United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR
L. CABELL, U.S.M.J.
Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 29 U.S.C. § 2612,
entitles eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks of leave
to address medical concerns. Plaintiff Linda Felix availed
herself of such leave with the assent of her employer, the
Town of Kingston (the Town). Felix's position, a term
position subject to reappointment, expired while she was on
leave, and she was not reappointed to the position or
selected to interview when the Town set about to refill it.
Felix brings claims for violation of the FMLA,
Massachusetts' employment discrimination statute, M.G.L.
c. 151B, its whistleblower protection statute, M.G.L. c. 149,
§ 185, and also alleges various state common law torts.
The defendants move for summary judgment on all counts. For
the reasons discussed below, the defendant's motion for
summary judgment is GRANTED.
plaintiff worked for the Town from August 2010 to January
Robert Fennessy was at all relevant times the Town
Administrator and the plaintiff's direct supervisor.
Elaine Fiore, Dennis Randall, and Sandy MacFarlane were at
all relevant times members of the Town's Board of
Selectmen (the Board). Randall also served as a member of the
Council on Aging (COA) for a period of time before becoming a
Thomas Croce, now deceased, was at all relevant times a
member of the COA.
Florence Cerullo conducted a review of the Senior Center at
the Board's request.
2010, the Board appointed Felix as the Town's Director of
Elder Affairs (Director) for a term to run from August 2010
through June 30, 2011. Defendants' Concise Statement of
Undisputed Material Facts in Support of Summary Judgment
(Defendants' SUF), at ¶ 1. In order for Felix to
serve for another term after that date the Board would have
to reappoint her. Defendants' SUF, at ¶ 3. In fact,
the Board reappointed Felix to two subsequent one-year terms;
the first ran until June 30, 2012, and the second ran until
June 30, 2013. Defendants' SUF, ¶ 4.
point following her initial appointment Felix became aware
that a Senior Center employee, defendant Croce's wife,
was allegedly taking illegal paid vacations. The
Plaintiff's Undisputed Facts in Response to the
Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Plaintiff's
SUF), at ¶ 1. The plaintiff reported these findings to
the acting town administrator. Id. This report
caused some friction between the plaintiff and Croce, who
directed policy for the Senior Center as a member of the COA.
Id., at ¶ 2; Defendants' SUF, at ¶ 5.
disagreements between the plaintiff and COA members regarding
the Senior Center's operations developed over the next
two years. Defendants' SUF, ¶ 6-10. The COA does not
have authority to hire or fire the Director but it does
provide the Board with recommendations regarding
appointments. Id., at ¶ 11. In May 2013, the
COA voted to recommend that the plaintiff not be reappointed
for another term. Id., at ¶ 12.
plaintiff was never formally disciplined or “written
up” during her employment with the Town.
Plaintiff's SUF, at ¶ 3. However, given developing
tension between the plaintiff and the COA over the COA's
recommendation, the Board in June 2013 voted to reappoint the
plaintiff, but only for a six-month term ending December 31,
2013, rather than for a full year. Defendants' SUF, at
¶ 15, 18.
1, 2013, the plaintiff through her counsel sent a letter to
the Town's labor counsel. The plaintiff cited the issues
she was having with COA members and specifically mentioned
her belief that Croce's role in directing policy for the
Senior Center while his wife was employed there presented a
conflict of interest. Id., at ¶ 24;
Plaintiff's SUF, at ¶ 4.
August 2013, Fennessy was hired as Town Administrator; he
oversaw the Town's human resource functions among other
responsibilities. Defendants' SUF, at ¶ 26-27.
Fennessy noticed immediately that the plaintiff and COA
members would quickly become very upset and antagonistic when
dealing with one another. Id., at ¶ 29-30.
Fennessy met with the plaintiff several times to discuss how
she might improve her relationship with the COA moving
forward. Id., at ¶ 31.
the summer of 2013, defendant Cerullo undertook at the
Board's request an efficiency review of the various Town
departments, including the COA and the Senior Center.
Id., at ¶ 21-23. Cerullo completed her review
in September 2013 and prepared a document outlining her
findings. Id., at ¶ 32.
meeting that same month, the COA happened to discuss the
status of funds the plaintiff's daughter had raised for
the Senior Center. Id., at ¶ 33. The plaintiff
believed Board member Randall and COA member Croce were
unappreciative of her daughter's help and were accusingly
questioning how the money had been used. Id.
during September 2013, the plaintiff told Fennessy that
Randall had been taking meals from the Senior Center without
paying for them. Id., at ¶ 34.
COA's October 2013 meeting, the topic of the
plaintiff's daughter's use of the raised funds came
up again. Id., at ¶ 36. The plaintiff became
upset and told Fennessy that she needed to go home.
Id., at ¶ 37. The plaintiff took some sick days
following the meeting and was treated by her physician with
prescribed medication for anxiety. Id., at ¶
38; Plaintiff's SUF, at ¶ 7. The plaintiff
subsequently received workers' compensation benefits due
to emotional distress. Defendants' SUF, at ¶ 40;
Plaintiff's SUF, at ¶ 6.
October 28, 2013, the plaintiff submitted a request for FMLA
leave. Plaintiff's SUF, at ¶ 8; Defendants' SUF,
at ¶ 41. By letter dated the next day, Fennessy granted
the plaintiff's request for the maximum twelve-week
period, from October 28, 2013 to January 20, 2014.
Plaintiff's SUF, at ¶ 9; Defendants' SUF, at
¶ 43-44. Fennessy's letter also stated that
“[w]hen your leave is completed, you will be entitled
to be restored to your current position or an equivalent
position with equivalent benefits, pay and other terms and
conditions of employment. However, you will not have any
greater rights to restoration or benefits that you would have
had if you had remained employed during the leave
period.” Plaintiff's SUF, at ¶ 10.
plaintiff's six-month term neared its end, the Board did
not hold a vote on whether to extend her term beyond December
31, 2013. Id., at ¶ 11; Defendants' SUF, at
¶ 45. Consequently, the plaintiff's term expired as
of January 1, 2014, even though she was still to be out on
FMLA leave for another three weeks, through January 20, 2014.
appears that no one initially fully comprehended that the
Board's failure to vote on Felix's reappointment (one
way or the other) meant that she was, effective January 1,
2014, on medical leave from a position she no longer held.
The Town's labor counsel, for example, emailed the
plaintiff's counsel on January 16, 2014, seeking an
update on whether and when the plaintiff intended to return
to work given that her medical leave period was nearing its
end. Plaintiff's SUF, at ¶ 13; Defendants' SUF,
at ¶ 49. Similarly, the plaintiff's counsel
responded that the plaintiff did intend to return to work and
asked for information on applying for reasonable
accommodations. Plaintiff's SUF, at ¶ ...