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Cobbs v. Bluemercury

October 27, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: James S. Gwin, United States District Judge


[Resolving Doc. No. 11]

Plaintiff Adele Cobbs filed suit under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and District of Columbia Family and Medical Leave Act (DCFMLA) alleging that her former employer Defendant Bluemercury, Inc. retaliated against her and interfered with her rights under the Acts. Defendants Bluemercury, Inc. and its Chief Executive Officer Marla Beck and Chief Operating Officer Barry Beck (collectively "Bluemercury") move for summary judgment on all claims. [Doc. 11.] Plaintiff Cobbs partially opposes the motion. [Doc. 14.] Defendants have replied. [Doc. 16.]

For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS Defendants' motion for summary judgment on all Plaintiff's claims.

I. Background

From April 2007 until her termination in July 2008, Plaintiff Cobbs worked at Defendant Bluemercury, a large cosmetics retail chain with stores in several states. During her fifteen-month employ, Cobbs was injured in two non-work-related car accidents; both required her to miss significant work. Cobbs says Bluemercury interfered with her rights and terminated her in retaliation for her taking protected leave. Responding, Bluemercury says it gave Cobbs all the leave she needed and terminated her as part of a company-wide reduction in force.

Defendant Bluemercury employed Plaintiff Cobbs as an accounts-payable coordinator at its District of Columbia headquarters. Cobbs's job involved posting invoices in Bluemercury's accounting software, reconciling checks, and communicating with vendors. [Adele Cobbs Dep. 9:7-22, Apr. 8, 2009.] When Cobbs started in April 2007, Bluemercury was expanding at a rapid clip and Cobbs worked long hours-often 9:00 am to 7:30 pm. [Cobbs Dep. 12:17-20.] At its peak, Bluemercury employed three accounts payable coordinators-Adele Cobbs, Victoria Korsch, and Michael Shafa-and an accounts payable manager-Ann Washington. [Doc. 14 at 5.] Bluemercury's controller, Bernie Locraft, oversaw the entire accounts payable department. [Doc. 14 at 5.]

From the get-go, Cobbs suffered serious non-work-related illnesses and injuries. In June 2007, six weeks after she started with Bluemercury, Cobbs missed two days to have a large abscess drained and removed. [Cobbs Dep. 26:11-16.] Later that month, Cobbs injured her neck and back in a car accident and missed three work days. [Doc. 14 at 2; Cobbs Dep. 28:17-24.] And in July, August, and September 2007, Cobbs missed several work days to treat "internal medicine" and cold/flu issues. [Cobbs Dep. 29:2 - 31:14, 32:18-25.]

At the time of these ailments, Cobbs had not worked the requisite one year to qualify for FMLA and DCFMLA statutory leave. Nonetheless, Bluemercury voluntarily granted Cobbs's requests for time off and accommodated her in several ways. [Cobbs Dep. 22:6-11.] For example, Cobbs had not yet accrued sick-leave time, but Bluemercury allowed her to take time off using a combination of paid-vacation and unpaid leave, at her choosing. [Cobbs Dep. 30:1-10, 34:1-13.] Moreover, instead of docking her pay for missed hours, Bluemercury adjusted Cobbs's starting time to accommodate her car-accident-related physical therapy three to five days per week. [Cobbs Dep. 29:2 - 32:22; 37:7-13; 39:6-24.] Bluemercury voluntarily accommodated Cobbs for ten months until her April 2008 one-year anniversary when she qualified for statutory leave. Content with her schedule and Bluemercury's accommodations, Cobbs continued to take voluntary leave after her anniversary and did not formally request FMLA or DCFMLA leave. [Cobbs Dep. 40:7-12.]

In May 2008, while still attending physical therapy related to the first accident, Cobbs hurt her neck and arm in a second car accident. [Cobbs Dep. 38:12-14.] Cobbs says she approached her second-level supervisor Bernie Locraft and asked for an additional four or five days off but Locraft said no:

[Cobbs]: [W]hen the second accident occurred, I told him how much time my doctor recommended me to remain out of the office, and he said that was not acceptable, that I would have to come in. And so what I did is I came in. I had the doctor adjust the dates that he initially had me out of the office so that I could work, so that I could be there....

Q: And so the doctor said you were medically able to go back to work?

[Cobbs]: He said you can go, but you're going to have to wear this brace and this arm is going to still have to stay in the sling, and you're just going to have to limit what you can do.

Q: Okay. And the company accepted you back under those conditions?

[Cobbs]: Yes.

[Cobbs Dep. 89:7-90:2.] Responding, Bluemercury says Cobbs did not need these days off because it allowed her to work in a neck brace and arm sling. [Doc. 11-1 at 7.] Bluemercury did, however, continue to grant Cobbs intermittent leave so she could attend physical therapy. [Doc. 14 at 3.]

After her second car accident, Bluemercury says Cobbs's unplanned absences became more frequent. In turn, it asked her to submit a disability certificate and a medical treatment plan. [Cobbs Dep. 49:19 - 51:21; Ann Washington Dep. 44:9-19, Apr. 29, 2009.] Generally, Bluemercury and Cobbs agreed that Cobbs would attend physical therapy in the morning and arrive to work between 12:00 and 1:00 pm and stay until 9:00 or 10:00 pm. [Cobbs Dep. 54:1-5; 139:2-3.]

Cobbs failed to arrive by 1:00 pm some days. As a result, Cobbs's supervisor Ann Washington reprimanded her for tardiness:

(1) June 6, 2008 - Tardiness: Adele, you have excess daily tardiness. The last medical appointment submitted was for June 3, 2008. Your reporting Manager has no schedule of medical appointments nor an expected time of arrival. Adele you are late daily without ...

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