United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION AND ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S
MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
GAIL DEIN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
plaintiff, Joseph Reid, was an employee of the defendant,
Centric Consulting, LLC (“Centric”), during the
period of December 9, 2013 to June 19, 2015, when his
employment was terminated, allegedly for performance related
issues. After he had been put on a performance plan, Mr. Reid
requested and obtained 17 consecutive weeks of medical leave,
from November 19, 2014 through March 20, 2015, at which point
he returned to work. Although it was subsequently determined
that Centric was not covered by the Family Medical Leave Act,
29 U.S.C. §§ 2601-2654 (“FMLA”),
Centric incorrectly labeled the middle 12 weeks of Mr.
Reid's leave as FMLA leave, and so advised Mr. Reid.
After his employment was terminated, Mr. Reid brought a one
count complaint alleging that his employment was terminated
in retaliation for his having taken FMLA leave.
basic discovery was completed, and in an effort to streamline
this litigation, the parties agreed to present to the court,
by way of a motion for summary judgment, the issue of whether
the plaintiff can maintain a retaliation claim under the FMLA
if he was not, in fact, entitled to FMLA leave. Centric
argues that the plaintiff cannot maintain a retaliation claim
as a matter of law, while the plaintiff contends that Centric
can be equitably estopped from denying him the fully panoply
of rights provided by the FMLA.
reasons detailed herein, this court finds that while the law
is unsettled in this area, it is more likely that the First
Circuit would rule that there are circumstances where the
doctrine of equitable estoppel could apply to a retaliation
claim. Therefore, the defendant's Motion for Summary
Judgment (Docket No. 23) is DENIED. However, based on the
facts presented, which include, without limitation, the fact
that the plaintiff took both FMLA and non-FMLA leave to cover
his medical needs, it is questionable that the plaintiff can
establish that he relied on any representation as to the
applicability of the FMLA to his detriment. Therefore the
court will hold a status conference to discuss whether it
would be appropriate to proceed with another motion for
summary judgment on the applicability of the doctrine of
equitable estoppel to the retaliation claim before reopening
STATEMENT OF FACTS
Reid began his employment with Centric on December 9, 2013 as
a business developer, working from his home in Winchester,
Massachusetts. Centric had fewer than 50 employees working
within a 75-mile radius of Mr. Reid's worksite at all
times before, during, and after Mr. Reid's employment
with Centric. Given this number of employees, Centric was not
covered by the FMLA. Nevertheless, as detailed herein,
Centric's human resources department (“HR”)
treated Mr. Reid's request for a medical leave as if it
were covered by the FMLA.
September 2014, Centric presented Mr. Reid with a performance
improvement plan (“PIP”) because of Mr.
Reid's lack of sales and other deficiencies. Mr. Reid
received a written copy of the PIP on September 30, 2014 and
corresponded with Centric's management about the plan on
October 3, 2014.
October 7, 2014, Mr. Reid inquired of HR about a possible
need for medical leave. Centric's management was unaware
of any medical issue before this initial inquiry. In response
to Mr. Reid's inquiry about the availability of FMLA
leave in October 2014, HR informed Mr. Reid that he would be
ineligible for FMLA leave until December 9, 2014 (after
completing the requisite 12 months of employment with Centric
to be eligible for FMLA). However, HR noted, Centric had other
non-FMLA leave options available for disability, including
short-term and long-term disability leave. Mr. Reid requested
and was granted a non-FMLA leave of absence by Centric, using
paid time off, for surgery and recovery beginning November
on December 9, 2014, at Centric's encouragement, Mr.
Reid's leave of absence continued without interruption as
“FMLA leave” and continued for the full 12 weeks
until March 2, 2015. At that point, Mr. Reid was permitted by
Centric to continue his leave of absence without interruption
by switching back to “non-FMLA leave” for more
than two additional weeks through March 20, 2015. Mr. Reid
received the full 12 weeks of FMLA leave benefits and
reinstatement from Centric as if Mr. Reid was an
“eligible employee” under the FMLA. Centric would
have provided the exact same leave and benefits to
accommodate Mr. Reid's surgery and recovery, even if it
had not voluntarily approved Mr. Reid for “FMLA
his return to work on March 20, 2015, Mr. Reid resumed the
PIP with the same sales requirements as were originally
designated before the leave of absence. On June 19, 2015,
Centric terminated Mr. Reid's employment for what Centric
attributes to Mr. Reid's failure to meet the PIP goals,
which had been set for him before he requested medical leave.
Mr. Reid challenges this explanation for his termination.
Rather, he has brought a complaint alleging that his
termination was in retaliation for exercising the rights
afforded under the FMLA.
parties agree that Mr. Reid was not an “eligible
employee” entitled to receive benefits under the FMLA.
He claims that since Centric treated him as FMLA-eligible, it
is estopped from arguing ineligibility in defense of Mr.
Reid's retaliation claim. (Pl. Opp. at 4). Centric argues
that neither Mr. Reid nor any plaintiff “can maintain
an FMLA retaliation claim without showing he was an
‘eligible employee' under the statute, based on an
equitable estoppel theory.” (Def. Mem. at 4).