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Deighan v. SuperMedia, LLC

United States District Court, D. Rhode Island

November 29, 2016




         In this case the Plaintiff, David Deighan, claims that his employer, SuperMedia, and his supervisor, Todd Sanislow, discriminated against him because of his disability. His claims fall into two categories, the first dealing with his request for leave and the second with the ultimate termination of his employment. Discovery is complete. Defendants SuperMedia and Sanislow now move for summary judgment claiming that there are no disputed issues of material fact that require a trial and that Deighan's claims fail as a matter of law.[1]

         For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED. As Defendants' and Plaintiff's other motions need not be decided in order to rule on the summary judgment issue, those motions are moot.

         I. Background

         The factual backdrop to the Defendants' motion is fairly straightforward and the essential facts are undisputed. In 2012, Plaintiff David Deighan was a sales manager at Defendant SuperMedia working under the supervision of Defendant Todd Sanislow. In May of 2012, Deighan suffered from “acute anxiety disorder” and commenced medical leave from his position at SuperMedia. SuperMedia agreed to allow Deighan to take approved leave under the FMLA (for 12 weeks) and RIPFMLA (for 13 weeks), which ran concurrently. On August 13, 2012, near the conclusion of Deighan's statutory leave, Deighan notified SuperMedia that “[d]ue to my disability and recommendation from my doctors, I am not able to hold a sales or sales management position. Additionally, it is required that I not drive long distances. My current commute is 150 miles . . . .” (Defs.' Mot. Ex. B, ECF No. 25-3.) Deighan went on to request that SuperMedia give him a new position that was (1) “in the customer service and sales support arenas”; (2) “at an equivalent title and income I currently hold”; and (3) located at SuperMedia's facility in Middleton, Massachusetts (which was located close to Deighan's house). (Id.)

         The next day, Deighan submitted a “Job Accommodation Request” form to SuperMedia. (Id.) In that form, Deighan stated that his previous email “summarize[d] [his] requests” and attached a copy of that letter. (Id.) Additionally, Deighan stated that, “[p]er medical advice, the nature of the direct sales or sales management role caused and would exacerbate [his] medical condition.” (Id.) Given his inability to work in his prior sales management role, Deighan requested a “permanent accommodation.” (Id.)

         SuperMedia agreed to extend Deighan's short-term disability leave from August through November 16, 2012 and began looking for another position that Deighan could fill outside of sales management. In September, SuperMedia notified Deighan that there were no other openings with the same title and income as Deighan's previous sales management position. (Defs.' Mot. Ex. C, ECF No. 25-3.) In response, despite the fact that Deighan had previously told SuperMedia that he was medically unable to perform the job, Deighan requested that he be able to return to the sales management position at the conclusion of his short-term disability leave on November 16, 2012. (Defs.' Mot. Ex. E, ECF No. 25-3.)

         SuperMedia agreed to allow Deighan to return to that position under two conditions. (Id.) First, SuperMedia notified Deighan that there was a “business need” to permanently fill the sales manager position, such that, if Deighan did not return on November 16, SuperMedia would backfill the position with someone else. (Defs.' Mot. Exs. D and F, ECF No. 25-3.) Second, because Deighan had repeatedly stated that he was medically unable to work as a sales manager, SuperMedia told Deighan that he would have to provide a “doctor's note” stating that he could safely return to work. (Defs.' Mot. Ex. E, ECF No. 25-3.) Deighan responded by reaffirming his intent to return to work on November 16 and agreed to provide some sort of doctor's note clearing him to work. (Id.)

         Then, on November 14, Deighan sent the following email to Sanislow and SuperMedia's human resources department:

Due to my current medical condition, my doctors will not approve a RTW [return to work] date of November 16, 2012. With continued treatment, they are hopeful for a RTW date of early Jan[uary] 2013. Thank you for your continued flexibility.

(Pl.'s Resp. Ex. B, ECF No. 27-2.) SuperMedia responded as follows:

Thank you for your accommodation request. Unfortunately, we are unable to accommodate you with additional time off. We look forward to seeing you on November 16, 2012 . . . . If you are unable to return to work on November 16, 2012, either with or without an accommodation, SuperMedia may fill or eliminate your position due to business needs. If your position is backfilled or eliminated and you are later released to return to work, you are encouraged to reapply for available job openings. . . .


