth “well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Iqbal at 679. To succeed on a motion to dismiss, the moving party must show the other party’s assertions fall short of establishing at least one “element necessary to sustain recovery under some actionable legal theory.” Centro Medico del Turabo, Inc. v. Feliciano de Melecio, 406 F.3d 1, 6 (1st Cir. 2005) (internal citation omitted). “[A] complaint need not ‘plead facts sufficient to establish a prima facie case, ’” but a court can consider the elements of a prima facie case in order to “determine whether the ‘cumulative effect of the complaint’s factual allegations’ is a plausible claim for relief.” Carrero-Ojeda v. Autoridad de Energia Electrica, 755 F.3d 711, 718 (1st Cir. 2014) (quoting Rodriguez-Reyes v. Molina-Rodriguez, 711 F.3d 49, 54 (1st Cir. 2013)).

IV. Discussion

A. FMLA ...

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