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Thomas v. Dolgencorp, LLC

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Southern Division

July 11, 2014

KIMBERLY THOMAS, Plaintiff,
v.
DOLGENCORP, LLC, Defendant

Page 1341

For Kimberly Thomas, Plaintiff: Heather Newsom Leonard, LEAD ATTORNEY, Heather Leonard, PC, Birmingham, AL.

For Dolgencorp, LLC, Defendant: Christopher A Driskill, LEAD ATTORNEY, Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis, LLP, Birmingham, AL; John J. Park, LEAD ATTORNEY, PRO HAC VICE, Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis, LLP, Nashville, TN; Stanley Eugene Graham, LEAD ATTORNEY, Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis LLP, Nashville, TN.

Page 1342

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Mark E. Fuller, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

Before the Court is Defendant Dolgencorp, LLC's (" Dollar General" ) Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. #21). This case arises out of Plaintiff Kimberly Thomas's (" Thomas" ) allegations that Dollar General discriminated against her on the basis of her disability in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (" ADA" ), on the basis of her gender in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (" Title VII" ), and on the basis of her taking approved leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (" FMLA" ). For the reasons that follow, the Court finds that Dollar General's motion is due to be GRANTED.

I. Jurisdiction and Venue

The Court has subject-matter jurisdiction over the parties' claims under 28 U.S.C. § § 1331 and 1343(a)(4). The parties do not dispute that venue is proper under 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b), and the Court finds adequate allegations supporting both.

Page 1343

II. Legal Standard

Under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is appropriate " if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine [dispute] as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). The party asking for summary judgment " always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of 'the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any,' which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine [dispute] of material fact." Id. at 323. The movant can meet this burden by presenting evidence showing there is no dispute of material fact, or by showing the non-moving party has failed to present evidence in support of some element of its case on which it bears the ultimate burden of proof. Id. at 322-23.

Once the moving party has met its burden, the non-moving party must " go beyond the pleadings and by their own affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Id. at 324 (internal quotations omitted). To avoid summary judgment, the non-moving party " must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986). A plaintiff must present evidence demonstrating that it can establish the basic elements of its claim, Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322, because " conclusory allegations without specific supporting facts have no probative value" at the summary judgment stage. Evers v. Gen. Motors Corp., 770 F.2d 984, 986 (11th Cir. 1985).

A court ruling on a motion for summary judgment must believe the evidence of the non-movant and must draw all justifiable inferences from the evidence in the non-moving party's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). After the non-moving party has responded to the motion for summary judgment, the court must grant summary judgment if there is no genuine dispute of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a).

III. Facts

The Court has carefully considered the submissions of the parties in support of and in opposition to the motion. The submissions of the parties, taken in the light most favorable to Thomas, the non-moving party, establish the following material facts:

Dollar General hired Thomas as a store manager at one of its locations in Dothan, Alabama in September 2004. As a store manager, Thomas's duties included hiring employees to staff the Dollar General store, training employees, managing employee schedules, ensuring the inventory was properly stocked, and overseeing the cleanliness of the store. Beginning in 2009, and at all times relevant to this suit, Thomas was subject to a district manager, Molly Gomillion (" Gomillion" ), whose job was to oversee the day-to-day operations of fifteen to twenty Dollar General stores in the Dothan area.

In 2006, Thomas requested FMLA leave for the birth of one of her children. Thomas requested FMLA leave by using a hotline specifically reserved for FMLA requests

Page 1344

that would connect her with Dollar General's corporate offices. After requesting FMLA leave through the hotline and faxing in supporting medical documents, the corporate office would decide whether to approve the leave and for how long. Thomas received approval for leave in 2006 for the birth of her child and returned to her store manager position afterwards.

In December 2006, Thomas was diagnosed with breast cancer. Shortly afterward, Thomas received radiation treatment and liquid chemotherapy for her breast cancer. She received radiation treatment for a month or two and liquid chemotherapy for four to six months. Thomas did not miss work during this time since she received radiation treatment before work and chemotherapy on her off days. Aside from the days on which she received chemotherapy, which were her off days, Thomas, with the help of her husband and family members, was able to perform daily activities such as grocery shopping and attending to family matters. At the end of Thomas's treatment in mid-2007, Thomas's cancer was in remission, although she continues to take preventive medication.

Thomas requested and received FMLA leave a second time in 2011 for the birth of another child. At the end of her leave, she returned to her position as store manager. In December 2011, Thomas discovered lumps in her breasts and, after consultation with her doctor, decided to schedule a double mastectomy as a preventive measure. Thomas again requested and received FMLA leave from Dollar General through March 11, 2012. After Thomas received approval for FMLA leave, she telephoned Gomillion to inform her how long she would be gone. Thomas states that Gomillion " seemed frustrated" when Thomas told Gomillion she would be taking leave. (Doc. #21-6, at 56-57.) Thomas also states that Gomillion told her she might not be able to " save" Thomas's job.[1] (Doc. #24-1, at 6.)

Earlier in 2011, and before Thomas's medical leave began on December 30, 2011, Gomillion had downgraded Thomas from " Good" to " Needs Improvement" on a Store Manager Performance Review. (Doc. #21-6, at 81-84.) Gomillion's Performance Review cited numerous problems with Thomas's management of her store, such as greater loss of inventory and failure to keep the store clean. Gomillion eventually issued a " coaching document" listing specific goals Thomas must meet in managing her store. (Doc. #21-6, at 123.) On November 22, 2011, Gomillion issued a Performance Improvement Plan (" PIP" ) requiring Thomas to meet specific goals in managing her store within 90 days or face termination.[2] (Doc. #21-6, at 125-26.) On January 2, 2012, three days after Thomas began her FMLA leave for her double mastectomy, Gomillion sent an e-mail to Lakeisha Robichaux (" Robichaux" ), Human Resources Manager for Dollar General. The purpose of the e-mail was to inform Robichaux of Thomas's current performance under her PIP. The e-mail recounts numerous instances of mismanagement by Thomas and includes the following statements:

She [Thomas] was getting back on track until she found out she was pregnant and her ...

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