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Boadi v. Center For Human Development, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

March 6, 2017

GRACE BOADI, Plaintiff,
v.
CENTER FOR HUMAN DEVELOPMENT, INC. AND CANDY PENNINGTON, [1]Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OF DECISION AND ORDER ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DKT. NO. 57)

          KATHERINE A. ROBERTSON United States Magistrate Judge.

         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff Grace Boadi ("Plaintiff") alleges that her former employer, the Center for Human Development, Inc. ("CHD"), and her former supervisor, Candy Pennington ("Pennington"), (collectively "Defendants"), interfered with her rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), and violated her rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") and the Massachusetts anti-discrimination statute, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 151B ("Chapter 151B"), by terminating her employment on April 21, 2013 while she was hospitalized due to the sudden onset of a mental impairment. After the parties consented to this court's jurisdiction, see 28 U.S.C. § 636(c); Fed.R.Civ.P. 73, Defendants moved for summary judgment. The court heard oral arguments on September 20, 2016. For the reasons that follow, the motion for summary judgment is DENIED as to Count I (FMLA), and GRANTED as to Counts II (ADA) and III (Chapter 151B).

         II. Background[2]

         CHD is a non-profit human service agency, which offers a wide range of human service and behavioral health programs to a number of different populations (Dkt. No. 58 at ¶ 1). On December 16, 2003, Plaintiff began working as a residential counselor in CHD's Community Reentry Program (Dkt. No. 60-1 at 3-5; Dkt. No. 60-4 at 2; Dkt. No. 65 at 7 ¶ 1). Darlean Thomas directly supervised Plaintiff, who assisted adult clients with mental illnesses at a group home in Springfield (Dkt. No. 60-1 at 3-5; Dkt. No. 65 at 8 ¶ 8). Thomas reported to Pennington, the program manager of adult mental health in Springfield (Dkt. No. 60-7 at 3; Dkt. No. 65 at 8 ¶ 8). As program manager of all group homes, Pennington indirectly supervised Plaintiff (Dkt. No. 60-7 at 3). Pennington came under the supervision of Jeffrey Trant, the program director (Dkt. No. 60-6 at 3; Dkt. No. 65 at 16 ¶ 49).

         In April and May 2013, Julianne Shea was CHD's Human Resources ("HR") Director and Carol Fitzgerald was Vice President of HR (Dkt. No. 58 ¶ 10; Dkt. No. 60-7 at 4; Dkt. No. 65 at 14 ¶ 39). Fitzgerald and Shea supervised Louise Ochrymowicz, an HR representative who processed applications for short term disability and FMLA leave (Dkt. No. 60-10 at 4; Dkt. No. 65 at 12 ¶ 32).

         A. Plaintiff's Employment History

         Plaintiff's job performance was mostly satisfactory during her tenure at CHD from December 2003 to April 2013 (Dkt. No. 65 at 8 ¶ 9). Thomas' most recent evaluation in January 2009 indicated that Plaintiff showed "great improvements in her attendance and how she accepts constructive criticism from her supervisor. She is working very hard on being on time for work and is doing a good job" (Dkt. No. 65-5 at 10). One of Plaintiff's goals for the next year was to "continue to improve on getting to work and meetings on time" (id.).

         As Plaintiff's job evaluation indicated, she sometimes had problems reporting to work on time (id.). She received written warnings for tardiness and/or failure to follow call-in procedures on June 24, 2004, April 4, 2006, July 12, 2007, August 1, 2007, May 9, 2008, [3] and October 4, 2012 (Dkt. No. 60-4 at 16, 19, 21, 22, 23, 24; Dkt. No. 65 at 7 ¶ 4).

         Plaintiff also received three written notices from Thomas regarding absenteeism (Dkt. No. 60-4 at 20, 25). On November 23, 2005, Thomas warned Plaintiff that she would face discipline if she did not work her scheduled shift on Christmas (Dkt. No. 60-4 at 36). In September 2006, Plaintiff received a written warning for "calling out of work deliberately" on a Saturday when Thomas alleged that Plaintiff knew, in advance, that she was going to attend a wedding (Dkt. No. 60-4 at 20). Plaintiff responded that her absence "had nothing to do with [a] wedding;" she had a "family emergency" (id.). In September 2009, Thomas signed a "verbal warning" after Plaintiff called out sick on a weekend when the other staff member who worked her shift was on vacation (Dkt. No. 60-4 at 25).[4] Thomas' warning said, "It has been noticed that every time [the other staff member] goes on vacation, you always call out on one of those days and that day is usually on the weekend" (id.). Plaintiff countered that she was sick with a stomach ache (id.).

