Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Poitras v. Connecticare Inc.

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

June 30, 2016

TAMMY POITRAS, Plaintiff,
v.
CONNECTICARE, INC., Defendant.

          RULING ON DEFENDANT’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          VICTOR A. BOLDEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Defendant, 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.

         ConnectiCare 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.

         I. Statement of Facts

         ConnectiCare 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.

         Ms. 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.

         In his 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.[1]

         In 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.

         Ms. 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.[2] 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.

         Ms. 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.

         In 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. ¶¶38-40.

         On May 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. ¶46-47.

         The 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.

         Upon 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. ¶¶55-56.

         From 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.”).

         On May 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.[3] Ms. Poitras never submitted a certification or documentation from her doctor in support of this final leave request.

         On May 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.

         ConnectiCare’s 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 not work”).

         II. Legal Standard

         Courts 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)).

         In 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 ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.