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Hartman v. Harrison School District Two

United States District Court, D. Colorado

January 9, 2019

PATTI A. HARTMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
HARRISON SCHOOL DISTRICT TWO and HARRISON SCHOOL DISTRICT TWO BOARD OF EDUCATION, Defendants.

          ORDER

          PHILIP A. BRIMMED, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment [Docket No. 39] and Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to File Sur-Reply in Opposition to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment [Docket No. 44]. The Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331.

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         Defendant Harrison School District Two ("District") employed plaintiff as an assistant principal at Sierra High School ("Sierra") in El Paso County, Colorado in the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years. Docket No. 39 at 4, ¶ 1; Docket No. 40 at 7, ¶ 1. Dr. Aaron Griffen ("Griffen") was Sierra's principal and plaintiff's direct supervisor during the 2014-15 school year, replacing her previous supervisor, Zach Craddock. Docket No. 39 at 4, ¶ 2; Docket No. 40 at 7, ¶ 1. During that school year, plaintiff worked on a one-year contract running from July 22, 2014 until June 26, 2015. Docket No. 39 at 4, 1.

         On November 4, 2014, plaintiff suffered injuries to her head, right ankle, and left shoulder when she responded to a physical altercation involving two students and a security officer. Id. at 5, ¶¶ 9-10. As a result of her injuries, plaintiff missed work intermittently in November 2014. Id. at 6-7, ¶¶ 11, 13. She also missed some days in January 2015. Id. at 7, ¶17.[2]

         On January 14, 2015, Griffen met with plaintiff to discuss his intent to place her on a "Growth Improvement Plan." Id., ¶ 16. The two met again on February 9, 2015, at which point plaintiff signed the plan. Id., ¶ 18. At this meeting, plaintiff informed Griffen that she would be submitting a formal application for leave under the Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA") and consequently would not be able to attend some of the meetings scheduled in the Growth Improvement Plan. Id., ¶ 19.[3]

         On February 9, 2015, plaintiff formally requested FMLA leave, to run from February 11 to April 9, 2015. Docket No. 39 at 8, ¶ 20.[4] The District and Griffen approved her request on February 13, 2015. Id. As plaintiff did not have enough paid days of medical leave available to cover her entire FMLA leave, she requested ten days of "Compassionate Leave" from defendants. Docket No. 40 at 7-8, ¶¶ 4, 7. Compassionate Leave is a District program that allows other employees to donate their paid leave days to an employee who is out of paid leave days. Id. at 8, ¶ 6. On March 9, 2015, the District informed plaintiff that her request for ten Compassionate Leave days was granted and that requests for Compassionate Leave donations on plaintiff's behalf would go out to Sierra and, by March 20, 2015, to the entire District. Id., ¶ 8. Griffen did not send a request for donations to Sierra or the District. Id. at 9, ¶¶ 10-11. On March 20, 2015, plaintiff returned from FMLA leave early because she had run out of paid leave days and could not take unpaid leave for financial reasons. Docket No. 39 at 9, ¶¶ 25-26; Docket No. 40 at 9, ¶ 12.

         On May 1, 2015, the District informed plaintiff that it would not renew her contract for the upcoming year. Docket No. 39 at 10, ¶ 33. The District later transferred plaintiff to an elementary school for the remainder of her contract. Id., ¶ 34.

         Plaintiff filed this lawsuit on May 8, 2017. Docket No. 1. Plaintiff asserts causes of action under the FMLA, 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et sec/., for interference with substantive rights and for retaliation. Id. at 7-9, ¶¶ 38-53.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Summary judgment is warranted under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 when the "movant shows that 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); see Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-50 (1986). A disputed fact is "material" if under the relevant substantive law it is essential to proper disposition of the claim. Wright v. Abbott Labs., Inc., 259 F.3d 1226, 1231-32 (10th Cir. 2001). Only disputes over material facts can create a genuine issue for trial and preclude summary judgment. Faustin v. City&Cty. of Denver, 423 F.3d 1192, 1198 (10th Cir. 2005). An issue is "genuine" if the evidence is such that it might lead a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Allen v. Muskogee, 119 F.3d 837, 839 (10th Cir. 1997).

         Where "the moving party does not bear the ultimate burden of persuasion at trial, it may satisfy its burden at the summary judgment stage by identifying a lack of evidence for the nonmovant on an essential element of the nonmovant's claim." Bausman v. Interstate Brands Corp., 252 F.3d 1111, 1115 (10th Cir. 2001) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Adlerv. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 144 F.3d 664, 671 (10th Cir. 1998)). "Once the moving party meets this burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to demonstrate a genuine issue for trial on a material matter." Concrete Works of Colo., Inc. v. City & Cty. of Denver, 36 F.3d 1513, 1518 (10th Cir. 1994). The nonmoving party may not rest solely on the allegations in the pleadings, but instead must designate "specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986) (internal quotation marks omitted). "To avoid summary judgment, the nonmovant must establish, at a minimum, an inference of the presence of each element essential to the case." Bausman, 252 F.3d at 1115. When reviewing a motion for summary judgment, a court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Id.

         III. ANALYSIS

         Defendants move for summary judgment on plaintiff's claims for interference and retaliation under the FMLA, 29 U.S.C. §2601 et seq. Docket No. 39 at 11-17.[5]

         A. ...


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