United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
ROBIN Y. STEWART, Plaintiff,
T-MOBILE, USA, Defendant.
MADELINE HUGHES HAIKALA, District Judge.
Plaintiff Robin Stewart brings this action against T-Mobile, USA ("T-Mobile") seeking relief from alleged violations of the ADA and FMLA in her termination and the events leading up to it. Ms. Stewart filed her first complaint on October 18, 2011. (Doc. 1). She filed her second amended complaint-the current operative pleading-on January 31, 2014. (Doc. 26). T-Mobile filed a motion for summary judgment on September 5, 2014. (Doc. 39). For the reasons below, the Court grants T-Mobile's motion.
I. Factual and Procedural Background
T-Mobile hired Ms. Stewart in 2005. Ms. Stewart worked at T-Mobile as a Financial Care Representative in the Birmingham call center until her termination in 2009. (Doc. 40, p. 4). Ms. Stewart acknowledges that when she started work, she understood T-Mobile's policies, including the policy of offering employees 12 weeks of FMLA leave per year. (Doc. 41-1, p. 10). Ms. Stewart also was aware that failure to comply with the terms of the FMLA policies-including prolonged absence and failure to timely file documentation-could lead to her dismissal. (Doc. 41-1, p. 11).
Throughout the course of Ms. Stewart's employment at T-Mobile, she faced various challenges that required her to request ADA accommodations and FMLA leave. (Doc. 41-1, pp. 8-14, 102-119, 130-160). Because Ms. Stewart had to have surgery, she requested different periods of continuous and intermittent FMLA leave from December 2008 through July 2009. (Doc. 40, pp. 5-6). T-Mobile approved two requests Ms. Stewart made for a reduced schedule from May 2009 to July 2009. (Doc. 41-1, p. 158; Doc. 41-1, pp. 13-15). Ms. Stewart requested and T-Mobile approved continuous FMLA leave on April 8, 2009 for the period of April 13, 2009 through May 4, 2009. (Doc. 41-1, pp. 12, 138). Ms. Stewart requested and T-Mobile approved intermittent FMLA leave for Ms. Stewart to attend daily radiation therapy through May 29, 2009. (Doc. 41-1, pp. 13, 146).
On June 11, 2009, Ms. Stewart worked for the last time in T-Mobile's call center. (Doc. 41-4, p. 22). On June 17, 2009, Ms. Stewart contacted Angela Hodge-Turner in T-Mobile's HR Department and requested FMLA leave from June 12, 2009 to June 26, 2009. (Doc. 41-1, p. 23). Ms. Hodge-Turner directed Ms. Stewart to submit the supporting medical certification on or before July 2, 2009 to have the FMLA leave approved. (Doc. 41-4, p. 24). T-Mobile sent Ms. Stewart a letter on June 17, 2009 enclosing FMLA forms and T-Mobile's leave of absence policy, instructing Ms. Stewart to timely return the medical certification or risk unprotected absences, and informing Ms. Stewart that failure to return to work at the end of her FMLA leave would leave Ms. Stewart without reinstatement rights. (Doc. 41-1, pp. 170-73).
Ms. Stewart did not return the required documentation before July 2, 2009. (Doc. 41-1, p. 26). T-Mobile sent Ms. Stewart a letter on July 10, 2009 to inform her that her request for leave had been denied because she did not provide supporting documentation and that any absences during the time period would be treated as unprotected. (Doc. 41-1, pp. 27, 173). Ms. Hodge-Turner and two other T-Mobile representatives had a conference call with Ms. Stewart on July 20, 2009 to inform Ms. Stewart that her FMLA leave had been denied and that her absences were being added to her attendance record. (Doc. 41-1, pp. 41-42). T-Mobile also informed Ms. Stewart that she was being terminated due to her absences and "ongoing performance issues." ( Id.; Doc. 40, p. 8).
When an employee leaves the company, T-Mobile terminates health insurance benefits on the last day of the month in which the employee last worked. (Doc. 41-1, pp. 51, 175). T-Mobile's policy states: "Medical, Dental, and Vision coverage ends on the last day of the month in which you worked." (Doc. 41-1, p. 175). Ms. Stewart understood the policy. (Doc. 41-1, p. 51). Consistent with this policy, when T-Mobile let Ms. Stewart go in July 2009, the company cancelled her health insurance retroactively. Because Ms. Stewart's last day at work was June 11, 2009, the effective date of the termination of her health coverage was June 30, 2009. (Doc. 41-1, pp. 51, 60, 175). T-Mobile sent Ms. Stewart a COBRA packet and election form on July 24, 2009. Ms. Stewart elected to receive COBRA benefits, but her coverage was cancelled when she failed to pay her premiums. (Doc. 41-1, p. 60).
Following her termination from T-Mobile, Ms. Stewart applied for social security disability benefits. (Docs. 41-1, p. 53; Doc. 43, p. 5). In her application for SSDI, she asserted that she became unable to work on June 12, 2009 because of her medical conditions and could not return to work on July 20, 2009 because she was still disabled. (Doc. 41-1, p. 86). At her deposition, counsel for T-Mobile asked Ms. Stewart whether she could have returned to work on June 12, 2009. Ms. Stewart replied: "No, I couldn't. That's why I went to the E.R." (Doc. 41-1, p. 78). Ms. Stewart completed her SSA function report form on September 11, 2009, (Doc. 41-1, pp. 196-205). An ALJ awarded Ms. Stewart disability benefits on December 30, 2010. (Doc. 41-1, pp. 185-89). The ALJ found that Ms. Stewart had been disabled since June 12, 2009, and Ms. Stewart collected monthly disability benefits backdated to that date. (Doc. 41-1, p. 185).
Ms. Stewart filed an EEOC charge against T-Mobile, and the EEOC issued her a right-to-sue letter on July 20, 2011. (Doc. 41-2, p. 7). Ms. Stewart filed this lawsuit on October 18, 2011. (Doc. 1). After the case was transferred to the undersigned, the Court denied T-Mobile's motion for partial summary judgment and ordered Ms. Stewart to file a second amended complaint. (Doc. 25). Ms. Stewart filed her second amended complaint on January 31, 2014. In it, Ms. Stewart alleges that T-Mobile: (1) violated the FMLA; (2) violated the ADA; and (3) mistreated her by creating a hostile work environment. (Doc. 26). T-Mobile filed a motion for summary judgment, and the Court held a hearing on the motion on November 20, 2014. (Doc. 47). On this record, the Court takes up T-Mobile's motion for summary judgment.
II. Standard of Review
"The 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." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). "If the movant bears the burden of proof on an issue, because, as a defendant, it is asserting an affirmative defense, it must establish that there is no genuine issue of material fact as to any element of that defense." International Stamp Art, Inc. v. U.S. Postal Service, 456 F.3d 1270, 1274 (11th Cir. 2006) (citing Martin v. Alamo Community College Dist., 353 F.3d 409, 412 (5th Cir. 2003)).
When considering a summary judgment motion, the Court must view the evidence in the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Hill v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 510 Fed.Appx. 810, 813 (11th Cir. 2013). This is particularly true when one party proceeds pro se. See U.S.E.E.O.C. v. Four Amigos Travel, Inc., 2013 WL 436427, at *2 (11th Cir. February 5, 2013) (citing Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)). "The court need consider only the cited materials, but it may consider other materials in the record." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3). For the purposes of summary judgment, courts are to review job discrimination claims no differently than any ...