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Holloway v. District of Columbia Government

United States District Court, District Circuit

December 30, 2013

MILTON HOLLOWAY, Plaintiff,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA GOVERNMENT, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

RICHARD W. ROBERTS, District Judge.

Plaintiff Milton Holloway brings this action against his former employer, the District of Columbia, alleging violations of his rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), and his Fifth Amendment right to due process, arising out of the termination of his employment as a sanitation worker. The District of Columbia has moved for summary judgment. Because the District has shown that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on Holloway's due process claim, but Holloway has shown that there is a genuine issue of material fact precluding judgment for the defendant on part of his FMLA claim, the motion for summary judgment will be granted in part and denied in part.

BACKGROUND

From 1997 through September 2006, Holloway was employed by D.C.'s Department of Solid Waste Collection ("Department") as a sanitation worker. Am. Compl. ¶ 5. Between June 1999 and October 2005, Holloway was reprimanded on four separate occasions for failing to maintain regular attendance at work. Def.'s Mem. in Supp. of Mot. for Summ. J. ("Def.'s Mem.") at 3-4; id., Ex. 3. In January 2006, the Department suspended Holloway without pay from February 21, 2006 through March 1, 2006, for "failure to maintain regular attendance." Def.'s Mem. at 4; id., Ex. 5.

On March 13, 2006, Holloway was notified of a proposal to terminate his employment for being absent without leave for ten consecutive days, and for accruing 352 hours of unauthorized absence between May 2005 and February 2006. Am. Compl. ¶ 7; Def.'s Mem. at 4; id., Ex. 7 at 1. Holloway and Angela Pringle, his Union representative, sought rescission of the proposed letter of removal. A hearing officer, Lloyd Carter, held a hearing in May 2006 to decide Holloway's request to rescind the letter of removal. Am. Compl. ¶ 7; Def.'s Mem., Ex. 9. In June 2006, Carter issued a report and recommendation denying the request to rescind the letter of termination because the Department showed by a preponderance of the evidence that Holloway was absent on the charged dates, but also recommending that the Department suspend Holloway without pay for 45 days instead of terminating his employment because Holloway was enrolled in an employee assistance program and was being monitored by the Union. Def.'s Mem. at 5; id., Ex. 9. Shortly thereafter, in July 2006, Holloway entered the Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Center substance abuse program. The District alleges that Holloway did not inform his supervisor about how long he would be in the program, nor did he formally request leave to attend the program. However, Holloway argues that in March 2006, he and Pringle asked Holloway's supervisor, Cassandra Boyd, to grant him leave to enter a substance abuse treatment program, but Boyd failed to respond. Holloway further states that after he entered the Salvation Army program, he notified his union representative, who informed Holloway's supervisor, that he had enrolled in a long term substance abuse program and that Holloway would need to use FMLA leave. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 6, 9; Pl.'s Opp'n at 5; id., Ex. A ("Holloway Decl.") at ¶¶ 6-7, Ex. B ("Pringle Decl.") at ¶¶ 4, 6; see also Def.'s Mem., Ex. 6 ("Holloway Dep.") at 26:5-22, 27: 1-17.

On August 3, 2006, a deciding official rejected Carter's recommendation without explanation, and Holloway's employment was terminated on August 11, 2006. Am. Compl. ¶ 8; Def.'s Mem., Ex. 11. Holloway did not learn about the termination of his employment until May 2007, when he left the Salvation Army's Adult Rehabilitation Center. Am. Compl. ¶ 9; Def's Mem. at 6. Holloway filed his amended complaint in this matter against the District of Columbia containing two counts: violating Holloway's rights under the FMLA, 29 U.S.C. 2601 et. seq., by preventing him from taking 12 weeks of leave and by retaliating against him for requesting leave (Count I); and violating Holloway's Fifth Amendment right to due process by terminating his employment, and thus infringing his constitutionally protected interest, without providing Holloway notice or an opportunity to challenge the termination (Count II). Am. Compl. ¶¶ 10-19.

