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Saenz v. BP America, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Texas

November 16, 2017

Charlotte Saenz, Plaintiff,
v.
BP America, Inc., Defendant.

          OPINION ON SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          Lynn N. Hughes United States District Judge

          1. Introduction.

         A welder frequently missed work for her lower-back pain. The company asked her to give it supporting documents for it to approve her leave. She did not. The company warned her repeatedly that her absences were a problem. Ultimately, it asked the welder to resign or be fired. She resigned. She claimed that the company discriminated against her because of her disability and retaliated against her for complaining about the discrimination. Because she did not support her claims that she was disabled or that the company discriminated or retaliated against her, the company will prevail.

         2. Background.

         From 1990 to 2015, Charlotte Saenz worked for BP Amoco Chemical Company as a welder. She incorrectly named BP America, Inc., as her employer. In 2013 and 2014, she was absent for blocks of time without approval from BP. She had requested short-term disability leave or family and medical leave, but she had not given BP the correct forms to be approved for family and medical leave. BP considers someone who has missed three days of work in six months without approval excessively absent. On April 24, 2014, personnel manager Marc Devine sent Saenz a letter warning her that BP had not excused some of her absences and asking her to give BP the forms. Now, Saenz says that she thought that she had given them to BP.

         After eleven unapproved days off in February and twelve in March for lower-back pain, Saenz returned and told the company nurse that she could not bend or move heavy objects even though her doctor, pain-management physician Ghyasuddin Syed, released her without restrictions. From April 4 to May 19, 2.014, she was again absent without approval. In May, Saenz returned to work with a note from her doctor, neurologist Mohammed Athari, recommending light duty. Welders frequently have to lift up to 25 pounds; Saenz's doctor recommended that she lift no more than six. She asked her supervisor for light duty, but he said that it was not available.

         On May 27, 2014, Saenz first complained to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and to the Texas Workforce Commission that BP was discriminating against her because of her disability.

         In July, BP had Ronald Lindsey, a doctor from the University of Texas Medical Branch Department of Orthopaedic Surgery & Rehabilitation, review Saenz's medical records. He concluded that her supposedly debilitating back pain was not supported by the results of her magnetic resonance imaging scan. He suggested that using her back muscles, not resting, would improve her lower-back pain. He recommended physical therapy and a brief period of light duty followed by full duty.

         On August 12, BP sent Saenz a letter saying that she was on decision making leave and warning her that this was the last step in the disciplinary process before termination. On August 22, Marc Devine sent Saenz a letter saying that she was not eligible for family and medical leave, because she had not worked for 1, 250 hours in the last 12 months. Saenz had approximately 200 hours of vacation time that she could have used to cover her absences, but she did not ask to use it.

         Later in August, BP set up a temporary light duty position for Saenz. After a couple weeks, she returned to full duty.

         On September 2, Saenz amended her EEOC complaint. On September 19, the EEOC released her to sue BP.

         In November, Saenz called in sick with influenza one Monday. She was out for four days.

         On December 22, after her 90 days to sue had expired, BP gave Saenz the option to resign or be fired. On the advice and with the assistance of the union agent, Saenz resigned to remain on the payroll until ...


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