         Deighan initially responded to SuperMedia's email by sending a farewell note to his former colleagues. (Defs.' Mot. Ex. G, ECF No. 25-3.) However, sometime thereafter, Deighan resumed contact with SuperMedia in order to request that he be able to return to work in January of 2013. (Defs.' Mot. Ex. I, ECF No. 25-3.) SuperMedia declined to keep the position open through January and backfilled the position with another employee. (Id.) SuperMedia contends that these actions were taken because there was a business need to permanently fill the sales management position after over six months (May through November of 2012) of that position being filled on a temporary basis. (See Sanislow Decl., ECF No. 25-4.)

         Deighan subsequently filed the instant suit against both SuperMedia and his supervisor, Todd Sanislow. Deighan's Complaint alleges disability-based discrimination under the Rhode Island Civil Rights of People with Disabilities Act (“CRPD”), the Rhode Island Fair Employment Practices Act (“FEPA”), and the Rhode Island Civil Rights Act of 1990 (“RICRA”). Additionally, Deighan's Complaint alleges unlawful disability-based retaliation and interference under the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) and the Rhode Island Parental and Family Medical Leave Act (“RIPFMLA”).

         II. Discussion

         A. Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate where the Court finds, “after studying the parties' evidentiary proffers and giving the benefit of reasonable doubt to those against whom the motion is directed, that there is no genuine issue of material fact in dispute and that the motion's proponent is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Stella v. Town of Tewksbury, Mass., 4 F.3d 53, 55 (1st Cir. 1993) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56). There can be no genuine issue of material fact where a party “fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986)). Put another way, the evidence must be “such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Oliver v. Digital Equip. Corp., 846 F.2d 103, 105 (1st Cir. 1988) (internal quotations omitted).

         In determining whether there exists a genuine issue of material fact, this Court must review the facts “in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion, and must indulge all inferences favorable to that party . . . .” Id. However, “[t]he party opposing the motion . . . may not rest upon mere allegations.” Id. Instead, the opposing party must supply specific facts, “citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A). Furthermore, all affidavits and declarations “must be made on personal knowledge, set out facts that would be admissible in evidence, and show that the affiant or declarant is competent to testify on the matters stated.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(4).

         B. FMLA and RIPFMLA Claims

         Deighan alleges that SuperMedia and Sanislow violated both the FMLA and the RIPFMLA. The FMLA entitles an “eligible employee” to 12 weeks of leave during any 12-month period for a “serious health condition” and, on return from such leave, to be restored to the same or equivalent position. 29 U.S.C. §§ 2612(a)(1)(D), 2614(a)(1)(A)-(B). The RIPFMLA provides substantially the same statutory protections as the FMLA, but instead of 12 weeks of leave for an employee's “serious health condition, ” it provides for 13 weeks of leave for “parental and family leave.” R.I. Gen. Laws § 28-48-2. Courts have used the same analysis when reviewing claims under both the FMLA and RIPFMLA. See, e.g., Kenney v. Bethany Home of Rhode Island, No. 09-CV-289-ML, 2011 WL 1770537, at *2 n.3 (D.R.I. May 9, 2011) (“[T]he analysis of the elements of the RIPFMLA and the FMLA claims is the same, and, to the extent the state statute is not preempted, the Court's review of the federal claims addresses the state statute as well.”); Tardie v. Rehab. Hosp. of Rhode Island, 6 F.Supp.2d 125, 134 (D.R.I. 1998), aff'd, 168 F.3d 538 (1st Cir. 1999). This Court therefore analyzes Deighan's FMLA and RIPFMLA claims together.

         Causes of action under both the FMLA and RIPFMLA are divided into “two distinct groups: interference claims and retaliation claims.” Kenney, 2011 WL 1770537, at *2 (citing Hodgens v. General Dynmaics Corp., 144 F.3d 151, 159-60 ...

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