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Jernigan v. Touchstone Health Partners

United States District Court, D. Colorado

September 9, 2014

KRISTEN N. JERNIGAN, Plaintiff,
v.
TOUCHSTONE HEALTH PARTNERS, a Colorado nonprofit corporation f/k/a LARIMER CENTER FOR MENTAL HEALTH, and CYNDI DODDS, Defendants.

ORDER ON MOTIONS FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT

WILLIAM J. MARTÍNEZ, District Judge.

Plaintiff Kristen N. Jernigan ("Plaintiff") brings this action alleging violations of the Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. § 2615(a)(2), and related state claims, against Defendants Touchstone Health Partners ("Touchstone") and Cyndi Dodds (jointly "Defendants"). (Compl. (ECF No. 1).) This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment ("Plaintiff's Motion") (ECF No. 26) as to her First Claim for Relief, and Defendants' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment ("Defendants' Motion") (ECF No. 27) as to Plaintiff's Second, Third, and Fourth Claims for Relief. For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's Motion is denied and Defendants' Motion is granted.

I. BACKGROUND

The relevant facts are as follows, and are undisputed unless otherwise noted. Plaintiff was employed as Assistant Chief Operations Officer of Child and Family Services in the Shields Office of Touchstone (previously known as Larimer Center for Mental Health) from May 4, 2011 until September 28, 2012. (Movant's Statement of Material Facts ("MSMF") to Plaintiff's Motion (ECF No. 26-2) ¶¶ 1-2.) Defendant Dodds, a Chief Operations Officer at Touchstone, was Plaintiff's immediate supervisor. ( Id. ¶ 9A.) At the time Plaintiff was hired, she received a copy of the Larimer Center for Mental Health Handbook ("Handbook"), and signed an Employee Acknowledgement of Receipt of the Handbook. (Plaintiff's Dep. (ECF No. 27-2) p. 10; ECF No. 27-5.)

In late March 2012, Dodds conducted an evaluation of Plaintiff that included some positive and some negative results. (MSMF ¶¶ 13-14.) Among the negative concerns on the evaluation was Plaintiff's poor working relationships with other employees. ( Id. ¶ 14.) Following the evaluation, a number of complaints were made about Plaintiff by other employees, which complaints were each individually resolved. ( Id. ¶ 17.)

On August 16, 2012, Dodds issued a disciplinary action form to Plaintiff due to "perceived retaliation" by Plaintiff against employees, a "hostile work environment", and an employee who had recently resigned, citing such problems with Plaintiff. ( Id. ¶¶ 23, 27.) Plaintiff was placed on a performance improvement plan and corrective action plan as part of the disciplinary action. ( Id. ¶ 28.) After the disciplinary action, Dodds became aware of two instances of perceived retaliation by Plaintiff against employees under her supervision, the first of which involved Plaintiff blocking certain employees from being able to view her Outlook calendar. ( Id. ¶ 37.) The second instance of perceived retaliation involved Plaintiff administering a disciplinary action as well as a performance improvement plan to an employee without previously discussing the disciplinary action with Dodds. ( Id. )

On September 10, 2012, at a meeting attended by Dodds and other supervisors, Plaintiff advocated on behalf of another employee, Allisyn Hollweg, who had taken FMLA leave. ( Id. ¶¶ 45-47.) Plaintiff had previously advocated on behalf of Hollweg because Plaintiff believed that Hollweg's supervisor appeared to be discriminating against Hollweg on the basis of her FMLA leave. ( Id. ¶ 44.) After the meeting, Dodds informed Plaintiff of her concerns about Hollweg; the parties dispute the exact contents of Dodds's statement. ( Id. ¶ 48; Dodds Dep. (ECF No. 29-1) pp. 168-69.)

On September 13, 2012, Plaintiff advised Dodds that she needed to take FMLA leave to care for her terminally ill father beginning on October 1, 2012, for two to six weeks. (MSMF ¶¶ 52, 55-56.) On September 21, 2012, another employee under Plaintiff's supervision resigned. ( Id. ¶ 72.) On September 26, 2012, Dodds met with Plaintiff to discuss with her the disciplinary action that Plaintiff had administered to an employee without receiving prior approval from Dodds. ( Id. ¶¶ 60, 62.) At this point, no possibility of termination was discussed. ( Id. )

On Friday, September 28, 2012, at 3:00 p.m., two business hours before Plaintiff was scheduled to begin her FMLA leave the following Monday, Plaintiff was terminated from her employment. ( Id. ¶ 63.) Defendants state that this date and time was chosen because by then, four people under Plaintiff's supervision had resigned, and Defendants feared that more resignations might occur if Plaintiff remained employed with Touchstone. ( Id. ¶¶ 58, 66.) Defendants have presented evidence, which Plaintiff disputes, that these four people had all identified Plaintiff or her leadership as one of their reasons for leaving their employment with Touchstone. (ECF Nos. 29-2 ¶ 27; 29-3 ¶ 30.)

Plaintiff filed this action on April 25, 2013, bringing four claims: (1) violation of the FMLA; (2) termination in violation of public policy; (3) breach of implied contract; and (4) intentional interference with contract. (ECF No. 1.) Plaintiff's First and Third Claims are asserted against Touchstone, her Second Claim is asserted against both Defendants, and her Fourth Claim is asserted only against Dodds. ( Id. ) Both Plaintiff's and Defendants' Motions for Partial Summary Judgment were filed on February 20, 2014. (ECF Nos. 26 & 27.) The parties' respective Responses were filed on March 13, 2014 (ECF Nos. 28 & 29), and their Replies were filed on March 27, 2014 (ECF Nos. 30 & 31). Both motions are ripe for disposition.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate only if there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Henderson v. Inter-Chem Coal Co., Inc., 41 F.3d 567, 569 (10th Cir. 1994). Whether there is a genuine dispute as to a material fact depends upon whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or conversely, is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 248-49 (1986); Stone v. Autoliv ASP, Inc., 210 F.3d 1132 (10th Cir. 2000); Carey v. U.S. Postal Serv., 812 F.2d 621, 623 (10th Cir. 1987).

A fact is "material" if it pertains to an element of a claim or defense; a factual dispute is "genuine" if the evidence is so contradictory that if the matter went to trial, a reasonable party could return a verdict for either party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. The Court must resolve factual ambiguities against the moving party, thus favoring the right to a trial. Houston v. Nat'l Gen. Ins. Co., 817 F.2d 83, 85 (10th Cir. 1987).

III. ANALYSIS

Plaintiff moves for summary judgment as to her First Claim, while Defendants move for summary judgment as to Plaintiff's Second, Third, and Fourth Claims. (ECF Nos. 26 & 27.) The ...


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