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Garrison v. Dolgencorp, LLC

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division

December 6, 2017




         This action arises out of Plaintiff Rochelle Garrison's (“Garrison”) employment with Defendant Dolgencorp, LLC (“Dolgencorp”). Garrison claims she was forced to resign her position because she was not offered leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”). Garrison sued Dolgencorp and her supervisor, Defendant Sandra Bell (“Bell”), for violations of the FMLA, the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), and the Missouri Human Rights Act (“MHRA”).

         Now before the Court is Defendants' motion for summary judgment (Doc. 74) and Defendants' motion to strike (Doc. 87). For the reasons set forth below, the Court GRANTS both motions.

         Undisputed Material Facts[1]

         On April 22, 2013, Garrison began working at a Dollar General store as a full-time lead sales associate, reporting to the store manager, Bell. Her position was one of four positions that had keys to the store-known as key-holders. The other key-holders were Bell, the assistant manager, and a part-time lead sales associate. Because of the unique responsibilities of key-holders, their vacations had to be coordinated so that at least one key-holder was available to work each day. As it relates to this motion, the assistant manager was scheduled for vacation May 10 through May 16, 2014, and Bell was scheduled for vacation May 15 through May 19, 2014.

         When Garrison was hired, she was issued an employee handbook. She also had access to the handbook through an online system. The handbook reviews the types of leave available and in three separate sections directs employees interested in leave to contact Matrix Absence Management (“Matrix”), Dolgencorp's third-party leave administrator. In one section, the handbook states, in boldface type: “To request FMLA Leave, Company Medical Leave, or any other leave of absence, you should notify your supervisor and immediately contact Matrix . . . .” (Doc. 75-3 at 11). In a second section: “After notifying his or her manager of the need for leave, the employee should immediate initiate a leave request with Matrix . . . .” (Id. at 27). In a third section, it repeats that in order to report the need for leave and to initiate the approval process, the employee must contact Matrix after notifying the employee's manager.

         Bell stated Garrison told her she suffered from anxiety, depression, and headaches, and that she had seen a doctor for those problems.

         Garrison visited her doctor's office several times from April to June 2014 for different medical issues. On April 8, 2014, Garrison was treated for sinus congestion, sore throat, headaches, and a cough. At that visit, she stated she gets headaches, and while she usually can continue working when they occur at work, occasionally, they are so severe that they require her to lie down. She was given two prescriptions to address the headaches, one for tension headaches, and one for migraine headaches. She was instructed to follow-up in one month if her symptoms did not improve, otherwise in three months.

         On May 1, 2014, Garrison returned to her doctor's office for a lump she found in her breast, headaches, and depression. As for the headaches, she stated the medication works but that it makes her tired; as for the depression, she stated she was doing well but having an increase in anger and sad days. She was asked to monitor the lump in her breast.

         After that visit, Garrison and Bell exchanged text messages. Garrison asked: “How can I request a leave of absence[?]” (Doc. 81-6 at 2). Bell responded that she was not sure, that she would talk to the district manager, and asked when Garrison wanted to take the leave. Garrison responded:

“When ever u guy's [sic] get back from your vacation so it's not putting u in a bind[.] I hate to even do this but it's this way and try to figure out what all is wrong with me or quit[, ] and I really don't want that[.] I went to the dr today again and this is what me[, ] bo [Garrison's husband, ] and dr decided was the best and easiest way[.]”

(Id.) Bell repeated that she would talk to the district manager and agreed that it would be better if Garrison could wait to take leave until after Bell and the assistant manager were back from their scheduled vacations.

         Garrison worked on May 3, 2014, and with Bell's approval, left early that day. Garrison does not recall why she left early, but Bell states it was a non-medical reason.

         Garrison worked her scheduled shift on May 5, 2014, and that evening sent Bell two text messages. In the first, Garrison asked Bell if she had spoken with the district manager about a leave of absence, and in the second asked if Bell was telling people that Garrison intended to quit. Bell did not respond to these text messages. On May 6, Garrison again asked Bell by text message if Bell had spoken with the district manager. Bell responded: “Yea and there is no LOA.” (Id. at 6). Garrison responded: “Then what about fmla[?] Ok do u not want me their[sic] anymore[?]” (Id. at 4). Bell stated: “Read the employee handbook[.] I want [you] there if you can do the job and not be sick all the time[.]” (Id.) Garrison replied that she might have to undergo brain scans and a mammogram because she found a lump in her breast and then stated, “I hardly ever call in sick.” (Id.) Bell then asked Garrison to meet her at the store so they could discuss the options for leave.

         Earlier that day, Bell hired a new part-time lead sales associate. Bell planned to have the new associate replace the existing part-time lead sales associate, but after Garrison resigned he was ultimately assigned her shift.

         On May 7, 2014, Garrison and Bell met at the store to discuss the leave options. Garrison told Bell she was seeking leave because of new anxiety and depression medication. Bell and Garrison reviewed the leave options in the employee handbook. Bell told Garrison she did not believe Garrison qualified for any of the leave options, but that Garrison should call human resources[2] to be sure. Bell told Garrison that it was important that she work her scheduled shifts because she was one of the key-holders and that she could not remain a key-holder if she could not work her assigned schedule. Garrison does not recall much of this conversation, but states Bell told her she would be demoted when Bell returned from her vacation and that Bell had already hired Garrison's replacement. She does not remember reviewing the handbook or that Bell told her to call human resources.[3]

         On May 12, 2017, Garrison went to the emergency room for gastritis and anxiety and was released after an hour. The next day, Garrison visited her doctor's office following up from her emergency room visit and was told to return in a month. After her doctor's appointment, she sent Bell a text message requesting vacation for the remainder of the week. Bell denied the request because the assistant manager was on vacation and Bell was scheduled for vacation as well. In response, Garrison sent Bell a text message stating: “I am going to have to quit[.] I can't do this anymore[.] My mind is going a hundred different ways[.] [P]lease don't be mad but I have to get better and I'm just getting worse again[.] I'm sorry.” (Id. at 7). Garrison resigned the next day.

         It is unclear whether Garrison was scheduled to work May 12 and 13, but for purposes of this motion, the Court assumes she was scheduled to work and that she took vacation those days.[4]

         On June 3, 2014, Garrison followed-up with her doctor regarding daily headaches. She stated none of the medication was working and that she quit her job because of the headaches. She also complained of “a sense of severe anxiety.” On June 16, 2014, she returned to her doctor's office and was diagnosed with headaches, reflux, and blurred vision.

         Garrison never contacted Matrix to initiate a leave request. Also, she stated she did not read the employee manual. After her resignation, she filed a complaint with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights and received a right to sue letter.

         Garrison filed a three-count lawsuit in the Circuit Court of Lafayette County, Missouri alleging: (1) disability discrimination and retaliation in violation of the MHRA against both Defendants; (2) disability discrimination and retaliation in violation of the ADA against Dolgencorp; and (3) “violation of FMLA against both Defendants” (Doc. 1-2). Defendants timely removed this action to this Court (Doc. 1).

         Summary Judgment Standard

         A moving party is entitled to summary judgment “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 party who moves for summary judgment bears the burden of showing there is no genuine issue of material fact. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256 (1986). Summary judgment is also appropriate when the plaintiff fails to establish any element of her prima facie case. Nesser v. Trans World Airlines, Inc., 160 F.3d 442, 445 (8th Cir. 1998). A court must view the facts in light most favorable to the nonmoving party and allow the nonmoving party to benefit from all reasonable inferences to be drawn from the evidence. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 588-89 (1986).


         I. Defendants' motion to ...

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