United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
ORDER AND MEMORANDUM ON DEFENDANT’S MOTION FOR
SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DOCKET NO. 38)
TIMOTHY S. HILLMAN DISTRICT JUDGE.
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
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).
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. (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).
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 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).
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 (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 (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).
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.
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).
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).
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.
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).
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.