The District of Columbia moves for summary judgment on both counts, arguing that Holloway has not shown that the District interfered with his FMLA rights or retaliated against him for exercising FMLA rights, and that it did not violate Holloway's right to due process because Holloway was given notice and a pre-termination opportunity to challenge his dismissal. Def.'s Mem. at 12-22. Holloway opposes.

DISCUSSION

"Summary judgment may be appropriately granted when the moving party demonstrates that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.'" Modis v. Infotran , 893 F.Supp.2d 237, 240 (D.D.C. 2012) (quoting Pueschel v. Nat'l Air Traffic Controllers Ass'n , 772 F.Supp.2d 181, 183 (D.D.C. 2011) (internal quotation omitted)). "In considering a motion for summary judgment, [a court is to draw] all justifiable inferences' from the evidence... in favor of the nonmovant.'" Modis , 893 F.Supp.2d at 240 (quoting Pueschel , 772 F.Supp.2d at 183 (quoting Cruz-Packer v. Dist. of Columbia , 539 F.Supp.2d 181, 189 (D.D.C. 2008) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby , 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986)))); Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp. , 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986)). However, a non-moving party cannot defeat summary judgment by "simply show[ing] that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.'" Peterson v. Archstone, 925 F.Supp.2d 78, 84 (D.D.C. 2013) (quoting Matsushita , 475 U.S. at 586). The important question is "whether there is a need for a trial - whether, in other words, there are any genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party.'" Morris v. Jackson, Civil Action No. 07-491 (RWR), 2013 WL 5943519, at * 3 (D.D.C. October 30, 2013) (quoting Anderson , 477 U.S. at 250). "A genuine issue is present in a case where the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party, ' a situation separate and distinct from a case where the evidence is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.'" Morris, 2013 WL 5943519, at * 3 (quoting Anderson , 477 U.S. at 248, 252).

I. FMLA

The FMLA "provides that an eligible employee' may be entitled to twelve weeks of unpaid leave during any twelve-month period if a serious health condition' prevents him from performing his job functions." Hopkins v. Grant Thornton Int'l , 851 F.Supp.2d 146, 151-152 (D.D.C. 2012) (quoting 29 U.S.C. §§ 2612(a)(1)(D)). An eligible employee (1) has been employed by the employer from whom leave is requested for at least twelve months, and (2) has worked a minimum of 1250 hours in the previous twelve-month period.[1] See 29 U.S.C. §§ 2611(2)(A). Serious health conditions that justify FMLA leave include an illness, injury, impairment, or physical or mental condition that involves either inpatient care, 29 C.F.R. §§ 825.114(a)(1), or continuing treatment under the supervision of a health care provider where the employee is incapacitated for over three consecutive days. 29 C.F.R. §§ 825.114(a)(2)(i). When "these prerequisites are met, substance abuse qualifies as a serious health condition." Roseboro v. Billington , 606 F.Supp.2d 104, 106 (D.D.C. 2009) (citing 29 C.F.R. §§ 825.114(d)).

An employer may be held liable for violating the FMLA under two distinct claims: (1) interference, if the employer restrained, denied, or interfered with the employee's FMLA rights, and (2) retaliation, if the employer took adverse action against the employee because the employee took leave or otherwise engaged in activity protected by the Act. Deloatch v. Harris Teeter , 797 F.Supp.2d 48, 64 (D.D.C. 2011); see also Price v. Washington Hosp. Ctr. , 321 F.Supp.2d 38, 45-46 (D.D.C. 2004).

A. Interference

The elements of a claim of interference under the FMLA are: (1) the "plaintiff is an [e]ligible employee'; (2) the defendant is an [e]mployer'; (3) the plaintiff was entitled to take leave; (4) the plaintiff provided the defendant notice of his or her intention to take leave;... (5) the defendant interfered with the plaintiff's right to take leave, " and (6) the interference prejudiced the plaintiff. Haile-Iyanu v. Cent. Parking Sys. of Va., Inc., Civil Action No. 06-2171 (EGS), 2007 WL 1954325, at *6 (D.D.C. July 5, 2007) (citing Cavin v. Honda ...


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