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Darosa v. Admiral Packaging, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Rhode Island

May 2, 2019

JOAQUIM DAROSA Plaintiff,
v.
ADMIRAL PACKAGING, INC.; and ROBERT HUMMEL Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          WILLIAM E. SMITH CHIEF JUDGE.

         After twenty-five years working as an ink-technician at Admiral Packaging, Inc. (“Admiral”), Plaintiff Joaquim Darosa was terminated in June of 2014 for losing his temper during a disagreement with a colleague. Although Darosa admits he lost his temper, he believes Admiral used the incident as a convenient excuse to fire him and that he was actually terminated because he suffers from ulcerative colitis, for which he took an extended leave of absence in 2013 under the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq.[1] See generally Compl., ECF No. 1-2.

         On August 4, 2016 Darosa filed a Complaint (ECF No. 1-2), alleging, inter alia, claims for FMLA retaliation (Count I) and disability discrimination (Count III) and seeking damages for his allegedly wrongful termination.[2] Admiral has rebutted these allegations by arguing that Darosa was a “problem employee” for years with an extensive disciplinary history and that the June incident was simply the straw that broke the camel's back. Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. (“Defs.' Mot.”) 1, ECF No. 19.

         Before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 19), to which Plaintiff has objected (ECF No. 24). For the following reasons, the Court grants in part and denies in part Defendants' Motion.

         I. Factual Background

         Darosa worked as an ink technician at Admiral Packaging from 1989 until June 17, 2014. In 2006, he was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, for which he took protected FMLA leave three times: first in 2006 (fifteen weeks), then in 2012 (fourteen days), and again 2013 (forty days).

         A. Darosa's 2013 FMLA Leave

         In 2013, while Darosa was supposed to be out of work on FMLA leave, a video surfaced showing Darosa performing on stage at the Cape Verdean festival in Providence. After seeing the video on YouTube.com and while he was still out on FMLA leave, Darosa's supervisors at Admiral called Darosa to ask why he was not at work, to offer him “light duty” work, and to invite him to the company picnic at McCoy Stadium. Pl.'s Statement of Undisputed Facts (“Pl.'s SUF”) ¶¶ 29-30, ECF No. 24-2; Defs.' Statement of Undisputed Facts (“Defs.' SUF”) ¶¶ 22-32, ECF No. 20. Darosa claims that his performance at the festival made his supervisors “angry, ” though nothing in the record suggests that his supervisors discussed the matter with him when he returned to work or disciplined him for the apparent abuse of leave. Pl.'s Mem. 12-13, 21; Defs.' SUF Ex. A (“Darosa Dep.”) 15:18-25:4, ECF No. 20-1.

         B. Overtime Shifts at Admiral

         Throughout his tenure at Admiral, Darosa worked first shift (7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.) and was occasionally asked to work overtime by coming in early, around 4:00 a.m. He testified that early shifts were hard for him because of his colitis and that he expressed this difficulty to his supervisors. Darosa Dep. 61:13-62:3. However, it is unclear whether he informed his supervisors that the reason these early shifts were hard for him was because of his colitis, as opposed to the general difficulty of waking up early and arriving at work on time. Specifically, he testified as follows:

Q: . . . [W]hy don't you tell me what you think a hostile work environment is?
A: Well, if I have colitis and I go to the bathroom all the time, I have problems sleeping, and I'm losing weight, do you think I should be going to work 4:00 in the morning, 5:00 in the morning?
Q: Okay. Did you ever ask your employer for a modified schedule?
A: I asked many times. The fact that it would be hard, because one, I had to get my wife to get up to bring me, and I had to ask another employee to pick me up. And I had told them that it would be hard for me to make it in there on time. Since my schedule is from 7:00 to 3:00, 4:00 and 5:00 would be difficult. But I was never given that opportunity to stay home. It was more like a must.

Id. Darosa admits that he never asked to be scheduled for Admiral's second shift, which occurred in the afternoons, to avoid these early mornings. Id. 65:1-5.

         C. Bonuses, Raises, and Performance Evaluations at Admiral Admiral provides several kinds of monetary incentives to its employees, namely, a year-end bonus and an annual raise.[3] Both of these are awarded based, in part, on the employee's annual performance evaluation. That evaluation is completed by a supervisor and rates the employee on a scale of 1 to 5 in the following categories: attendance, attitude, work ethic, work knowledge, productivity, assisting others, and overtime.

         Of the three ink technicians employed at Admiral in 2013, Darosa received the lowest overall performance rating. His 2013 evaluation reads as follows:

Darosa: 2 for attendance, 2 for attitude, 2 for work ethic, 5 for work knowledge, 3 for productivity, 2 for assisting others, and 2 for overtime.

         Defs.' SUF Ex. G (“Disciplinary History”) 60, ECF No. 20-7. Darosa's evaluation also included the comment “Not motivated/needs supervising.” Id. In ...


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