United States District Court, D. Connecticut
RULING ON DEFENDANT’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY
A. BOLDEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
ConnectiCare, Inc. (“ConnectiCare”), terminated
the employment of Plaintiff, Tammy Poitras, because she spent
an evening at a bar drinking beer and dancing, while she was
out on medical leave. Ms. Poitras claims that her termination
violated the Family and Medical Leave Act
(“FMLA”), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq.
In particular, she claims that ConnectiCare interfered with
rights provided to her under the Act and retaliated against
her for taking medical leave. See Compl., ECF No. 1.
has filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, seeking judgment in
its favor on both the interference and retaliation claims.
Mot. for Summ. J., ECF No. 32. For the reasons that follow,
the motion is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.
Statement of Facts
hired Ms. Poitras in October 2011 as a customer service
associate. Def.’s Local Rule 56(a)1 Stmt. ¶1, ECF
No. 32-1. Her duties in this role included “receiving
and responding to telephone inquiries from members and
providers regarding [insurance] benefits, coverages,
payments, finding doctors for members, and explaining health
service policies and procedures.” Id. ¶2.
She worked at a desk with a telephone and computer and wore a
telephone headset to respond to customer calls. Id.
¶¶7-8. The parties dispute the amount of freedom
Ms. Poitras had to take breaks and whether she could stand
while working, but agree generally that Ms. Poitras had an
office job oriented around a desk and a telephone.
Id. ¶¶9-13; Pl.’s Local Rule 56(a)2
Stmt. ¶¶10, 13, ECF No. 38-2.
Poitras suffers from a degenerative disc disease in her
lumbar spine and from spinal stenosis. See
Pl.’s Ex. A, Poitras Dep. 79:1-11, 249:10-12, ECF No.
38-3. As a result of this condition, while employed at
ConnectiCare, she experienced “[a] lot of pain”
and could not stand or sit for long periods of time.
Id. at 81:22-82:2, 82:13. She also had surgery in
2009 to manage the condition. Id. at 249:13-15.
certifications, Ms. Poitras’s physician indicated that
the condition was “chronic” and would exist for
the rest of her life. See e.g., Def.’s Ex. F,
Certification dated 1/3/2013, ECF No. 32-7. He also indicated
that the condition caused pain, that her pain was treated
with medication, and that Ms. Poitras was unable to sit or
stand during “painful episodes.” Id.;
Def.’s Ex. H, Certification dated 7/5/2013, ECF No.
32-9; Def.’s Ex. L, Certification dated 2/28/2014, ECF
No. 32-13; Def.’s Ex. N, Certification dated 9/6/2013,
ECF No. 32-15; Def.’s Ex. O, Certification dated
4/15/2014, ECF No. 32-17; Def’s Ex. P, Certification
dated 4/14/2014, ECF No. 32-17.
January 2013, Ms. Poitras requested “intermittent FMLA
leave” to manage her condition. Def.’s Local Rule
56(a)1 Stmt. ¶14, ECF No. 32-1. In support of her
request, she submitted a certification from her physician
that stated she “had degenerative joint disease and
spinal stenosis, and that she may have painful
episodes” two to three days per month. Id.
¶15. The certification also noted that the condition
could require absences from work at intervals “to be
determined.” Def.’s Ex. F, Certification dated
1/3/2013, ECF No. 32-7. ConnectiCare approved this initial
leave request, effective January 14, 2013. Def.’s Local
Rule 56(a)1 Stmt. ¶16, ECF No. 32-1. The approval letter
indicated that recertification “for the need to
continue [the leave] will be required in six months.”
Def.’s Ex. G, Letter dated Jan. 16, 2013, ECF No. 32-8.
Poitras submitted a number of additional requests for
intermittent leave, all of which were approved, and
culminated in her being on intermittent FMLA leave, almost
continuously, from January 2013 to April 2014. She requested
further intermittent leave in July or August 2013 with a
recertification from her physician dated July 16, 2013,
indicating that she was incapacitated by pain three to six
times per month. Def.’s Local Rule 56(a)1 Stmt.
¶¶17-18, ECF No. 32-1. ConnectiCare also approved
this request and extended her leave through September 13,
2013. Id. ¶¶19-20. In September 2013, Ms.
Poitras submitted an additional request for intermittent
leave with a recertification indicating that she experienced
pain with the same frequency. Id. ¶¶23-24;
Def.’s Ex. N, Certification dated 9/6/2013, ECF No.
32-15. Her request was approved, effective September 25,
2013. Def.’s Local Rule 56(a)1 Stmt. ¶25, ECF No.
32-1; Def.’s Ex. K, Letter Dated Sept. 26, 2013, ECF
No. 32-12. The approval letter indicated that recertification
“for the need to continue [the leave] will be required
in six months.” Def.’s Ex. K, Letter Dated Sept.
