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Capili v. The Finish Line, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. California

May 2, 2018



          HAYWOOD S. GILLIAM, JR. United States District Judge.

         Currently 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 Defendant's motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Unless 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.

         A. Defendant's Leave Policies

         Defendant 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.

         Defendant 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 leave. Id.

         To 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.


         With 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.

         To 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 approved.” Id.

         Plaintiff 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.

         B. Plaintiff's Employment

         Plaintiff 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.

         On May 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- 151:16.

         On May 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.

         On May 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. Id.

         On June 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 leave. Id.

         The 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.

         The 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.

         On June 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.

         On or 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.

         On July 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.

         On July 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. 2.

         II. SUMMARY ...

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