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Hudson v. Home Depot, U.S.A., Inc.

United States District Court, D. Idaho

January 29, 2015

HOME DEPOT, U.S.A., INC., a Delaware Corporation, d.b.a. THE HOME DEPOT, Defendant.


WILLIAM B. SHUBB, District Judge.

Plaintiff brought this action against her former employer, Home Depot, alleging Home Depot relied on her Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA")-qualifying absences as a negative factor in its decision to terminate her employment. Presently before the court is Home Depot's motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

Home Depot hired plaintiff as a part-time cashier in October 2001. (Williams Decl. Ex. L ("Hudson Dep.") at 16:10-22, 19:2) (Docket No. 25-1).) Plaintiff then moved into a full-time special service desk position, in which she served customers picking up special orders, called vendors for updates and price points, offered credit and installations, directed customers to the appropriate associate who could provide assistance, and handled customer complaints. (Id. at 20:7-12.)

At the time Home Depot first hired plaintiff, it utilized a point system for attendance issues, whereby associates accrued points for absences or tardiness. (Quanstrom Decl. ¶ 4 (Docket No. 21-29.) Under this new system, when an employee's absences or tardies exceeded a designated number, he or she would be subject to discipline. (Id.) In June 2010, Home Depot changed its policy, abandoning the point system in favor of a more flexible system. (Id. ¶ 5.) When an associate had greater than three to five unexcused attendance or punctuality issues within a twelve-month period despite having been warned about the consequences of failing to improve, a manager was supposed to conduct a "final counseling session." (Id.) The written policy stated that "there is no policy governing the precise number of days absent or late that will result in disciplinary action because the discipline that is appropriate will vary according to the circumstances." (Id.)

Plaintiff's mother began having severe health issues in 2004. (Hudson Decl. ¶ 4 (Docket No. 24).) Plaintiff provided care to her mother, which caused her to be late to work and occasionally absent. (Id.) Plaintiff states that when she had to be late or absent, she called into work and spoke to the manager on duty to inform him or her of the absence or tardiness and explain that she was taking care of her ill mother.[1] (Id. ¶ 5.) Each time, the manager on duty told her that she need not worry, that she should do what she needed to do to care for her mother, and that the tardiness or absence would be excused. (Id.)

Plaintiff's absences and tardies persisted during the period from 2003 to 2011.[2] According to a chart prepared by plaintiff to explain those attendance occurrences during her last year of employment, from the period of November 2010 to March 2011, plaintiff was absent once and tardy nine times where the reason was caring for her mother. (Henderson Decl. Ex. 25 (Docket No. 21-28).) During that same period, plaintiff also noted some tardies were for other reasons, including plaintiff's knee injuries, a welfare appointment, and a doctor's visit. (Id.)

Plaintiff's mother passed away. Thereafter, from June 15, 2011, to July 22, 2011, plaintiff accrued seven more tardies, two absences, and two early departures, both of which she states were excused due to the snow.[3] (Id.) On July 22, 2011, plaintiff received a "final counseling" for her tardies and absences, where she was informed that additional attendance violations could result in termination. (Quanstrom Decl. ¶ 7.) Five days later, on July 27, 2011, plaintiff was again absent from work. (Id. ¶ 8.) Two managers at plaintiff's store, together with the district human resources manager Diana Quanstrom, stated that they believed plaintiff should be terminated because she was unwilling or unable to improve her attendance issues. (Id. ¶ 8.) They reached out to the Home Depot Associate Advice and Counsel Group, which concurred in the decision. (Id.) Home Depot terminated plaintiff on August 6, 2011.

Plaintiff brought a single claim against Home Depot, alleging that Home Depot impermissibly used plaintiff's FMLA-protected leave as a negative factor in its decision to fire her. (Compl. ¶ 24-26.) Home Depot now moves for summary judgment, arguing plaintiff's termination did not violate the FMLA because plaintiffs' absences and tardies were not protected by the act and, in any event, it did not rely on that leave as a negative factor in its decision to terminate plaintiff.

II. Discussion

A. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is proper "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). A material fact is one that could affect the outcome of the suit, and a genuine issue is one that could permit a reasonable jury to enter a verdict in the non-moving party's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The party moving for summary judgment bears the initial burden of establishing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact and can satisfy this burden by presenting evidence that negates an essential element of the non-moving party's case. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). Alternatively, the moving party can demonstrate that the non-moving party cannot produce evidence to support an essential element upon which it will bear the burden of proof at trial. Id.

Once the moving party meets its initial burden, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to "designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Id. at 324 (quoting then-Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)). To carry this burden, the non-moving party must "do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). "The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence... will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the [non-moving party]." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252.

In deciding a summary judgment motion, the court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all justifiable inferences in its favor. Id. at 255. "Credibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury ...

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