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Tami Davis v. Vitamin World

November 21, 2011

TAMI DAVIS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
VITAMIN WORLD, INC.; CAROL YATES; AND DOES 1-100, INCLUSIVE, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Otis D. Wright, II United States District Judge

Order GRANTING Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [14]

[Filed 10/24/11]

I. INTRODUCTION

Pending before the Court is Defendant, Vitamin World, Inc.'s ("Defendant," "Vitamin World," or the "Company"), Motion for Summary Judgment or, in the Alterative for Partial Summary Judgment.*fn1 (Dkt. No. 14.) Plaintiff, Tami Davis ("Plaintiff"), filed an Opposition on November 1, 2011, (Dkt. No. 17), to which Defendant filed a Reply on November 7, 2011, (Dkt. No. 19). After careful consideration of the parties' presentations at oral argument along with the briefing and evidence submitted in support of and in opposition to the instant Motion, for the reasons discussed below, Defendant's Motion is GRANTED.

II. UNDISPUTED FACTS

After reviewing the parties' submissions, the Court finds the following facts to be undisputed. Vitamin World sells vitamins and nutritional supplements in retail stores throughout the United States. (SUF No. 1.)*fn2 Vitamin World's Employee Handbook contains a policy that provides employees with the right to take up to twelve weeks of leave pursuant to the Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), during which employees receive continued health benefits and are guaranteed reinstatement ("FMLA Leave"). (SUF No. 2.) Additionally, Vitamin World's Employee Handbook contains a Disability Leave policy that provides employees with the right to take up to fourteen weeks of additional leave after their FMLA Leave has been exhausted ("Extended Disability Leave"). (SUF No. 3.) While an employee is out on Extended Disability Leave, the Company continues to provide employees with health benefits. (Id.) Unlike FMLA Leave, however, Vitamin World's Extended Disability Leave policy expressly states that "the Company may not be able to protect an Associate's position when they are out on [Extended] [D]isability [L]eave," (i.e., the Company cannot guarantee reinstatement to an employee on an Extended Disability Leave). (SUF No. 4; Davis Depo., Exh. 18 at

42.) Thus, in total, an employee may take up to twenty-six weeks of leave, comprised of twelve weeks of FMLA Leave and an additional fourteen weeks of Extended Disability Leave. (SUF Nos. 2, 3.)

Plaintiff maintained two separate periods of employment with Vitamin World. (SUF No. 5.) Initially, Plaintiff was hired as a Sales Associate on March 16, 2001 in Vitamin World's Lake Elsinore store. She was subsequently promoted to Assistant Manager and worked in that capacity in both the Redondo Beach and Torrance stores. (SUF No. 6.) During her first period of employment, Plaintiff took a ten-week leave of absence from March 23, 2003 to June 2, 2003 as a result of emergency abdominal surgery. (SUF No. 7.) Vitamin World approved the leave and categorized it as FMLA Leave. (SUF No. 8.) Between August 14, 2003 and October 2003, Plaintiff took a second leave of absence for seven weeks due to an emergency hysterectomy. (SUF No.

9.) Vitamin World approved the leave, and categorized the first two weeks as FMLA Leave, and the remaining five weeks as Extended Disability Leave. (SUF No. 10.) While on Extended Disability Leave, Vitamin World sent Plaintiff a letter dated August 29, 2003, in which Vitamin World indicated, consistent with its company policy, that it could not guarantee Plaintiff reinstatement when she returned from Extended Disability Leave. (SUF No. 11.) Subsequently, Plaintiff's physician wrote a letter authorizing Plaintiff to return to work effective October 6, 2003. (SUF No. 12.) At that time, the most recent position Plaintiff held, Assistant Manager of the Torrance store, had not yet been filled. (SUF No. 13.) Consequently, on October 5, 2003, Vitamin World reinstated Plaintiff to her position as Assistant Manager. (Id.) Thereafter, on July 6, 2004, Plaintiff resigned because she was having "personal issues" and was "moving." (SUF No. 14.