26, 2013, ECF No. 32-12.
Poitras submitted an additional request for intermittent
leave in March 2014, including a recertification from her
physician that estimated again that she was incapacitated
three to six times per month. Def.’s Local Rule 56(a)1
Stmt. ¶¶26-27, ECF No. 32-1. ConnectiCare approved
this request for leave, effective March 17, 2014.
Id. ¶28; Def.’s Ex. M, Letter dated Mar.
25, 2014, ECF No. 32-14. The letter contained the same
language requiring recertification in six months.
Def.’s Ex. M, Letter dated Mar. 25, 2014, ECF No.
32-14. For each of these leave requests, Ms. Poitras’s
doctor continued to indicate that the condition required her
absence from work only during painful episodes a few days per
month. See Def.’s Ex. H, Certification dated
7/5/2013, ECF No. 32-9; Def.’s Ex. L, Certification
dated 2/28/2014, ECF No. 32-13; Def.’s Ex. N,
Certification dated 9/6/2013, ECF No. 32-15.
April 2014, before her intermittent leave period had ended,
Ms. Poitras informed ConnectiCare that she was not capable of
working because of her health condition and requested a leave
of absence from April 1, 2014 through May 6, 2014.
Def.’s Local Rule 56(a)1 Stmt. ¶¶33-34, ECF
No. 32-1. With this request, she provided a certification
from her physician who stated that she was “unable to
stay in a sitting position or stand very painful” [sic]
and that the frequency of her pain had increased to three to
six episodes per week. Id. ¶36. Her physician
also indicated that, due to her condition, she was unable to
perform any of her job functions from April 1 to May 6, 2014.
Def’s Ex. P, Certification dated 4/14/2014, ECF No.
32-17. ConnectiCare granted this leave request. Def.’s
Local Rule 56(a)1 Stmt. ¶37, ECF No. 32-1. During this
time, Ms. Poitras also applied for and received short-term
disability benefits that ConnectiCare paid for. Id.
2, 2014, while out on her approved full-time FMLA leave, Ms.
Poitras attended a non-work event at the Chute Gates
Steakhouse and Saloon. Id. ¶42. While she was
there, she danced to at least two songs and drank at least
two beers. Id. ¶¶43-44. While dancing, Ms.
Poitras raised her arms, clapped, and moved around the dance
floor. Id. ¶45. A video and several pictures
depicting Ms. Poitras during the event were posted to her
Facebook page, where ConnectiCare employees saw them and
showed them to their colleagues and supervisors. Id.
video provoked concern among the ConnectiCare managers and
employees who viewed it. Several of them felt that, if Ms.
Poitras could dance and drink at a bar, she could work.
See e.g., Def.’s Ex. J, Bannon Dep.
36:11-37:23, ECF No. 32-11 (noting that she was
“appalled that she was dancing and enjoying
[her]self” in the video because, by comparison, her
sister took only two-and-a-half weeks of leave when she had
brain surgery); Def.’s Ex. S, Spires-O’Malley
Dep. 48:6-24, ECF No. 32-20 (noting that her reaction to the
video was “[d]isbelief, anger” and that she felt
misled because she had seen Ms. Poitras three days before and
“it appeared that she could barely walk… that
she was in pain…”); Def.’s Ex. R, Punt
Dep. 65:2-4, ECF No. 32-19 (“[S]o if [a medical
condition] disallows one from coming to work, we
couldn’t see how that would allow someone to go out
dancing.”); Pl.’s Ex. F-2, Blier Dep. 29:23-30:2,
ECF No. 38-9 (“I was very angry… I felt that she
was being deceitful, and if she could go out and dance and do
what she was doing, then she could probably come back to
work.”). Ms. Poitras’s colleagues at ConnectiCare
were also quite busy at the time, and many of them had been
asked to work extended hours. Def.’s Local Rule 56(a)1
Stmt. ¶¶21-22, ECF No. 32-1.
learning about Ms. Poitras’s evening at the saloon, a
ConnectiCare Human Resources Consultant, Douglas Punt,
initiated an investigation into Ms. Poitras’s behavior.
Id. ¶¶48-49. During this investigation, he
discovered that Ms. Poitras had driven to
ConnectiCare’s offices in Farmington, Connecticut,
while she was out on her full-time FMLA leave, to deliver
Avon products that she had sold to ConnectiCare employees.
Id. ¶54. He also “conferred” with
ConnectiCare’s General Counsel, Mary Bannon, Ms.
Poitras’s manager, Laurie Blier, and
ConnectiCare’s “management.” Id.
his investigation, Mr. Punt had a general understanding that
Ms. Poitras had a “serious health condition that did
not allow her to sit or stand during times of extreme
pain.” Def.’s Ex. R, Punt Dep. 64:25-65:2, ECF
No. 32-19. But the investigation involved no inquiry into Ms.
