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Martins v. Rhode Island Hospital

United States District Court, D. Rhode Island

August 13, 2014



WILLIAM E. SMITH, Chief District Judge.

United States Magistrate Judge Lincoln D. Almond has issued a Report and Recommendation ("R&R") in the above-captioned matter (ECF No. 76). The Plaintiff, Michael Martins ("Martins"), has filed a series of objections. For the reasons that follow, the Court DENIES the objections and ACCEPTS the R&R. The Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendant Rhode Island Hospital (the "Hospital") (ECF No. 47) is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

I. Background

The R&R thoroughly recounts the underlying facts and they need not be reproduced in full here. In brief, Martins was terminated from his position as a Unit Assistant at the Hospital for theft of time. Surveillance cameras and the Hospital's employee ID swipe system suggested that Martins left work for approximately four hours on September 11, 2010 and, later, he could not account for his whereabouts. Martins was terminated at a meeting with his supervisor, Cathy Fanning ("Fanning"), and a human resources representative, Sandra Badessa ("Badessa"), approximately two weeks later, despite the fact that Martins informed Fanning and Badessa at this meeting that he suffers from bipolar disorder.[1]

Martins sued under the Rhode Island Civil Rights Act ("RI CRA"), the Rhode Island Fair Employment Practices Act ("RI FEPA"), the Rhode Island Civil Rights of Peoples with Disabilities Act ("RI CRPWDA"), the Rhode Island Parental and Family Medical Leave Act ("RI PFMLA"), the National Labor Relations Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"). The R&R recommended that the Hospital's Motion for Summary Judgment be granted as to all of Martins' claims with the exception of Counts VI, VII and VIII, which assert claims based on the Hospital's alleged failure to reasonably accommodate a disability. Martins objects to the R&R insofar as it recommends summary judgment on his remaining claims.[2] The Court considers the objections in the order in which they are raised.

II. Martins' Objections to the R&R[3]

A. Counts III, IV and V - Discriminatory Discharge

Martins objects first to the granting of summary judgment on his claims for discriminatory discharge - Counts III, IV and V, brought under RI CRA, RI FEPA and RI CRPWDA, respectively. Martins argues that Judge Almond erred in requiring him to establish pretext in order for these claims to survive summary judgment.

This argument misconstrues the R&R, which accurately sets forth the relevant law requiring a plaintiff to establish a prima facie case of disability discrimination by showing, among other things, that the employer discharged him in whole or in part because of a disability. Poulin v. Custom Craft, Inc. , 996 A.2d 654, 658-59 (R.I. 2010). The R&R then goes on to note that only once the prima facie case has been established does the burden shift to the employer to offer a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the discharge, which the aggrieved employee can then refute with a showing of pretext. See DeCamp v. Dollar Tree Stores, Inc. , 875 A.2d 13, 25 (R.I. 2005) (discussing McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green , 411 U.S. 792 (1973)).

The R&R concluded that Martins failed to establish a prima facie case of discrimination because of a lack of evidence that he was terminated as a result of a disability. More specifically, the R&R noted that Martins only informed Fanning and Badessa of his bipolar disorder at the meeting immediately prior to his termination, undermining any claim that discriminatory animus led to his firing. What is more, the R&R noted Martins' concession that Fanning and Badessa did not believe his explanation that a disability played any role in his disappearance from work.

Only after reaching this conclusion did Judge Almond note that even were Martins to establish a prima facie case of discrimination, under the burden-shifting framework, he had not proffered sufficient evidence to demonstrate pretext. Judge Almond principally relied on the undisputed fact that, prior to the meeting at which Martins disclosed his bipolar disorder, Fanning and Badessa had completed an investigation which concluded that Martins had stolen time. Thus, his termination for theft of time could not reasonably be construed as pretext for unlawful discrimination.

In sum, Judge Almond did not improperly require a showing of pretext, as Martins contends. Instead, the R&R accurately described the applicable law and correctly applied it to these facts. As such, this objection is DENIED.

B. Counts IX and X - Interference with Leave Rights

Martins objects next to Judge Almond's recommendation that summary judgment be granted as to Counts IX and X, which assert claims for interference with rights under the RI PFMLA and the FMLA, respectively, for failure to provide required notice. Under the RI PFMLA, an "employee shall give at least [30] days notice of the intended date upon which... leave shall commence and terminate, unless prevented by medical emergency from giving the notice." R.I. Gen. Laws § 28-48-2(a) (emphasis added). Under the FMLA, "an employee must provide notice to the employer as soon as practicable under the facts and circumstances of the particular case." 29 C.F.R. § ...

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