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Brown v. Juniper Networks, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

September 23, 2019

REBECCA BROWN, Plaintiff,
v.
JUNIPER NETWORKS, INC., Defendant.

          ORDER AND MEMORANDUM ON DEFENDANT’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DOCKET NO. 38)

          TIMOTHY S. HILLMAN DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Rebecca Brown (“Ms. Brown”) filed this action against her former employer, Juniper Networks, Inc. (“Juniper”), alleging that it interfered with her rights under the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), 29 U.S.C. § 2615, and discriminated and retaliated against her for taking leave. Juniper moves for summary judgment on all Ms. Brown’s claims. (Docket No. 38). For the following reasons, the Court grants summary judgment on the interference claim and denies summary judgment on the retaliation and discrimination claims.

         Background

         Juniper is a “technology company that designs, develops and markets networking products and services.” (Docket No. 40 at 1). In June 2015, Juniper hired Ms. Brown as a Major Account Manager (“MAM”). (Docket No. 40 at 1). In this capacity, Ms. Brown sold Juniper products and services to a finite group of accounts on a regular basis. (Docket No. 40 at 1).

         James Sullivan (“Mr. Sullivan”), Regional Director of the Northeast Enterprise Sales Team, served as Ms. Brown’s immediate supervisor. (Docket No. 40 at 2). In the fall of 2016, Mr. Sullivan addressed several performance issues with Ms. Brown, including her failure to timely update her sales pipeline or submit expense reports, her low revenue numbers, and her poor customer satisfaction reports.[1] (Docket No. 43-1 at 10–12). He expressed the intent to issue a written warning to Ms. Brown (Docket No. 41-4 at 2), although he failed to follow through at the time (Docket No. 50-2 at 2).

         On September 19, 2016, Ms. Brown applied for FMLA leave effective October 3, 2016. (Docket No. 42-1). Because FMLA leave is unpaid, Ms. Brown requested in her application to use paid time off for the first two weeks[2] and to switch to short term disability payments on October 17. (Docket No. 42-1 at 4). After several extensions, Ms. Brown’s FMLA leave was scheduled to end on December 15, 2016. (Docket Nos. 53-3 at 2, 53-4 at 2). Mr. Sullivan allegedly expressed frustration with the length of her leave given these extensions. (Docket No. 48-6 at 2).

         While Ms. Brown was on leave, Juniper reorganized its sales force. (Docket No. 40 at 5). Mr. Sullivan had previously overseen MAMs in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions, but after the reorganization, he oversaw MAMs and Territory Account Managers (“TAMs”) in the Northeast and upstate New York. (Docket No. 40 at 5). Although the reorganization did not impact the existence of Ms. Brown’s job (Docket No. 50-2 at 5), Mr. Sullivan filled her position with another employee. (Docket No. 40 at 8). Stan Frost (“Mr. Frost”), then a TAM, took over Ms. Brown’s accounts[3] (Docket No. 40 at 8–9), and when Ms. Brown returned to Juniper on January 12, 2017, Mr. Sullivan reassigned her to the now-vacant TAM role. (Docket No. 40 at 6). Her salary and commission remained the same, but as a TAM, she serviced a geographic territory rather than designated accounts and had a lower sales achievement goal than a MAM. (Docket Nos. 40 at 2, 49 at 5). Mr. Frost and Ms. Brown were the only two employees whom Mr. Sullivan reassigned after the company’s reorganization[4] (Docket No. 43-2 at 14), and Mr. Sullivan suggested that, had Ms. Brown returned earlier from her leave, he would have placed her in her former MAM position (Docket Nos. 43-1 at 17, 50-2 at 3).

         Mr. Sullivan assigned Ms. Brown a sales achievement goal of $3, 750, 000 for 2017. (Docket No. 40 at 8). Ms. Brown expressed concern that this goal was too high because it would require her to increase sales in her new territory by almost 700%. (Docket Nos. 40 at 9, 49 at 3– 4). Mr. Sullivan allegedly recognized that the territory could not support such a goal and suggested that he would not backfill her position if she left the company. (Docket No. 49 at 3). He refused, however, to alter it.

         By the end of the first quarter, Ms. Brown had only achieved 10% of her goal. (Docket No. 40 at 11). On May 5, 2017, Mr. Sullivan issued a Performance Improvement Plan (“PIP”) to Ms. Brown to address her low sales figures and lingering performance issues. (Docket No. 40 at 11). This PIP required Ms. Brown to sell $420, 000 of product and services by the end of the first week of June 2017 and to develop future business prospective of $850, 000. (Docket No. 40 at 11). Mr. Sullivan scheduled weekly meetings with Ms. Brown to assess her progress. (Docket No. 40 at 11). Although Ms. Brown addressed the relevant performance issues by the deadline, she did not meet her sales goals, and Juniper terminated her. (Docket No. 40 at 12).

         Ms. Brown filed a complaint in state court. (Docket No. 1-3). Juniper removed the case to this Court on November 2, 2016. (Docket No. 1). On May 1, 2019, Juniper moved for summary judgment on all claims against it. (Docket No. 38).

         Legal Standard

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, a court “shall grant summary judgment 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.” An issue is “genuine” when a reasonable factfinder could resolve it in favor of the nonmoving party. Morris v. Gov’t Dev. Bank of Puerto Rico, 27 F.3d 746, 748 (1st Cir. 1994). A fact is “material” when it may affect the outcome of the suit. Id.

         When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, “the court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, drawing all reasonable inferences in that party’s favor.” Scanlon v. Dep’t of Army, 277 F.3d 598, 600 (1st Cir. 2002) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         Discussion

         The FMLA grants entitled employees the substantive right to take up to “12 workweeks of leave during any 12-month period” for a qualifying event. 29 U.S.C. § 2612(a)(1). And to protect this right, the FMLA prohibits an employer from (1) “interfer[ing] with, restrain[ing], or deny[ing] the exercise of or the attempt to exercise” the right to leave, or (2) discriminating or retaliating against an employee for taking leave. 29 U.S.C. § 2615; Colburn v. Parker Hannifin/Nichols Portland Div., 429 F.3d 325, 330–31 (1st Cir. 2005). Ms. ...


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