         Plaintiff received five written or verbal warnings for failing to comply with CHD's policies, and she was admonished for arguing with her supervisors or other staff members in April 2007, October 2008, February 2010, May 2011, and June 2012 (Dkt. No. 60-4 at 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35).[5]

         B. Plaintiff's Hospitalization and Termination

         1. April 15, 2013

         On April 15, 2013, Plaintiff's incoherence, agitation, and threats to her neighbors caused her son, James Takyi, and her brother to transport her to the Mercy Medical Center ("Mercy") emergency room (Dkt. No. 65 at 8-9 ¶ 11; Dkt. No. 65-12 at 5). She was admitted to the hospital when her aggression intensified (Dkt. No. 65 at 9 ¶ 13).

         2. April 16, 2013

         On April 16, Plaintiff was transferred from the Mercy to the Pembroke Hospital ("Pembroke"), an acute care psychiatric facility (id. at 9 ¶¶ 14, 15). Her Global Assessment of Functioning ("GAF") score was 21 when she arrived at Pembroke (id. at 9 ¶ 16).[6] She was diagnosed with "psychotic disorder NOS" (id. at 9 ¶ 15).

         More than once in the past when Plaintiff was sick and unable to call CHD, Takyi had notified them that Plaintiff would be absent from work (Dkt. No. 65 at 14 at ¶ 41). CHD had not objected to this practice (id.).

         On April 16, 2013, Takyi left Pennington a voice mail message and she returned his call (Dkt. No. 60-7 at 4-5; Dkt. No. 65 at 10 ¶ 22). Takyi told Pennington that his mother was unable to work because she was hospitalized and was not doing well and he was unsure when Plaintiff would be able to return to work (Dkt. No. 65 at 10 ¶ 22, at 14 ¶ 42). Pennington asked whether Plaintiff could communicate (Dkt. No. 59 ¶ 8; Dkt. No. 65 at 14 ¶ 42). When Takyi replied in the affirmative, Pennington directed him to have Plaintiff call her "because it's not good enough . . . to allow . . . other people [to] call in for you when you can't come to shift" (Dkt. No. 58 ¶ 8; Dkt. No. 65 at 10-11 ¶ 22, at 14 ¶ 42; Dkt. No. 65-8 at 7). Pennington did not request other details of Plaintiff's condition and recorded this call on her weekly calendar along with Takyi's phone number and the notation "[Plaintiff] in hospital??" (Dkt. No. 60-8 at 2; Dkt. No. 65 at 10-11 ¶ 22).

         3. April 17, 2013

         Plaintiff was scheduled to work on April 17, 2013 (Dkt. No. 60-7 at 11; Dkt. No. 65 at 11 ¶ 24). When Plaintiff did not report for work, Thomas called Plaintiff's phone, but did not reach her (Dkt. No. 65 at 11 ¶ 24). Thomas reported Plaintiff's absence to Pennington who told Thomas to "fill her shift" (Dkt. No. 65 at 11 ¶ 24). However, Pennington did not inform Thomas, or anyone else at CHD, that she had spoken to Takyi on the previous day and did not give Thomas any information about Plaintiff's status (Dkt. No. 65 at 11 ¶¶ 23, 24). Pennington's calendar entry for April 17, 2013 noted, "[Plaintiff] - no show/no call" (Dkt. No. 60-8 at 2; Dkt. No. 65 at 11 at ¶ 25).

         4. April 18 to April 21, 2013

         When Thomas still had not heard from Plaintiff the next day, April 18, 2013, she grew concerned, found Takyi's number listed as Plaintiff's emergency contact, called him, and left a message (Dkt. No. 65 at 11 ¶ 27). Takyi returned Thomas' call and advised her that Plaintiff had been admitted to the Mercy, was presently unable to work, and her return date was uncertain (Dkt. No. 65 at 12 ¶ 28). When Thomas asked if Plaintiff could speak, Takyi said, "yes" (id.). Thomas told him that Plaintiff should call to let her know when she expected to return to work (id.). Thomas reported this conversation to Pennington, who, again, did not mention her conversation with Takyi (Dkt. No. 65 at 12 ¶ 29). Pennington only directed Thomas to wait to see if Plaintiff called (id.).

