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Hall v. The Nutro Co.

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

June 28, 2018

MAURICE L. HALL, Plaintiff,
v.
THE NUTRO COMPANY, and MARS PETCARE US, INC., Defendants.

          ORDER AND OPINION GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          ORTRIE D. SMITH, SENIOR JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         Pending is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. Doc. #32. For the following reasons, Defendants' motion is granted.

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         Plaintiff Maurice Hall was employed by Defendant The Nutro Company (“Nutro”) from April 4, 2011, through May 28, 2015. Nutro was a division of Defendant Mars Petcare US, Inc. (“Mars”), until Nutro merged with Mars on January 1, 2016.[2] Nutro produces dog and cat treats in Kansas City, Missouri. Both Nutro's and Mars's policies apply to the Kansas City employees. A few of those policies are relevant to this matter. Mars's Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) policy sets forth eligibility requirements, and states an employee, upon return from FMLA leave, “must be restored to his or her original job, or to an equivalent job with equivalent pay, benefits, and other employment terms and conditions.” Doc. #33-2, at 10-16. Nutro's Incident Investigation and Reporting Policy and Nutro's Occupational Injury and Illness Policy require employees immediately report work-related injuries to management. Id. at 18, 29. Managers are responsible for filing an initial report for any work-related injury. Id. at 19, 29.

         From April 2011 through February 2012, Hall worked in the Greenies[3] section in the role of utility operator on the third shift (11:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m.). In February 2012, Hall transferred to the Pill Pockets[4] section where he worked as a packaging operator on the third shift. In June 2014, Hall moved to the first shift (7:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.) in the Pill Pockets section as a batching operator.

         On February 15, 2015, Hall sustained a hip injury playing basketball with coworkers on a league team. Hall did not file a worker's compensation claim for the injury, and did not report the injury as work-related. Hall submitted documentation related to the injury to Nutro's Regional Nurse Case Manager Jonette Penton, and was approved for FMLA leave. Hall was on FMLA leave and off work until April 27, 2015.

         At the time of Hall's basketball injury, six batching operators (including Hall) worked in the Pill Pockets section, and the operators were evenly divided among three shifts. According to Hall, the other Pill Pockets batching operators had more experience in batching and/or had longer tenure with Defendants than Hall did. Doc. #33-1, at 8. In early 2015 but no later than February 23, 2015, [5] management discussed shift changes in the Pill Pockets section for production reasons. Employees in the Pill Pockets section were invited to an off-site meeting in late March 2015 to discuss shift changes.[6] Hall was not invited to the meeting, and did not learn about the meeting until after it was held.

         Effective April 22, 2015, the Pill Pockets section switched from three 8-hour shifts over five days to two 12-hour shifts (6:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., and 6:00 p.m. to 6:30 a.m.) over four days. The shift changes were temporary, and based on production schedule.[7] Hall was on FMLA leave when the shifts changed, but was informed he would be working from 6:00 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. when he returned. Hall told his manager, Jim Garlich, he could not be at work at 6:00 p.m. due to his childcare situation. Garlich told Hall he could report to work at 10:00 p.m., allowing Hall to find childcare. Garlich informed Hall that he could use vacation time for the hours missed, and also said they would “work something out.”

         Hall returned to work on April 27, 2015. Although his shift changed, Hall was restored to the same job with the same duties, and his pay and benefits remained unchanged. On his first day back, Hall claims he injured his hip. According to Hall, he informed his supervisor, C.J. Bauer, that he “lifted up on the hopper and… stepped down and…injured [his] hip.” Doc. #33-1, at 5, 13-14. Bauer, according to Hall, told Hall to go home, and said she “would take care of the process, the paperwork…and would let Jim Garlich know.” Id. According to Bauer, she informed Hall “he could leave work early because he was hurt.” Doc. #33-3, at 2. Hall left his shift around 3:00 a.m. Bauer did not send Hall to the hospital. According to Hall, he informed Regional Nurse Case Manager Penton about the work injury, but Penton did not tell him to do anything in response. Doc. #33-1, at 14. Penton, on the other hand, maintains Hall called her on April 28, 2015, saying he was in pain, but did not mention a work injury. Doc. #33-2, at 45. Hall returned to work on May 4, 2015, but was restricted to light duty. Upon his return, no one asked Hall about the injury. Hall never filed a worker's compensation claim for the alleged injury, and did not receive worker's compensation benefits. Hall's time off from work was later approved for FMLA leave.

         As of May 4, 2015, Hall had 80 hours of vacation time. On May 5, May 6, and May 7, 2015, Hall logged vacation time in the timekeeping system for hours missed due to childcare issues. Based upon his discussion(s) with Garlich, Hall thought he was allowed to use his 80 hours of vacation time to arrive at work late. According to Hall, approximately two weeks after returning to work, Garlich informed Hall that his vacation was running low, and they would start using emergency vacation. Doc. #33-1, at 10, 11. After this conversation, Hall understood he would begin using emergency vacation. Id., at 11. But, sometime between May 7 and May 21, 2015, Garlich changed Hall's vacation time entries on May 4, May 5, May 6, and May 7 to emergency vacation time. Doc. #33-1, at 13, 32-33.

         On May 21, 2015, Hall was given a document entitled “final written warning, ” which listed six emergency occurrences and the accumulation of nine attendance points. Hall was informed “[a]ny additional attendance violation may result in your termination….” Doc. #33- 1, at 25.[8] Attached to the warning were (1) a memorandum from Garlich to Hall dated May 20, 2015, (2) a verbal warning to Hall dated May 20, 2015, and (3) a written warning to Hall dated May 20, 2015. According to Hall, he did not receive these three documents until he was discharged. Doc. #33-1, at 20. On May 28, 2015, Hall's employment was terminated because, according to Defendants, Hall accumulated 9.75 attendance points.

         On April 28, 2017, Hall filed this lawsuit alleging FMLA interference and retaliation (Count I), retaliation in violation of section 287.780 of the Missouri Revised Statutes (Count II), and infliction of emotional distress (Count III). Doc. #1. The Court previously dismissed Hall's infliction of emotional distress claim. Doc. #16. In March 2018, Defendants moved for summary judgment on Hall's remaining claims. Doc. #32. In response to Defendants' motion, Hall conceded he was not bringing an FMLA retaliation claim. Doc. #38, at 36. The Court must now decide whether Defendants are entitled to summary judgment on Hall's FMLA interference claim and/or worker's compensation retaliation claim.

         II. STANDARD

         A moving party is entitled to summary judgment on a claim only if there is a showing that “there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Williams v. City of St. Louis, 783 F.2d 114, 115 (8th Cir. 1986). “[W]hile the materiality determination rests on the substantive law, it is the substantive law's identification of which facts are critical and which facts are irrelevant that governs.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Thus, “[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Wierman v. Casey's Gen. Stores, 638 F.3d 984, 993 (8th Cir. 2011) (quotation omitted). The Court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, giving that party the benefit of all inferences that may be reasonably drawn from the evidence. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp.,475 U.S. 574, 588-89 (1986); Tyler v. Harper, 744 F.2d 653, 655 ...


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