Plaintiff's second period of employment with Vitamin World began on September 8, 2005, when she was hired as Store Manager at Vitamin World's Escondido store. (SUF No. 15.) During this term of employment, Plaintiff managed other stores within her district, including those in Lake Elsinore, Cabazon, and Temecula. (SUF No. 16.) Plaintiff's last position with Vitamin World was Store Manager of the Temecula store. (SAMF No. 1.) In this position, Plaintiff reported directly to Carol Yates, the District Manager, who evaluated Plaintiff's performance and issued positive evaluations regarding Plaintiff's performance in both 2006 and 2007. (SUF Nos. 17, 18.) Between January 16, 2008 and April 14, 2008, Plaintiff took a twelve-week leave of absence due to kidney problems, which was approved by Vitamin World and categorized as FMLA Leave. (SUF No. 19; SAMF No. 2.) Subsequently, between May 29, 2008 and June 9, 2008, Plaintiff took a two-week leave of absence due to further kidney problems, which was approved by Vitamin World and categorized as Extended Disability Leave. (SUF Nos. 20, 21.) Plaintiff returned to work on June 10, 2008. (SUF Nos. 20, 49.) On June 25, 2008, after Plaintiff left work for the day, Vitamin World received a doctor's note stating that Plaintiff would need additional leave from June 25, 2008 through July 10, 2008. (SUF No. 23.) Vitamin World approved this leave of absence as Extended Disability Leave. (SUF No. 24.) Plaintiff did not return to work at the conclusion of this leave of absence. Indeed, Plaintiff's last day of work with Vitamin World was June 25, 2008. (SUF No. 22.) Defendant alleges, and Plaintiff does not dispute, that Plaintiff did not contact Vitamin World again until October 7, 2008, when Vitamin World received another doctor's note, indicating that Plaintiff would need a leave of absence until December 1, 2008. (SUF No. 27.) Thereafter, on December 12, 2008, Vitamin World received another doctor's note, indicating that Plaintiff would not return to work until December 17, 2008. (SUF No. 29.)

On December 12, 2008, Plaintiff contacted J.R. Whitaker ("Whitaker"), the District Manager who had replaced Carol Yates in October 2008. (SUF No. 30.) While the parties dispute whether Whitaker stated that Vitamin World did not have any vacancies for Store Manager, Assistant Store Manager, or Sales Associate positions, it is undisputed that Whitaker told Plaintiff there was "nowhere to place" her. (SUF No. 30; SAMF No.

5.) Further, while Plaintiff claims that Vitamin World was advertising her former position on www.monster.com, during her conversation with Whitaker, she was informed that the position had already been filled. (SUF No. 33, 34.) Indeed, prior to receiving the October 7, 2008 correspondence, on August 5, 2008, Vitamin World promoted a Sales Associate, Matthew Karoly, to Plaintiff's former position as Store Manager at the Temecula store. (SUF No. 25.)

Thereafter, on December 17, 2008, Plaintiff was informed by Lawrence Blum ("Blum"), the Director of Human Resources, that Vitamin World did not have any available positions. (SUF No. 35.) Plaintiff's employment with Vitamin World was then terminated, yet she remained eligible for re-hire. (Id.) In the context of her deposition, Plaintiff admitted that neither Whitaker nor Blum said anything leading her to believe they were "discriminating" against her. (SUF No. 37.) While Plaintiff contends that Yates demonstrated a discriminatory motive, it is undisputed that Yates did not directly participate in the decision to terminate Plaintiff's employment because at the time Plaintiff's employment was terminated, Yates was no longer employed by Vitamin World. (SUF No. 37; SAMF No. 4.) Furthermore, Plaintiff admits that she does not know if Yates did anything to affect her job. (SUF No. 41, 42.)

Although Plaintiff was eligible for re-hire and states that she saw advertisements for positions at Vitamin World, there is no evidence, other than Plaintiff's deposition testimony, that Plaintiff applied for any such position. (SUF Nos. 44, 81; SAMF Nos. 10, 11, 13-16.) Indeed, Plaintiff concedes that she "never followed up in writing[.]" (SUF. No. 81.) Plaintiff subsequently held a position selling promotions at the Home Depot, which she retained for only one day because the "job was in Corona, far from Plaintiff's home" and Plaintiff had purportedly "learned from girls who had worked that job previously that the company had not paid them." (SUF No. 86; SAMF No. 18.) Plaintiff concluded that the position at Home Depot "was not going to work." (Id.) Currently, Plaintiff ...


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