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Zeigler v. Atrius Health, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

September 5, 2018

ALAN ZEIGLER, Plaintiff,


          Indira Talwani United States District Judge.

         Pending before this court is Defendant Atrius Health, Inc.'s (“Atrius Health”) Motion for Partial Summary Judgment as to Count Seven of the Second Amended Complaint [#193]. Atrius Health argues that Plaintiff Alan Zeigler's claim of disability discrimination is barred for failing to timely file this claim with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (“MCAD”). For the following reasons, Atrius Health's motion is DENIED.

         I. Background

         Zeigler is a former employee of Atrius Health. In July 2015, Zeigler filed a charge of discrimination with the MCAD, alleging that Atrius Health discriminated against him on the basis of his age. Def. Atrius Health, Inc.'s Statement of Undisputed Facts Relevant to Count Seven (“Def.'s SOF”) ¶ 1 [#194]; Pl.'s Statement of Disputed Facts (“Pl.'s SOF”) ¶ 1 [#200]. On August 24, 2015, Atrius Health sent Zeigler a letter, confirming an August 20, 2015, telephone conversation between Zeigler and Atrius Health's human resources director, during which Atrius Health notified Zeigler that he would be placed on a three-month unpaid leave of absence. Def.'s SOF ¶ 2 [#194]; Pl.'s SOF ¶ 2 [#200]; Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. (“Def.'s Mot.”) Ex. 1 [#194-1]. On that same day, Zeigler filed another MCAD complaint, alleging that Atrius Health retaliated against him for filing his first MCAD complaint. Def.'s SOF ¶ 3 [#194]; Pl.'s SOF ¶ 3 [#200].

         In September 2015, Zeigler filed his Complaint [#1] in this action, alleging that Atrius Health retaliated against him for asserting his rights under the Family Medical Leave Act by placing him on unpaid leave on August 20, 2015. On October 24, 2015, Zeigler submitted his resignation to Atrius Health. Def.'s SOF ¶ 6 [#194]; Pl.'s SOF ¶ 6 [#200]; Def.'s Mot. Ex. 3 [#194-1]. In December 2015, Zeigler filed an Amended Complaint [#30], adding claims under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act for discrimination and retaliation based on his age, and asserting that due to Atrius Health's discriminatory and retaliatory acts, Zeigler was compelled to resign from his position on October 23, 2015, constituting constructive discharge. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 90-118 [#30].[1]

         On June 20, 2016, Zeigler filed the MCAD complaint (“MCAD Disability Complaint”) at issue here, alleging that Atrius Health discriminated against him on the basis of disability. Def.'s SOF ¶ 8 [#194]; Pl.'s SOF ¶ 8 [#200]; Def.'s Mot. Ex. 4 [#194-1]. The MCAD Disability Complaint alleged that Atrius Health constructively discharged Zeigler, but gave the date of the constructive discharge as August 20, 2015, rather than October 23 or 24, 2015. Def.'s Mot. Ex. 4 [#194-1].

         More than two months later, Atrius Health moved to dismiss the MCAD Disability Complaint, arguing that the complaint was untimely because it was filed more than 300 days after August 20, 2015. Def.'s SOF ¶ 11 [#194]; Pl.'s SOF ¶ 11 [#200]; Def.'s Mot. Ex. 5 [#194-1]. On September 8, 2016, Zeigler opposed the motion to dismiss, arguing that his resignation on October 24, 2015, constituted the constructive discharge, and requested leave to amend to include this date. Def.'s SOF ¶ 12 [#194]; Pl.'s SOF ¶ 12 [#200]; Def.'s Mot. Ex. 6 [#194-1]. In July 2017, the MCAD Investigating Committee denied Atrius Health's motion to dismiss and allowed the amendment of the MCAD Disability Complaint. Def.'s SOF ¶ 13 [#194]; Pl.'s SOF ¶ 13 [#200]; Def.'s Mot. Ex. 7 [#194-1]. Atrius Health subsequently filed an Interlocutory Appeal, which the full MCAD Commission denied on February 12, 2018. Def.'s Mot. Ex. 8 [#194-1].

         The court subsequently allowed Zeigler's unopposed motion for leave to file his Second Amended Complaint [#189] which added the claim that Atrius Health constructively discharged him because it perceived him to be disabled, in violation of Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 151B. Second Am. Compl. ¶¶ 119-122 [#189]. Atrius Health's motion for partial summary judgment followed.

