United States District Court, N.D. California
ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART
DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT RE: DKT.,
HAYWOOD S. GILLIAM, JR. United States District Judge.
pending before the Court is Defendant The Finish Line,
Inc.'s (“The Finish Line”) motion for summary
judgment on Plaintiff Ritarose Capili's claims. Dkt. No.
48 (“Mot.”); see Dkt. No. 1
(“Compl.”). Defendant filed its motion on
February 12, 2018. On February 24, 2018, Plaintiff filed an
opposition to the motion. Dkt. No. 51 (“Opp.”).
Defendant replied on March 5, 2018. Dkt. No. 59
(“Reply”). On April 26, 2018, the Court heard
argument on the motions. After carefully considering the
parties' arguments, the Court GRANTS IN
PART and DENIES IN PART
otherwise noted, the facts set forth in this section are not
disputed. As necessary, the Court discusses further factual
details in the course of its analysis.
Defendant's Leave Policies
sells athletic shoe and apparel products. Dkt. No. 48-1
(“Lockhart Decl.”) ¶ 1. Defendant contracts
with Cigna (also known as Life Insurance of North America
(“LINA”)) to administer its employee leave
policies. Dkt. No. 48-7 (“Lockhart MSJ Dep.”) at
12:11-24; Lockhart Decl. ¶¶ 14, 16. According to
Defendant, LINA administers all leave requests submitted by
Defendant's employees. Dkt. No. 48-4 (“Stanish
Dep.”) at 95:1-96:9. That includes disability leave
under the California Family Rights Act (“CFRA”)
and California's Pregnancy Disability Leave law. Dkt. No.
52-1 (“Lockhart Opp. Dep.”), Ex. 2 (“the
Leave Agreement”), Ex. A. In its capacity as leave
administrator, LINA communicates with Defendant's
employees regarding leave requests. Id.
provides “eligible employees” with different
types of leave depending on their circumstances:
“FMLA” leave, pursuant to the Family Medical
Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. § 2601, non-FMLA Medical Leave,
Uniformed Service Leave, and Personal Leave. Dkt. No. 48-9
(“Capili MSJ Dep.”), Ex. 8. Defendant distributes
to its employees a handout describing available types of
leave and how an employee becomes eligible for each type of
qualify for FMLA leave, an employee must meet certain
conditions, including by working a minimum number of hours in
the twelve months preceding an employee's absence.
Id. For employees seeking FMLA-medical leave,
Defendant requires a medical certification be submitted in
support of the leave request. Id. “The medical
certification must be completed prior to the leave if the
need for the leave is foreseeable, or as soon as practicable
if the leave is not foreseeable (within 15 days of the date
the employee receives the request for certification).”
Id. The handout continues, in italics:
It is your responsibility to have this form completed and
returned within fifteen (15) days. A failure to provide the
required medical certification will result in the leave being
denied and the time designated as non-FMLA qualifying with
the absences being counted as unexcused pursuant to the
Company's attendance policy.
respect to non-FMLA leave, Defendant's policies set forth
that “[a]n employee who does not qualify for FMLA leave
but needs to be off duty due to medical reasons, including
maternity, may apply to take a non-FMLA Medical Leave of
Absence.” Id. Under Defendant's Non-FMLA
Medical Leave Policy, an employee “must submit a
written request to his/her manager and Human Resources.
Supporting documentation from the physician stating the
reason and anticipated amount of time off is also
required.” Id. Handouts provided by email to
all store employees explain that FMLA-leave certification
procedures apply to non-FMLA leave, such that an employee
must return a certification within fifteen days. Lockhart
Decl. ¶¶ 5, 12-16, Ex. 1.
return to work from non-FMLA leave, Defendant's policy
sets forth that the employee “must provide a release to
work slip prior to their first day back if requested by
supervisor or HR.” Capili MSJ Dep., Ex. 8. Defendant
does not allow employees to return to work without a release.
Id. The policy informs employees that their failure
to return from “any type of leave on the agreed upon
date without an approved extension may result in termination
for job abandonment unless an extension of leave was
signed a copy of a handout explaining Defendant's leave
policies as part of her onboarding on August 26, 2013.
Id.; Lockhart MSJ Dep. at 11:1-7. Plaintiff also
completed an e-learning course that contained Defendant's
leave policies. Lockhart Decl. ¶¶ 7-11, Exs. 3-4.
was employed by Defendant as a “Sales Lead” from
approximately August 28, 2013 to her termination,
communicated on July 8, 2014. Capili MSJ Dep. at 268:1-9;
Lockhart Decl. ¶ 9. Plaintiff was one of six employees
working at a Finish Line location in a Macy's store. Mot.
at 3. On March 3, 2014, Plaintiff informed her regional
manager, Mari Nelson, that she was pregnant. Capili MSJ Dep.
at 106:14-107:6. She indicated that she did not want to
voluntarily separate from her employment at that time.
Id. at 107:20-25.
9, 2014, Plaintiff received a “Work Status
Report” from her physician. Capili MSJ Dep. at
149:23-150:25, Ex. 25. The document states that Plaintiff was
“placed off work from 5/9/2014 through
5/19/2014.” Id. at Ex. 25. Plaintiff's
diagnosis includes “high-risk pregnancy, anxiety, and
pregnancy.” Id. The report states that
Plaintiff's need to be off work would be reevaluated on
May 19, 2014. Id. On her way home from the doctor,
Capili stopped by her workplace to show her diagnosis to her
Store Manager, Christopher Ferrer. Id. at 150:6-
19, 2014, Ferrer contacted Plaintiff and asked when she would
be returning to work. Id. at 154:15-155:4. Plaintiff
responded the next day, stating that she understood her leave
to be extended based on a need for additional treatment.
