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Smith-Megote v. Craig Hospital

United States District Court, D. Colorado

January 17, 2017

CRAIG HOSPITAL, a Colorado not-for-profit corporation, Defendant.


          R. Brooke Jackson United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court on defendant Craig Hospital's motion for summary judgment [ECF No. 17]. For the reasons described below, the motion is GRANTED.

         I. FACTS

         The following facts are not in dispute unless otherwise noted. Plaintiff Lilia Smith-Megote is a former employee of defendant Craig Hospital (“Craig”). ECF No. 1 at ¶¶13-14 (Complaint). In July of 2015 she requested leave to travel to the Philippines to care for her ailing mother. ECF No. 17-2 at 2 (Leave of Absence Request Form). Craig approved plaintiff for five to six weeks of leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) to care for her mother beginning on July 24, 2015. ECF No. 17-4 at 3 (FMLA Designation Notice).

         On August 9, shortly into plaintiff's leave, her mother passed away. ECF No. 1 at ¶6. Plaintiff did not notify Craig of her mother's death, or ask that her FMLA leave be extended beyond the death, or ask for bereavement leave (to which she would have been entitled). Instead, plaintiff subsequently remained in the Philippines for roughly three weeks and then flew to Spain on August 28, 2015 to check up on her sister. ECF No. 17-5 at 73:16-19, 74:3-22 (Dep. of Lilia Smith-Megote, Aug. 18, 2016). Plaintiff returned to the United States on September 1. See id. Two days later she contacted Craig to notify them that she wanted to return to work early, which plaintiff did soon thereafter. Id. at 75:2-8.

         On September 4 defendant first learned that plaintiff's mother had passed away back in early August. ECF No. 17-3 at 129:23-25 (Dep. of Stacy Abel, Aug. 19, 2016). After determining that plaintiff's FMLA leave did not apply to her absences after her mother passed away, defendant terminated plaintiff's employment on September 17. Id. at 157:3-11, 160:8-20. Defendant claims that it fired plaintiff due to plaintiff's missing too many shifts while failing to produce a legitimate reason why she remained abroad for over three weeks after her mother's passing, as well as because of plaintiff's prior written warning for absences and a previous incident on her record involving improper conduct. Id. at 74:2-7; ECF No. 17-5 at 87:7-12; ECF No. 17-10 at 2 (Craig Hospital Employee Discipline Form); ECF No. 17 at 3.

         Procedural History

         On January 22, 2016 plaintiff filed suit against defendant, alleging retaliation under the FMLA. ECF No. 1 at ¶¶12-17. After answering plaintiff's complaint on February 16, 2016, ECF No. 6, defendant moved for summary judgment on September 29, 2016, ECF No. 17. Defendant's motion has been fully briefed.


         The Court may 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). A fact is “material if under the substantive law it is essential to the proper disposition of the claim.” Adler v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 144 F.3d 664, 670 (10th Cir. 1998) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). A material fact is genuine if “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The moving party has the burden to show that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). The nonmoving party must “designate ‘specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'” Id. at 324 (citation omitted).

         III. ANALYSIS

         Plaintiff's complaint asserts a single cause of action under the FMLA. However, as defendant acknowledges, plaintiff really maintains two distinct theories of recovery under that statute: (1) “interference” in violation of 29 U.S.C. § 2615(a)(1); and (2) “retaliation” in violation of 29 U.S.C. § 2615(a)(2). ECF No. 1 at ¶¶12-17; Metzler v. Fed. Home Loan Bank of Topeka, 464 F.3d 1164, 1170 (10th Cir. 2006). Defendant argues that it is entitled to summary judgment on both theories. For the reasons below, the Court agrees.

         A. Interference Claim.

         Plaintiff's first theory asserts interference under the FMLA. “To establish an interference claim, [plaintiff] must show: (1) that [s]he was entitled to FMLA leave, (2) that some adverse action by the employer interfered with h[er] right to take FMLA leave, and (3) that the employer's action was related to the exercise or attempted exercise of h[er] FMLA rights.” See Campbell v. Gambro Healthcare, Inc., 478 F.3d 1282, 1287 (10th Cir. 2007) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). The parties only appear to dispute the first ...

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