Poitras’s medical condition or the restrictions her
doctor had placed on her at the time. See
Def.’s Ex. J, Bannon Dep. 38:5-21, ECF No. 32-11;
Def.’s Ex. R, Punt Dep. 63:11-64:21, ECF No. 32-19.
Indeed, Mr. Punt never saw Ms. Poitras’s
physician’s certifications, which were deemed
confidential. Def.’s Ex. R, Punt Dep. 64:7-9, 64:21,
ECF No. 32-19 (“Q. Did you review any of the FMLA
certification forms as part of your investigation? A.
No…. [O]nce Adele gets [the FMLA forms], she keeps
[them] confidential”); see also Pl.’s
Ex. J, Balboni Dep. 30:23-31:7, ECF No. 38-14 (“A. No
one would know what the doctor’s orders are except for
me and the employee. Q. And how do you know the
doctor’s orders? A. From the family medical leave
certification form… that relates to that job and what
they cannot do.”).
5, 2014, while the investigation was underway, Ms. Poitras
requested an additional thirty days of FMLA leave.
Def.’s Local Rule 56(a)1 Stmt. ¶58, ECF No. 32-1.
ConnectiCare claims that it approved this request on May 6,
2014, but the Court has not identified any record evidence
directly supporting this contention. ConnectiCare cites an
e-mail in support of its position. Def.’s Br. 14 n.3,
ECF No. 32-24 (referring to Def.’s Ex. U, E-mail dated
May 6, 2014, ECF No. 32-22); see also Def.’s
Local Rule 56(a)1 Stmt. ¶59, ECF No. 32-1 (citing the
same e-mail and a portion of Ms. Poitras’s deposition
that summarizes the e-mail’s contents). But the e-mail
does not indicate directly that ConnectiCare told Ms. Poitras
that her leave request was approved. Instead, the e-mail
indicates that Ms. Poitras “informed [Human Resources]
that she will be out another month, ” and that Human
Resources told her that her FMLA leave would be
“exhausted” on June 5, 2014. Ms. Poitras never
submitted a certification or documentation from her doctor in
support of this final leave request.
7, 2014, the day after Ms. Poitras’s first full-time
leave period ended, ConnectiCare suspended Ms.
Poitras’s employment and asked that she meet with Mr.
Punt and Ms. Blier on May 9. Def.’s Local Rule 56(a)1
Stmt. ¶60, ECF No. 32-1. Ms. Poitras tape recorded the
meeting. See Def.’s Ex. T, Recording of May 9
Meeting (manually filed). During the meeting, the two
supervisors confronted Ms. Poitras about the video and
pictures of her dancing and drinking beer while she was out
on leave. See Def.’s Local Rule 56(a)1 Stmt.
¶64, ECF No. 32-1. After giving her an opportunity to
explain these events at the meeting, ConnectiCare terminated
her. Id. ¶¶64-65.
professed reason for terminating Ms. Poitras is that she
deceived the company about her need for full-time FMLA leave
and that she could have reported to work, to some extent,
during that leave as evidenced by her dancing and drinking on
May 2. Id. ¶66. It found that her
misrepresentation violated company policies, which required
employees to act with integrity and a high standard of
ethical conduct. Id. ¶66; Def.’s Ex. V,
Punt’s Handwritten Notes, ECF No. 32-23 (“EE
shall not engage in any fraudulent or deceptive activity,
incl. misrepresentations… can dance vigorously, but
must grant summary judgment if 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). The moving party
carries the burden of demonstrating that there is no genuine
material dispute of fact by citing to “particular parts
of materials in the record.” See Fed. R. Civ.
P. 56(c)(1)(A)-(B); Carlton v. Mystic Transp., Inc.,
202 F.3d 129, 133 (2d Cir. 2000). A dispute regarding a fact
is “‘genuine if the evidence is such that a
reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving
party’” and material if the substantive law
governing the case identifies those facts as material.
Williams v. Utica Coll. Of Syracuse Univ., 453 F.3d
112, 116 (2d Cir. 2006) (quoting Stuart v. Am. Cyanamid
Co., 158 F.3d 622, 626 (2d Cir. 1998)); Bouboulis v.
Transp. Workers Union of Am., 442 F.3d 55, 59 (2d Cir.
2006) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477
U.S. 242, 248 (1986)).
assessing a summary judgment motion, the Court must resolve
all ambiguities and draw all inferences from the record as a
whole in favor of the non-moving party. Kaytor v. Elec.
Boat Corp., 609 F.3d 537, 546 (2d Cir. 2010); see
also Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio
Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). “Only when
reasonable minds could not differ as to the import of the
evidence is summary judgment proper.” Bryant v.
Maffucci, 923 F.2d 979, 982 (2d Cir. 1991) (citation
omitted); Cortes v. MTA New York City Transit, 802
F.3d 226, 230 (2d Cir. 2015) (“To survive summary