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GAGHAN v. GUEST SERVICES

October 26, 2005.

MICHAEL GAGHAN, Plaintiff,
v.
GUEST SERVICES, INC., Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: HENRY KENNEDY JR., District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff, Michael Gaghan ("Gaghan"), brings this action against defendant, Guest Services, Inc. ("Guest Services"), under the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 2601 et seq., alleging that Guest Services denied Gaghan's "attempts to exercise his legal rights" under the FMLA, Compl. ¶ 22, and retaliated against him for exercising those rights. Presently before the court is the motion of Guest Services for summary judgment [#11]. Upon consideration of the motion, the opposition thereto, and the summary judgment record, the court concludes that the motion should be granted in part and denied in part.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

  Guest Services is a hospitality company that supplies a variety of food services for various types of agencies, including law firms, nursing homes, business associations, recreational venues, and governmental agencies. Beginning in May 1985, Guest Services employed Gaghan as an executive chef. In 1989, Gaghan became the executive chef director at the Washington, D.C. office of the law firm of Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP ("Morgan Lewis"), one of Guest Services' clients. Throughout the course of Gaghan's employment, Guest Services and Morgan Lewis were parties to a written contract under which Morgan Lewis reserved the right to replace personnel, including the executive chef director, at any time.

  As an executive chef director, Gaghan oversaw all culinary responsibilities and was directly involved with all administrative duties, including staff supervision, client communications, purchasing, accounts payable and receivable, event planning, and merchandising. Gaghan was considered a "good employee" by his supervisor, Kathy Smith, Smith Dep. 23:7, Feb. 11, 2004, and received bonuses most years. However, Gaghan had an "awful" working relationship with Morgan Lewis's Director of Administration, Lizabeth Boulware, during Boulware's time at Morgan Lewis.*fn1 Pl.'s Dep. 29:9, Feb. 6, 2004.

  On March 1, 2000, Gaghan sustained nerve damage due to a serious non-work-related automobile accident and, throughout the rest of 2000, he missed work intermittently because of his injuries. In January 2001, Gaghan's doctors advised him that he needed surgery. As a result, Gaghan requested medical leave to undertake this treatment. Gaghan's leave of absence began on January 25, 2001, and his spinal fusion surgery took place four days later.

  By letter, dated March 12, 2001, Guest Services confirmed to Gaghan that his request for medical leave was approved. The letter indicated that Gaghan's FMLA leave was to run from January 26, 2001 until April 19, 2001 and that his Emergency Medical Leave*fn2 was to run from March 6, 2001 until April 20, 2001. This letter also explained that Guest Services' policy was that FMLA leave and paid leave would run concurrently.*fn3 As a result of his accrued paid leave and Emergency Medical Leave, Gaghan continued to earn his salary throughout the length of his medical leave.

  During Gaghan's leave, Michael Hamby, an assistant chef at Morgan Lewis, performed all of Gaghan's duties and responsibilities and, at the same time, continued to perform his own responsibilities. While Gaghan was on leave, Hamby improved the professional relationship between Guest Services and Boulware. Further, during Gaghan's absence, the Director of Facilities at Morgan Lewis, Raymond Croxton, received numerous compliments from attorneys and staff concerning the quality of the food and the service under Hamby's leadership.

  Soon after his surgery, Gaghan requested that his home computer be configured so that he could work from home while on medical leave. Guest Services complied with this request. Gaghan also contacted Hamby, Smith, and Holly Burke, Guest Services' Human Resources Director, to request that work be sent for him to complete at home. Because, according to Guest Services, Hamby was able to complete his work "in a timely manner," Smith Dep. 31:9-11, Feb. 11, 2004, and because "there was not that much to do," Hamby Dep. 49:9-14, Feb. 23. 2004, Gaghan was never given any work to complete at home.

  Managers at Guest Services are eligible for a bonus of up to fifteen percent of their salary. Bonus eligibility is determined by examining both financial performance and the employee's annual evaluation. In March 2001, while Gaghan was on medical leave, Guest Services determined that Gaghan was not eligible for a bonus for the prior year, allegedly because of poor financial performance.

  Gaghan's twelve weeks of FMLA leave was to expire on April 19, 2001. By that date, Gaghan had yet to fully recover and was unable to perform some of the essential function of his position. It was not until May 17, 2001, that Gaghan's doctors informed him that he could return to work on May 29, 2001 — almost six weeks after his FMLA leave had expired. The medical release limited Gaghan's time at work to eight hours per day and restricted him from lifting, carrying, pushing, and pulling anything greater than fifty pounds. The release also forbade Gaghan from repetitive overhead work.

  The same day that Gaghan obtained his release, Morgan Lewis held a management committee meeting. At this meeting, Boulware suggested that Hamby replace Gaghan and continue as the executive chef director.*fn4 No one from Guest Services attended this meeting, no one from Guest Services advocated that Gaghan be replaced, and no one from Guest Services informed Morgan Lewis about Gaghan's medical status. The day after the meeting, a representative from Morgan Lewis told Guest Services of their decision to replace Gaghan. Written confirmation of Gaghan's termination was given on May 21, 2001. Prior to this contact, Guest Services was under the impression that Gaghan would return to Morgan Lewis to continue his position as executive chef director. On Monday, May 21, 2001, representatives from Guest Services met with Gaghan and informed him of Morgan Lewis's decision.

  This lawsuit followed. Gaghan alleges that Guest Services "unlawfully and discriminatorily denied [Gaghan's] attempts to exercise his legal rights [under the FMLA]," Compl. ¶ 22, and "unlawfully and discriminatorily terminated his employment and otherwise discriminated against him . . . because of his use of family leave for serious ...


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