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Coleman v. Potomac Electric Power Co.

September 9, 2003


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rosemary M. Collyer United States District Judge


Elliotte Patrick Coleman sues his employer, the Potomac Electric Power Company (Pepco), for allegedly discharging him in violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. § 2601, et seq. ("FMLA"). Pepco has filed a motion to dismiss or, alternatively, for summary judgment because Mr. Coleman has already been fully reinstated and has received all back wages and benefits due to him pursuant to an arbitration award under the collective bargaining agreement that covers Mr. Coleman's employment. Pepco argues that Mr. Coleman suffers from no "actual monetary losses" occasioned by its alleged violation of FMLA and therefore cannot maintain this suit.

The Court agrees and will dismiss the suit.

Background Facts

Most of the underlying facts are not in dispute. Mr. Coleman has worked for Pepco since 1997 as a customer service representative in one of Pepco's call centers. Throughout that time, his employment has been governed by a collective bargaining agreement that provides for progressive discipline and contains a grievance/arbitration process. On February 1, 2001, Pepco took disciplinary action by placing Mr. Coleman on Decision Making Leave (DML) (a suspension from work), which is the last level of discipline prior to termination. The discipline was not related to Mr. Coleman's attendance. A grievance was filed to protest the DML.

Due to a health condition, Mr. Coleman missed work from November 27, 2001 through December 3, 2001. On November 27 and November 30, he called in after his reporting time to report his absences. Upon his return, Pepco approved his request for FMLA leave for that period. Nonetheless, on December 10, 2001, Pepco issued a Formal Coaching Notice under the attendance category for being absent from work on two occasions within a six-month period of time. Formal Coaching is not discipline, per se, but is in the nature of a warning that performance must improve to avoid discipline. On January 7, 2002, Mr. Coleman was suspended and given Notice of a Continuation of Employment Meeting, which is a procedure by which Pepco advises an employee that it intends to terminate employment and the employee has the opportunity to respond. The termination was based on alleged violations of call-in procedures on November 27 and 30 as well as repeatedly leaving his telephone in the wrong "mode" so that he was inaccessible to customers.

On January 9, 2002, Mr. Coleman's doctor advised him to refrain from work-related activities for fourteen (14) days. Pepco approved FMLA leave for the period from January 9, 2002 to January 23, 2002. The Continuation of Employment Meeting scheduled for January 10 was rescheduled at Mr. Coleman's request but only to January 11. The meeting was held in his absence and he was terminated on January 14, 2002.

The grievance over the February 2001 DML went to arbitration in March 2002. The arbitrator granted the grievance in part – he found that the DML was too severe a sanction for the misconduct and reduced the discipline to a Written Reminder. By the terms of the progressive discipline provisions, the Written Reminder then expired as stale. As a result of this award, Mr. Coleman should have had no active discipline on file at the time of his January 2002 termination and therefore he should have received a lesser discipline than termination. Accordingly, Pepco reinstated Mr. Coleman's employment and he returned to work on April 1, 2002. In addition, Pepco paid him back pay, less the amount of unemployment compensation he had received, payment for 54 hours of overtime that he might have worked, payment for healthcare costs that he had incurred while discharged, and continued seniority without any break. The discharge was converted to a DML. That DML was ultimately rescinded. As of the briefing of this matter, Mr. Coleman had no active discipline in his file.

On or about January 21, 2002, Mr. Coleman retained counsel to represent him in his FMLA claim against Pepco. He filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division ("DOL") on January 22, 2002. He tells the Court that DOL took the position that, on these facts, disciplining Mr. Coleman for violating the call-in procedures on November 27 and 30, 2001 violated FMLA. He states that DOL completed its investigation on June 6, 2002, and formally advised Pepco that it had violated FMLA. Presumably, this is why the DML concerning the late call-ins on November 27 and 30 – issued to Mr. Coleman in lieu of discharge upon his return to work – was ultimately rescinded.

Although Mr. Coleman is now proceeding pro se, he states that he accrued attorney's fees in excess of $5,000 before his reinstatement in April 2002. He filed this suit to recover those attorney's fees and to recover an additional week of back pay, additional overtime compensation, and an adjustment of the taxes withheld from his back pay. He alleges that he was terminated and out of work from January 14 through March 29, 2002 – eleven (11) weeks – but only received ten (10) weeks of back pay. He argues that his union has filed a grievance on behalf of the employees because Pepco has mismanaged the overtime list. Until that is resolved, he asserts, it is not possible for Pepco to calculate properly how much overtime he is due for the period of his discharge. Lastly, he argues that the tax rate used by Pepco to calculate his tax withholdings on the back pay was too high and that his back pay check should have been more.

Standard of Review

Pepco has filed a Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment. Both Pepco and Mr. Coleman have attached documents to their pleadings, which the Court has considered in ruling on the motion. The Court therefore treats the motion as one for summary judgment. See FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b).*fn1

Summary judgment is appropriate when the record shows that no genuine issue exists as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Summary judgment is not a "disfavored legal shortcut[;]" rather, it is a reasoned and careful way to resolve cases fairly and expeditiously. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 327 (1986). In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the court must view all facts and reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio, 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986); Tao v. Freeh, 27 F.3d 635, 638 (D.C. Cir. 1994). Any factual dispute must be ...

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