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Bradford v. Regions Financial Corporation

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

January 20, 2015

KATRINA BRADFORD, Plaintiff,
v.
REGIONS FINANCIAL CORPORATION, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

KARON OWEN BOWDRE, Chief District Judge.

This employment discrimination matter, asserting discriminatory termination under the ADA as amended, is before the court on the "Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment." (Doc. 27). This matter has received thorough briefing: the Defendant filed a brief (doc. 28) and supporting evidentiary material (doc. 29); the Plaintiff filed an opposition brief (doc. 35) which was corrected (doc. 36); and the Defendant filed a reply (doc. 37). For the reasons stated in this Memorandum Opinion, the court WILL GRANT the motion, and will ENTER SUMMARY JUDGMENT in favor of the Defendant and against the Plaintiff on the remaining ADA claim.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

The Plaintiff, Katrena[1] Bradford, filed this suit on April 8, 2013, asserting two claims against her employer, Regions Bank: an ADA disability discrimination claim based on her termination; and a claim for race discrimination. On May 9, 2013, Regions filed the first dispositive motion, requesting the court to dismiss the race discrimination claim in Count II. The court granted this motion, finding that Bradford had failed to plead sufficient facts demonstrating that Regions discriminated against her on the basis of race. (Docs. 14 - Memorandum Opinion & 15 - Order). Regions subsequently filed a second dispositive motion, the motion for summary judgment currently under submission, on the remaining count for disability discrimination.

FACTS

Bradford's Employment with Regions

Defendant Regions hired Plaintiff Bradford in 1982. At the time of the employment decision made the basis of this suit, Bradford worked as a Lockbox Services Product Lead, a service Regions uses that allows Regions to receive and process payments for goods that its customers sell. Her job was primarily computer-based, and approximately 90% of her duties, including data entry and product implementation, required Bradford to sit at a desk and use her computer for six-to-eight hours per day. Bradford's department was comprised of two employees, the lead, Bradford, and one additional employee, Melissa Beatty, who was the Lockbox Implementation Analyst. Because Bradford was the lead person in her department, she represented the main point of contact for lockbox customers and salespersons. The position was a full-time position with normal business hours, Monday through Friday. Bradford's supervisor was Pallas Garrett, Regions' Treasury Management Implementation Team Lead.

Bradford's Relevant Medical Conditions

In 2010, Bradford's physicians determined that her kidneys were functioning at a diminished capacity, and they began monitoring her kidneys. On December 19, 2011, Bradford was admitted to the hospital and, in connection with that hospitalization, doctors determined that she had suffered a heart attack and was in renal failure. On December 27, 2011, Bradford underwent coronary artery bypass surgery and was hospitalized for approximately two weeks; the medical certification eventually submitted to Regions lists her admissions in a hospital or residential care facility as December 19-25, 2011 and December 26, 2011-January 6, 2012. In December of 2011, she also began kidney dialysis three times a week.

Regions FMLA Leave

Regions' leave policy, which Bradford certified annually that she had read, allows employees to take up to 180 days of leave per year. The 180 total leave days may include up to 12 workweeks of unpaid, job-protected FMLA leave, and employees may also apply for up to 90 days of discretionary personal leave following and in addition to FMLA leave. In addition to the 180 total days of leave, Regions sometimes allows additional leave days as an accommodation.

Because of the emergency nature of Bradford's hospitalization in late December of 2011, Bradford had not submitted a request for FMLA leave ahead of time. Ginger Boland in Regions' Leave of Absence Department first learned of Bradford's absence from work and hospitalization on Tuesday, January 3, 2012. Boland attempted to contact Bradford at the hospital but was unable to do so, so she placed her on leave effective December 27, 2011, the date of her surgery. Subsequently, on January 5, 2012, Boland wrote Bradford, advising her that she must submit a medical certification to take FMLA leave by a January 20, 2012 deadline. Bradford did not submit the certification by the deadline, so Regions initially denied her leave request. Boland subsequently gave Bradford a month-and-a-half extension to submit the medical certification, but Bradford failed to submit the certification by the extended deadline.

On March 7, 2012, 47 days after the medical certification deadline, Bradford finally submitted the medical certification by Richard Lyerly, M.D., dated March 1, 2012. It stated that Bradford "is still recovering from Coronary Artery Bypass Surgery, " and mentioned that she was undergoing dialysis three times per week. Dr. Lyerly set the date of Bradford's incapacity as beginning on December 17, 2011 with an indeterminate ending, and checked "no" to the question: "Is the employee unable to perform any of his/her job functions due to the condition." He indicated that the employee's absence from work "will depend on the problems she experiences with dialysis." (Doc. 35-2, at 26-27).

Bradford submitted to Regions a form dated in February 23, 2012 entitled "Additional FMLA Responsibilities, " stating that she intended to return to work. In the form, she placed initials inside each box on the form, indicating that she understood the information inside initialed boxes, including the following information: "If the need for leave extends beyond Family and Medical Leave, you will no longer have job protection and employment may be terminated." (Doc. 35-1, at 19). Bradford signed the FMLA form under the words: "In signing this form in the space provided below, I (the associate) certify that I understand and accept the policy concerning Family and Medical Leave Act as summarized above." The form also provided a space for the signature of the Department Manager. Garrett signed the FMLA leave document, confirming that the employee she supervised had requested FMLA Leave.

In a notice dated March 12, 2012, Regions advised Bradford that it had approved her FMLA leave, beginning December 27, 2012 and continuing until March 19, 2012. The date of this notice was only one week before the 12-week FMLA leave was exhausted. The notice form contained an "x" in the box next to the following paragraph:

You will be required to present a fitness-for-duty certificate to be restored to employment. If such certification is not timely received, your return to work may be ...

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