         II. Standard of Review

         Summary judgment is appropriate “if the movant 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). “A ‘genuine' issue is one that could be resolved in favor of either party, and a ‘material fact' is one that has the potential of affecting the outcome of the case.” Calero-Cerezo v. U.S. Dep't of Justice, 355 F.3d 6, 19 (1st Cir. 2004) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-50 (1986)). To the extent facts are disputed, they are considered in the light most favorable to the non-movant and reasonable inferences will be drawn in favor of the non-movant. Tolan v. Cotton, 134 S.Ct. 1861, 1866 (2014) (per curiam) (quoting Adickes v. S.H. Kress Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157 (1970)) (“[A] court must view the evidence ‘in the light most favorable to the opposing party.'”). The moving party must first show “an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). If the moving party meets this burden, the non-moving party must then “adduce specific facts showing that a trier of fact reasonably could find in his favor.” Murray v. Warren Pumps, LLC, 821 F.3d 77, 83 (1st Cir. 2016) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50). “[T]he evidence offered by the adverse party cannot be ‘merely colorable' or speculative.” Thompson v. Coca-Cola Co., 522 F.3d 168, 175 (1st Cir. 2008) (quoting Pagano v. Frank, 983 F.2d 343, 347 (1st Cir. 1990)).

         III. Discussion

         Pursuant to M.G.L. c. 151 § 5, a plaintiff pursuing a state employment discrimination claim must file a complaint with the MCAD “within 300 days after the alleged act of discrimination.” Atrius Health argues that over 300 days passed between the date listed for the constructive discharge (August 20, 2015) in the MCAD Disability Complaint and the date the MCAD Disability Complaint was filed (June 20, 2016). Def.'s Mot. at 5 [#194]. Second, Atrius Health argues that over 300 days passed between the date listed in the Amended MCAD Disability Complaint for the constructive discharge (October 24, 2015) and the date Zeigler requested leave to amend his complaint (September 8, 2016). Id. Atrius Health further argues that this court should not apply the Massachusetts “relation-back” doctrine to the amended MCAD Disability Complaint. Id.

         In opposition, Plaintiff cites to Green v. Brennan, 136 S.Ct. 1769, 1776 (2016), to argue that the statute of limitations does not begin to accrue for a constructive discharge claim until a plaintiff resigns. Pl.'s Opp. at 4-5 [#200]. In Green, the Supreme Court held that a constructive discharge claim necessarily includes an employee's resignation. 136 S.Ct. at 1776; see also Vélez-Ramírez v. P.R. through Sec'y of Justice, 827 F.3d 154, 158 (1st Cir. 2016) (quoting Green, 136 S.Ct. at 1777) (In order to prevail on a constructive discharge claim, a plaintiff “must show that (1) ‘a reasonable person in [her] position would have felt compelled to resign' and (2) ‘[she] actually resigned.'”).[2] Green held further that the statute of limitations on the claim does not commence until after the “complete and present cause of action” - that is, upon the employee's notice of resignation. 136 S.Ct. at 1776 (holding that the 45-day period in which a federal employee must file initiate contact with the equal employment opportunity counselor at his agency does not being to run for a constructive discharge claim until the employee give notice of his resignation). “At that point - and not before - [a plaintiff] can file a suit for constructive discharge. So only after he has a complete and present cause of action does a limitations period begin to run.” Id. at 1777.

         Here, Zeigler's MCAD Disability Complaint asserted that Atrius Health engaged in discriminatory conduct based on Zeigler's perceived disability when Atrius Health placed him on unpaid leave. Def.'s Mot. Ex. 4, Introduction (“The Complainant, Alan Zeigler, believes that he was discriminated against by Respondents . . . when they ‘regarded him as disabled'”); ¶ 63 (“[Defendant] discriminated against [Plaintiff] when they ‘regarded' him as having a mental impairment and . . . forced him to take unpaid administrative leave”) [#194-1]. Zeigler asserted further that his “placement . . . on indefinite unpaid leave constitutes constructive discharge.” Id. ¶ 60. But despite Zeigler's erroneous legal conclusion that the constructive discharge claim was complete when he was placed on leave, under Green, that claim did ...

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