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Kaiser v. Trace, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Idaho

December 12, 2014

KIMBERLY KAISER, Plaintiff,
v.
TRACE, INC., Defendant

Page 1127

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 1128

For Kimberly Kaiser, Plaintiff: William H Thomas, William H. Thomas, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Thomas, Williams & Park, LLP, Boise, ID.

For Trace, Inc., an Idaho corporation, Defendant: Eric B Swartz, Mark Paul Coonts, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Jones & Swartz PLLC, Boise, ID.

Page 1129

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

Edward J. Lodge, United States District Judge.

INTRODUCTION

Pending before the Court in the above-titled matter is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Dkt. 30.) Plaintiffs have responded to the Motion, and Defendants have replied. The matter is now ripe for the Court's review. Having fully reviewed the record, the Court finds that the facts and legal arguments are adequately presented in the briefs and record. Accordingly, in the interest of avoiding further delay, and because the Court conclusively finds that the decisional process would not be significantly aided by oral argument, this matter shall be decided on the record before this Court without oral argument.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Kimberly Kaiser (" Ms. Kaiser" ) began working for Defendant TRACE, Inc. (" TRACE" ) in 2006. (Dkt. 31-9, p. 1.) Ms. Kaiser worked for TRACE without incident until July 2011, when she was put on leave because of her pregnancy. ( Id.) The facts, set forth in a light most favorable to the plaintiff, are taken from the record.

As day stocker and warehouse employee, Ms. Kaiser's job description required the ability to lift 75 pounds. (Dkt. 30-6, Kimberly Kaiser Deposition, hereinafter " Kaiser Dep." , pp. 62:17-63:13.) Upon learning she was pregnant in June 2011, Ms. Kaiser requested an assignment to a lighter aisle. (Dkt. 31-1, p. 2.) It is unclear whether Ms. Kaiser's supervisor, Jeremy Toulouse (" Mr. Toulouse" ), knew of her pregnancy at the time of the initial request. ( Id.) The request was never granted, and on July 12, 2011 Ms. Kaiser injured her ankle at work. ( Id.) Ms. Kaiser sought treatment for her ankle and obtained a restriction against lifting over 35 pounds because of her pregnancy. ( Id.) After she communicated her weight restrictions to him, Mr. Toulouse told Ms. Kaiser that TRACE couldn't accept the 35-pound restriction but might be able to accommodate her if she could get the weight restriction increased. (Dkt. 30-6, Kaiser Dep., p. 69:5-9.) Ms. Kaiser testified that TRACE represented a 40-pound restriction would be acceptable, so she attempted to increase the limit in order to continue working. ( Id. at pp. 143:22-25, 149:23-25, 150:16-20.)

After taking five days of leave for her ankle injury, Ms. Kaiser returned to work on July 21, 2011. (Dkt. 31-1, p. 2.) Upon her return to work, Mr. Toulouse informed Ms. Kaiser that she was being put on a leave of absence due to her medical restriction. ( Id.) TRACE derived its policy for pregnant employees and employees with medical restrictions from the Collective Bargaining Agreement (" CBA" ). (Dkt. 30-1, p. 3.) Per the terms of the CBA, employees were entitled to a leave of absence for " illness or injury, including pregnancy." ( Id.) The CBA further provided: "

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An employee upon becoming pregnant shall be granted a leave of absence." ( Id.) Mr. Toulouse told Ms. Kaiser that TRACE was " no longer able to keep [you] at work" and presented two options: quit or take a leave of absence. Ms. Kaiser accepted the leave of absence in order to receive short-term disability payments. (Dkt. 31-1, p. 2.)

Ms. Kaiser filed a complaint with the Idaho Human Rights Commission (" IHRC" ) on August 8, 2011 alleging that TRACE improperly terminated her employment because of her pregnancy. (Dkt. 30-1, pp. 4-5.) Despite this belief, Ms. Kaiser has admitted that she has no knowledge of other TRACE employees who were pregnant or who had restrictions but were permitted to work. (Dkt. 30-6, Kaiser Dep., p. 94:17-22.) The IHRC issued a finding of mixed-motive probable cause on January 28, 2012. (Dkt. 31-9, p. 8.)

After the birth of her baby, Ms. Kaiser notified TRACE on February 6, 2012 of her availability to return to work on March 21, 2012. (Dkt. 30-6, Kaiser Dep., p. 82:11-12.) Under the CBA, Ms. Kaiser was entitled to be " restored to the job previously held, hours scheduled or to a job comparable with regard to work and rate of pay." (Dkt. 30-7, p. 15.) However, when she contacted him about returning to work, Mr. Toulouse informed Ms. Kaiser that her previous position had been filled and instead offered her a night shift. (Dkt. 30-6, Kaiser Dep., p. 99:17-21.) Ms. Kaiser believed the night position had a different job description and, potentially, paid less. ( Id. at pp. 95:14-25, 96:1-3.) TRACE did not provide any information about the night position to correct Ms. Kaiser's perception. ( Id. at p. 98:1-4.) Nor did Mr. Toulouse indicate, as TRACE now contends, that the night position was only temporary. (Dkt. 31-1, p. 3.) Ms. Kaiser engaged her union representative, and each of them contacted TRACE multiple times throughout March regarding Ms. Kaiser's return to work. ( Id. at pp. 3-4.) The parties never reached an agreement about a position for Ms. Kaiser.

On March 20, 2012, Ms. Kaiser asked Misty Johnson (" Ms. Johnson" ), TRACE's Personnel Director, about her employment status. (Dkt. 31-5, p. 3.) During that conversation, Ms. Johnson did not confirm Ms. Kaiser's employment with TRACE, and also stated that the conflict was Ms. Kaiser's " fault for getting pregnant in the first place." ( Id.) After this discussion, Ms. Kaiser considered herself constructively discharged and declined any further communication from TRACE. ( Id. at pp. 2-3.) Ms. Kaiser thereafter hired counsel, who communicated with TRACE on a limited basis in April 2012. (Dkt. 30-1, p. 6.) As of April 18, 2012, TRACE concluded that Ms. Kaiser had abandoned her job. ( Id.) Ms. Kaiser filed suit in state court on August 8, 2012, which TRACE removed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § § 1331, 1367, 1441 and 1446.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

The Court " shall grant summary judgment if 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). The moving party moving bears the initial burden of showing that there are no genuine issues of material fact and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 247-48, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). Where, as here, the movant does not bear the burden of proof at trial, it must show " an absence of evidence ...


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