Id. at 155:4-156:4. Plaintiff did not then provide
an anticipated return to work date; instead, she indicated
that she might need to “get admitted.”
Id. Ferrer explained that they would need to submit
“a reg[ular] leave of absence, ” not a request
for maternity leave. Id. at 156:13-21. Plaintiff
indicated that she would come to work that Saturday, May 24
to complete the leave paperwork. Id. at
156:22-157:3. According to Plaintiff, Ferrer was not there
when she arrived on May 24, and there were no leave forms for
her to sign. Id. at 160:9-13.
29, 2014, Plaintiff contacted LINA regarding a request for
personal leave. Stanish Dep. at 29:5-15. Plaintiff began
filing her request that day, and finished the filing on May
30, 2014. Id. Plaintiff requested leave from May 9,
2014 to June 19, 2014. Id. at 32:13-15. On May 30,
LINA sent Plaintiff a letter regarding her leave request.
Id. at 31:8-33:7. That letter indicated that LINA
received Capili's leave request, explained that her leave
eligibility was then undetermined, and requested that Capili
complete and return an enclosed medical certification form
within 15 days of the letter. Capili MSJ Dep. at
179:8-182:25, Ex 30. The certification enclosed with
Defendant's letter is entitled “Certification of
Health Care Provider for Pregnancy Disability
Leave/Employee's Serious Health Condition.”
Id. (the “Medical Certification Form”).
The letter indicates that failure to return the Medical
Certification Form could result in the denial of
Plaintiff's leave. Id. The letter to Plaintiff
also included a “Fitness for Duty Certification”
form, which Plaintiff was required to complete and return at
least two days prior to her return to work. Id.
Finally, the packet mailed to Plaintiff included information
on policies and procedures for taking leave under the FMLA,
CFRA, and California's Pregnancy Disability Leave law.
2, 2014, June 12, 2014, June 18, 2014, and June 19, 2014,
LINA sent Capili letters regarding her leave request. The
June 2, 2014 letter specifies that Plaintiff was not eligible
for FMLA or CFRA leave because she had not worked a minimum
number of hours in the preceding twelve months. Id.
at Ex. 31. The June 2 letter indicates that a determination
was pending regarding Plaintiff's eligibility for
non-FMLA leave, and that she would need to submit by June 17,
2014 the enclosed Medical Certification Form authorizing her
June 12, 2014 letter to Plaintiff explains that
Plaintiff's requested leave was scheduled to end on June
19, 2014, and that she would “be expected to return to
[her] normal schedule on the first working day following
[her] leave end date.” Id. at Ex. 36. The
letter asked Plaintiff to contact LINA and request an
extension if she was unable to return to work. Finally, the
letter states that Plaintiff's physician would need to
complete the Fitness for Duty Certification (i.e., the return
to work release) if she were to return to work. Id.
June 18, 2014 letter to Plaintiff states that LINA received
Plaintiff's leave of absence request for “Employee
Health Condition.” Id. at Ex. 37. The letter
continues that Plaintiff's non-FMLA leave had been denied
based on her failure to return the Medical Certification
Form. Id. The letter explained that, as a result of
this denial, “any time off from work is not approved
and may follow the attendance policy.” Id. The
letter indicated that Plaintiff should contact Human
Resources to discuss her employment status. Id. The
June, 19, 2014 letter was virtually identical to the one sent
the prior day.
19, 2014, Capili called LINA. Dkt. No. 54-1 (“Stanish
Opp. Dep.”), Ex. 2. Capili told LINA that her leave end
date was changing from June 19 to June 25, 2014. Id.
about July 3, 2014, Nelson called Capili. Capili MSJ Dep. at
100:5-8, 218:18-24. Nelson asked Capili to submit the missing
documentation so that Capili could return to work.
Id. at 221:12-21. Nelson indicated that there could
be “complications” to Capili's return to work
if she failed to submit the requested documentation.
Id. at 269:12-270:10. That same day, Capili called
LINA to check on the status of her leave. Capili Opp. Dep. at
221:8-24; Stanish Opp. Dep., Ex. 2. While on the call,
Plaintiff spoke with Michael Stanish, a leave coordinator at
LINA. Stanish Dep. at 31:21-24. Plaintiff claims that she
told Stanish that she sent in a signed Medical Certification
Form. Capili Opp. Dep. at 224:2-13. Stanish told Capili that
the certification had not yet been received, but that
Capili's physician could still complete the certification
and return it to LINA. Id.
11, 2014, Nelson informed Capili that Defendant had
terminated her employment. Capili MSJ Dep. at 270:22-271:25.
Capili told Nelson that she had submitted the required
paperwork. Id. Nelson suggested that if Capili had
sent the proper paperwork, it was a “possibility”
that Defendant could reverse her termination. Id.
That same day, Capili faxed LINA a packet of paperwork that
included two separate signed Medical Certification Forms.
Id. at 272:18-275:19, Ex. 53. Both of the Medical
Certification Forms specified that Capili could return to
work with restrictions. See id.; Capili MSJ Dep. at
207:1-19; Capili Opp. Dep. at 200:11- 207:14, Ex 35. Neither
form authorized Capili's leave request beyond May 19.
Capili MSJ Dep. at 276:13-20.
14, LINA sent Capili another letter, indicating that it had
received Capili's request for “Employee Health
Condition.” Capili MSJ Dep., Ex. 54. That letter states
that LINA approved Plaintiff's leave request from May 9
through May 19, 2014. Id. The letter also explains
that LINA denied Plaintiff's leave request from May 20,
2014 to June 25, 2014. Id. LINA's records
indicate that it denied Capili's leave request from May
20 to June 25 because Capili's doctor had authorized
leave only from May 9 through May 19. Stanish Opp. Dep., Ex.