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Majocha v. Eversource Energy Service Co.

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

March 1, 2018

ANNE MAJOCHA, Plaintiff,


          Hon. Vanessa L. Bryant, United States District Judge

         This action involves the employment termination of Ms. Anne Majocha (“Plaintiff” or “Majocha”), who worked for Defendant Eversource Energy Service Company (“Eversource”), formerly known as Northeast Utilities Service Company (“Northeast Utilities”), since 1998. Plaintiff was diagnosed with Lyme disease on April 26, 2013, and she was terminated on June 5, 2013. The Complaint raises both interference and retaliation claims in violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 2601, et seq. Defendant moved for summary judgment on both counts, and Plaintiff only challenges the retaliation claim. For the foregoing reasons, the Court DENIES summary judgment as to Count I and GRANTS summary judgment as to Count II.

         I. Background

         In 1998, Northeast Utilities hired Ms. Majocha as an Associate Scientist in the Environmental Department. [Dkt. 24 (Def. L. R. 56(a)(1) Stmt.) ¶ 1; Dkt. 27-2 (Pl. L. R. 56(a)(2) Stmt.) ¶ 1]. Two years later, she requested and received a transfer to the Economic and Load Forecasting Department as an Associate Economic and Load Analyst. [Dkt. 24 ¶ 1; Dkt. 27-2 ¶ 1]. She took FMLA leave on February 22, 2001 and January 6, 2004. [Dkt. 24 ¶ 19; Dkt. 27-2 ¶ 19]. On December 21, 2006, Ms. Majocha was transferred to the Benefits Division in the Human Resource (“HR”) Department and worked as an HR Consultant. [Dkt. 24 ¶ 2; Dkt. 27-2 ¶ 2].

         Northeast Utilities had a system of internal personnel policies and procedures that applied throughout the company. See [Dkt. 29-1 (Reply Ex. B-6, NU Protocol) at ¶ 5021]. These including the Counseling and Discipline policy, which provided two “corrective action tools available to management”: (1) job performance counseling and (2) stepwise discipline. The policy outlines these two provisions as follows.

Job Performance Counseling is not disciplinary action. Rather, job performance counseling is used to determine areas for improvement and enable management and the employee to establish a timetable to correct the problem.
Stepwise Discipline, which relies on four steps of increasing severity (verbal, written, suspension and termination) depending on the severity of the incident, is intended to achieve corrective positive behavior versus punishment, with the purpose of:
o increasing employee efficiency and safety, and
o protecting the investments the Company has in the employee, property, materials and workplace.

[Dkt. 27-7 (Opp'n Ex. P3, NU Counseling and Discipline Policy)]. “All disciplinary action (written warning and above) must be reviewed by the Human Resources' Labor Relations Department for consistency of application.” Id.

         Northeast Utilities merged with NStar Electric and Gas Company in April 2012; its name was changed to Eversource two years later. [Dkt. 24 ¶ 3; Dkt. 27-2 ¶ 3]. As a result of this merger, many employees, including Ms. Majocha, were reassigned to different job responsibilities. [Dkt. 24 ¶ 3; Dkt. 27-2 ¶ 3]. Ms. Majocha's supervisor changed from Mr. Michael Ehredt (“Ehredt”) to Mr. Michael Synan (“Synan”) in September 2012 as a result of the reassignment. [Dkt. 24 ¶ 4; Dkt. 27-2 ¶ 4]. Mr. Synan testified that Ms. Majocha received a training during the fourth quarter of 2012 that extended into 2013. [Dkt. 24-10 (Mot. Summ. J. Ex. D, Synan Dep.) at 12:7-21]. Mr. Synan also testified that she was not an active participant, did not go to certain trainings, and was not willing to work with coworkers. See Id. at 13:16-14-3.

         Ms. Majocha testified that she requested that her primary care physician refer her to a Lyme disease specialist in approximately January 2013. See [Dkt. 24-11 (Mot. Summ. J. Ex. E, Majocha Dep.) at 74:2-76:12]. She had to wait approximately three months for an appointment. Id.

