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Palmer v. Liberty Mutual Group Inc.

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

August 9, 2016

WANDA PALMER, Plaintiff,
v.
LIBERTY MUTUAL GROUP INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OF DECISION ON DEFENDANT’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          WARREN W. EGINTON SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This is an action by plaintiff Wanda Palmer alleging that defendant Liberty Mutual Group Inc. discriminated against her and failed to accommodate her in violation of the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (Counts I and II) and the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act (“CFEPA”) (Counts III and IV) based upon her disability. Plaintiff further alleges that defendant discriminated against her in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (Count V) and CFEPA (Count VI) based upon her age. Finally, plaintiff alleges that defendant discriminated against her based upon and interfered with her use of Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) leave in violation of that Act (Counts VII and VIII).

         Defendant has moved for summary judgment. For the following reasons, defendant’s motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

         BACKGROUND

         The following facts are gleaned from the parties’ statements of fact, affidavits, deposition transcripts, and other exhibit documentation.

         Defendant hired plaintiff as a Claims Specialist III in March 2006. Plaintiff was 38 at the time. For the first four years of her employment, plaintiff worked from home, and defendant provided her a company car. In her role as Claims Specialist, plaintiff determined her own tasks and schedule, including off-premises field work.

         In April 2010, defendant took away plaintiff’s car and required plaintiff to work out of defendant’s Wallingford, Connecticut, office.

         Plaintiff’s Uterine Condition

         In November 2009, plaintiff developed a uterine condition with dysfunctional bleeding, which resulted in her hemorrhaging many times. Defendant denies having knowledge of plaintiff’s condition at the time, but plaintiff disputes that assertion. Since she worked out of her house at the time, plaintiff was able to accommodate herself and was able to complete all of her work in spite of her condition.

         From November 24, 2009, to February 1, 2010, plaintiff took a leave of absence due to anxiety.

         In April 2012, plaintiff advised her manager, Peter Bennett, that she would need surgery. Plaintiff underwent a hysterectomy on June 8, 2012. FMLA leave was approved for the surgery, and plaintiff returned to work on July 23, 2012. Upon returning to work, plaintiff no longer suffered from uterine bleeding and had no other physical problems other than some temporary abdominal discomfort across the surgical site, which lasted only a couple of months. Plaintiff required no post-surgery accommodation, but defendant provided flexibility in her schedule for post-surgical medical appointments.

         Plaintiff’s Anxiety Disorder

         Plaintiff suffered from what she refers to as “anxiety disorder, ” which resulted in panic attacks. In the event of a panic attack occurring at work, plaintiff would simply go to her car and listen to soothing music for a few minutes.

         Plaintiff’s Work Performance

         In plaintiff’s 2007 Objective Setting and Performance Evaluation (“OPSE”), plaintiff’s manager, Kristine Biel, rated plaintiff as “Partially Met” or “Did not Meet” in 7 of 15 performance objectives. Ms. Biel also discussed what she perceived as plaintiff’s continuing performance deficiencies:

Throughout the year, many files were brought to Wanda’s attention where claimant follow up was lacking. Improper in-box management throughout the year. Files continued to be overdue or cycled ahead without being worked. Planner and outlook calendar reviews in 2007 show at least two full in days per week, yet files lacked proactive handling, follow up and pricing to bring claims to resolution. During the second half of the year, I coached and met with Wanda to assist her in these areas and some improvement was noted. Going forward, Wanda’s files must reflect timely contact, accurate evaluations and good negotiations. She needs to improve her time management to ensure she is working her files when they are on her diary. She also needs to adhere to the financial V3 OFAC guidelines.
Ms. Biel issued a detailed written warning to plaintiff on April 28, 2008, stating that:
Areas of your performance that fail to meet expectations include the following:
• Perform timely follow up with claimants, policyholders, and witnesses.
• Perform timely and accurate homeowner liability investigations.
• Perform timely Evaluations/Negotiations/Settlements.
• Timely response to Team Manager direction.

         In plaintiff’s 2008 OSPE, which was prepared by a new manager, Peter Bennett, plaintiff was rated “Partially Met” in 2 of 3 performance objectives.

         Again in 2009, plaintiff’s OSPE by Mr. Bennett reflected only “Partially Meets” in 2 of 3 performance objectives. Mr. Bennett noted that, during the second half of 2009, plaintiff was not maintaining adequate “reserves” on all of her cases, and file reviews showed delays in “case price.”

         Plaintiff’s 2010 OSPE by Peter Bennett again reflected only “Partially Meets” in 2 of 3 performance objectives. Mr. Bennett noted in the OPSE that, in April 2010, “file reviews revealed issues with quality and a lack of proactive filing handling” and that they “implemented action plans” for most of plaintiff’s claims at that time “resulting in improved file handling.”

         Plaintiff’s performance improved in 2011, although her 2011 OSPE by Mr. Bennett once again reflected plaintiff’s propensity towards unsatisfactory performance during one half of the year, followed by counseling and improvement during the next six months. Plaintiff testified that she received a raise and bonus based on her 2011 performance.

         Mr. Bennett subsequently gave plaintiff a verbal warning in April 2012 due to her continued unsatisfactory performance. Plaintiff asserts that the warning followed her notice to defendant of her need for a leave of absence to undergo surgery. Plaintiff also testified that defendant contemporaneously reduced her authority over her case files.

         During a team meeting with plaintiff on May 9, 2012, Mr. Bennett advised plaintiff that they “were four weeks into the ‘verbal’ warning regarding her file handling” and that he was not seeing enough improvement and would continue to monitor her progress.

         In a team meeting on May 30, 2012, Mr. Bennett advised plaintiff that her performance was still unsatisfactory:

We discussed the last four weeks of [performance meetings] and I indicated to Wanda that I do not see enough improvement and would have recommended moving to a Written Warning; however we will wait until she returns in July. I advised her that she will need to improve her claim handling specifically in the areas that we have discussed to include proactive ...

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