         Thomas spoke to Takyi a second time on April 18 (Dkt. No. 65 at 12 ¶ 30). She advised him to contact HR about short term disability benefits if Plaintiff was still hospitalized and expected to be out of work for more than five days (id.). Takyi then called Ochrymowicz in CHD's HR department and informed her that Plaintiff was in the hospital (Dkt. No. 65 at 12 ¶ 31, at 13 ¶ 34). Hearing this, Ochrymowicz prepared the short term disability and FMLA paperwork packet for Plaintiff (Dkt. No. 58 ¶ 10; Dkt. No. 65 at 13 ¶ 34). The letter to Plaintiff regarding her medical leave of absence is dated April 17, 2013 and begins, "We have been informed that you are on a medical leave of absence due to a non-work related accident or illness. You are eligible to file a claim with CHD's short term disability policy through The Standard Benefit Administrators" (Dkt. No. 60-11 at 2; Dkt. No. 65 at 13 ¶ 36). Ochrymowicz also signed and dated the notice of FMLA guidelines on April 17, 2013 (Dkt. No. 60-11 at 5; Dkt. No. 65 at 13 ¶ 37). This form showed April 15, 2013 as the "approximate date leave will begin" (Dkt. No. 60-11 at 3; Dkt. No. 65 at 13 ¶ 37).[7] Ochrymowicz did not discuss the preparation of the FMLA paperwork or Plaintiff's possible entitlement to FMLA leave with anyone at CHD (Dkt. No. 58 ¶ 10; Dkt. No. 65 at 13-14 at ¶ 38).

         On the same date, Pennington directed Thomas to fill Plaintiff's shifts for the remainder of the week, Friday, April 19 through Sunday, April 21, 2013, because they did not expect Plaintiff to return to work (Dkt. No. 65 at 14 ¶ 43). Pennington's calendar entries for April 18 and 19 show: "[Plaintiff] - no call/no show" (Dkt. No. 60-8 at 2).

         Also on April 18, Plaintiff was transferred from Pembroke to the South Shore Hospital's emergency room after she fell and hit her head on the floor while attempting to speak to Takyi on the telephone (Dkt. No. 65 at 9 ¶ 17; Dkt. No. 70 at ¶ 17). When Plaintiff returned to Pembroke on April 20, 2013, her GAF score was 15 (Dkt. No. 65 at 10 ¶ 18).[8] Plaintiff did not work her shifts on April 20 and 21, and did not personally notify CHD of her absence (Dkt. No. 58 ¶¶ 11, 12).

         5. April 22, 2013

         On Monday, April 22, 2013, Pennington reported to Trant that Plaintiff was absent on April 19, 20 and 21, 2013 without contacting her supervisors (Dkt. No. 58 ¶ 14; Dkt. No. 65 at 16 ¶ 49). Pennington recounted her conversation with Takyi when he indicated Plaintiff could communicate, and Pennington told him Plaintiff needed to contact her directly to discuss her absence from work (Dkt. No. 58 ¶ 14). According to Trant, Pennington did not notify him that Plaintiff was hospitalized (Dkt. No. 65 at 16 ¶ 49).

         Based on the information that Pennington relayed to Trant -- that Plaintiff failed to report to work or notify anyone of her absence on three consecutive days -- he and Fitzgerald, the Vice President of HR, determined that Plaintiff had voluntarily resigned according to CHD's job abandonment policy (Dkt. No. 60-4 at 7; Dkt. No. 65 at 16 ¶ 50).[9] On the same date, Fitzgerald, who, like Trant, was unaware that Plaintiff was in the hospital, drafted a letter for Trant's signature notifying Plaintiff that she effectively resigned as of April 21, 2013 based on her failure to comply with CHD's call-in policy on three consecutive days (Dkt. No. 58 ¶¶ 16, 19; Dkt. No. 60-4 at 7; Dkt. No. 65 at 17 ¶ 57).[10]

         The Community Re-entry Residential Program's call-in policy required a staff member who was unable to work to call either a supervisor, or the program director, if she could not reach a supervisor (Dkt. No. 58 ¶ 6; Dkt. No. 60-4 at 5). CHD's policy for all employees stated:

1. It is not sufficient to have a friend or relative call in, unless the staff member is physically unable to do so.
. . .
3. The staff member must call in as soon as possible for lateness or absence. Calls regarding a complete absence must be made three hours in advance to allow adequate time to find a replacement.
** In order to be granted paid time off, the staff member who will be absent must speak directly with the supervisor. Failure to follow this procedure may result in disciplinary action including: unpaid time off for absence, suspension, or termination.

(Dkt. No. 60-4 at 6; Dkt. No. 65 at 16 ¶ 51) (emphasis original).[11] Neither Trant, nor Fitzgerald, nor Pennington discussed Plaintiff's termination with Ochrymowicz ...


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