         In February 2013, Ms. Majocha received a merit-based pay raise and bonus. [Dkt. 24-10 at 38:19-39:1, 39:25-40:2]. As Ms. Majocha's supervisor and manager, Mr. Synan played a role in her raise as he gave her “a rating, a performance review, and agreed with the financial recommendation.” Id. at 39:8-14. The rating also corresponded to her bonus. Id. at 40:6-9. Mr. Synan gave her a favorable review for the time period since September 2012. Id. at 19-24. Specifically, the 2012 Performance Review, dated February 22, 2013, stated the following:

Anne's new responsibilities will be heavily focused on payment of benefit related bills, budgeting and reporting and requests related to both items. These are extremely important functions due to the need to pay bills timely, from the correct asset bucket and track. In this role Anne will also need to build and maintain strong relationships with her internal peers and in accounting/budgeting/treasury and with contacts at NU's many external benefit vendors. Annie has approached her new role with great enthusiasm and I am sure she has the ability and aptitude to do the job well. I would encourage Anne to take the time to listen carefully to her co-workers ideas and thoughts and to not overcomplicate processes - keep it simple! Anne has expressed interest in learning more abo[u]t the various benefit plans and will have the opportunity to grow that knowledge in her new role. Teamwork will be the key to knowledge growth and success in Anne's new role.
Also, I would like to thank Anne for jumping in to help the team as we experienced a very hectic post-open enrollment period.

[Dkt. 24-6 (Mot. Summ. J. Ex. B-4 (2012 Perf. Rev.) at ¶ 3055].

         Mr. Synan believes he contacted Nancy Lema (“Lema”) in the HR Department at the end of February 2013 after her discovered “that bills weren't being paid and that we weren't current with our bills.” [Dkt. 24-10 at 63:4-12]. By the end of March, there were roughly 12 bills that had not been paid and were attributable to Ms. Majocha. Id. at 65:22-67:3. This bills had accrued since the beginning of January. Id. at 67:2-19.

         At some point between 2012 and March 2013[1], Ms. Majocha notified Mr. Synan that she believed she had Lyme disease. Mr. Synan testified to the following:

I asked her what that meant for her and she told [me] that she had a lot of doctor's appointments and I asked her to let me know when she had appointments. And I remember telling her about someone I knew that had Lyme disease and that it took a couple of years for them to get a right mix of medicine and physical therapy and I asked her - I remember discussing did she live near the woods, general how do you think you got it type of thing.

Id. Mr. Synan acknowledged that Ms. Majocha told him she would have to miss time from work to see doctors, and stated, “She said that it impacted her in that she had doctor appointments.” Id. at 35:7-12. At this time, Ms. Majocha had not yet been diagnosed with Lyme disease, but she believed she had the disease because she started to have autoimmune disorders such as “Hashimoto's Sjogren's, then rheumatoid arthritis. . ., floaters in [her] eyes, sensitivity to light, pain in [her] shoulders, achy joints . . ., double vision once in a while, sensitivity to sound, ” and weakness when she walked up the stairs. [Dkt. 24-11 at 74:8-20]. Ms. Majocha testified that Mr. Synan asked on three separate occasions “if just a round of antibiotics would clear up the Lyme.” [Dkt. 24-11 at 70:17-73:1]. Mr. Synan disputes these conversations happened. Id. at 40:15-41:15, 89:16-18.

         On March 25, 2013, Ms. Majocha emailed Mr. Synan in what appears to be a response to Mr. Synan's request for her to meet with Brenda Hoffman (“Hoffman”), an HR Benefits Representative who trained Ms. Majocha prior to being transferred to a different position. See [Dkt. 24-13 (Mot. Summ. J. Ex. F-1, Emails 3/25/2013)]. Mr. Majocha indicated, “I don't have time to meet with Brenda this week, ” due to her need to complete certain ongoing projects. Id. at P001585. Mr. Synan responded, “I appreciate the fact that everyone is busy, but following up to our conversation of last week this meeting will occur and is not open for discussion. I will be sending a meeting invite to hold the time on your calendar. If you do not want to attend or do not meet with Brenda, we can have a different discussion.” Id. Mr. Majocha then wrote, “I only asked you to wait one week while I try to wrap up the VEGA and quarter end items. I would be happy to meet with Brenda on April 3rd. Id. On the same day, Ms. Majocha also forwarded Mr. Synan's email to her husband, Michael Steinbrecher, saying “I've been scolded. .” [Dkt. 24-14 (Mot. Summ. J. Ex. F-2, Forwarded Emails 3/25/13) at ¶ 001590]. Mr. Steinbrecher responded, “Sorry, you gave it a valiant effort, and now you have it in writing (e-mail) that you explained how busy you are and he just didn't want to listen.” Id.

         Three days later, Ms. Majocha met with Mr. Synan and Ms. Lema. See [Dkt. 24-15 (Mot. Summ. J. Ex. F-3, Emails 3/29/13)]. The following day, Ms. Lema memorialized the conversation in an email, wherein she listed three action items agreed to by the three of them:

• Priority is to pay the bills
• Weekly meetings will take place among you, Mike, Brenda, and Mike E, to discuss the most effective way to transition Brenda's work to you. Also, Mike will provide you with direction if necessary around prioritizing your work along with ...

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