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Germanowski v. Harris

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

April 12, 2017

HEIDI GERMANOWSKI, Plaintiff, Appellant,
PATRICIA HARRIS, individually and in her capacity as Register of Deeds; COMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS, Defendants, Appellees.


          Andrea F. Nuciforo, Jr. and Nuciforo Law Group LLC on brief for appellant.

          Heather A. Valentine, Assistant Attorney General, Government Bureau, and Maura Healey, Attorney General of Massachusetts, on brief for appellees.

          Before Howard, Chief Judge, Torruella and Kayatta, Circuit Judges.

          KAYATTA, Circuit Judge.

         Heidi Germanowski challenges the district court's order dismissing claims that her former employer violated her rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 2611-2654. According to Germanowski, the facts pleaded in her complaint plausibly allege that her supervisor fired her because she sought leave protected by the FMLA. We disagree and thus affirm.


         Because this appeal follows a dismissal pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, we accept as true all well-pleaded facts in Germanowski's complaint and draw all reasonable inferences in her favor. See Carrero-Ojeda v. Autoridad de Energía Eléctrica, 755 F.3d 711, 712 (1st Cir. 2014).

         Germanowski worked at the Berkshire Middle District Registry of Deeds for more than a decade, ascending the ranks from Recording Clerk to First Assistant Register. For much of her tenure, Germanowski worked alongside Patricia Harris, a defendant in this action. They enjoyed a strong friendship in addition to a collegial working relationship. But sometime after Harris became Germanowski's supervisor in January 2013, their relationship began to deteriorate, culminating in Germanowski's termination in February 2015.

         According to the complaint, the trouble started a little over a year after Harris became Register. Germanowski, then serving as First Assistant Register, began experiencing stress and anxiety accompanied by fatigue, hair loss, aches, and gastrointestinal pain. She sought medical attention, visiting her primary care physician and other healthcare providers. She kept Harris abreast of her symptoms and physician visits.

         A few months later, in June 2014, Harris allegedly began pressuring Germanowski to support William Galvin, the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, in his upcoming bid for reelection. Germanowski twice refused Harris's requests to make financial contributions to Secretary Galvin's campaign committee. Around the time of Germanowski's second refusal, Harris reassigned certain tasks from Germanowski to other employees and boxed her out of management meetings and decisions. Harris also redoubled her efforts to extract a financial contribution from Germanowski, cautioning that "it would look bad" if she declined to make a contribution and demanding that she defend her decision. Fearing that her continued employment was contingent upon making a contribution, Germanowski ultimately caved to the pressure in August 2014 and contributed.

         The following month, Germanowski visited her gynecologist and complained of uncontrollable crying, weight loss, anxiety, and other symptoms of stress. The gynecologist diagnosed Germanowski with anxiety disorder. Once again, Germanowski apprised Harris that she was seeking medical care and reported her symptoms.

         Weeks after the diagnosis, in October 2014, Germanowski suffered a nervous breakdown while working. Harris drove Germanowski home, notwithstanding Germanowski's protests that Harris was the cause of her stress and anxiety. Germanowski saw her primary care physician, who prescribed medication and instructed her to contact a therapist. Over the following week, Germanowski tried to connect with Harris to discuss her absence from work and arrange coverage of her responsibilities. When they finally connected, "Harris accused Germanowski of disloyalty, and . . . of inappropriately informing staff members about Germanowski's condition." According to the complaint, these accusations worsened Germanowski's physical and emotional state.

         Germanowski informed Harris that she had begun treatment with both a psychiatrist and a therapist. She then tried to return to work on October 20, two and a half weeks after her nervous breakdown, but Harris suggested another week of rest. They met at the conclusion of that week ...

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