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Mesfin v. Roc-Houston, P.A.

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division

January 22, 2018

ROC-HOUSTON, P.A., Defendant.



         This case is before the Court on the Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (“Motion”) [Doc. # 39] filed by Defendant ROC-Houston, P.A. (“ROC-Houston”). Defendant seeks summary judgment on Plaintiff's claim of retaliation under the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), breach of contract claim, and Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) claim related to “unpaid wages” separate from unpaid overtime wages. Plaintiff Meseret Mesfin filed a Response [Doc. # 41], addressing only the FMLA claim. Defendant filed a Reply [Doc. # 43]. Having reviewed the record and the applicable legal authorities, the Court grants Defendant's Motion.

          I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff began working for ROC-Houston in the billing and collections department in October 2008. In March 2016, Plaintiff complained to her doctor, Dr. Samuel Huang, that she was experiencing stress and anxiety. Dr. Huang signed a note that stated, “Meseret Mesfin was seen at Kelsey-Seybold Clinic on 3/17/2016 and may return to work on 4/17/2016. She will have no restrictions.” Plaintiff has stated under oath that she was unable to work beginning on March 17, 2016, and continuing through her termination on March 30, 2016.

         On March 22, 2016, ROC-Houston's Human Resources Director, Lorena Cornelio, sent an email to Plaintiff requesting a medical certification by March 25, 2016. Plaintiff responded, stating that she would need more than three days to obtain the certification and asking to use her paid sick time. Ms. Cornelio responded on March 24, 2016, noting that Plaintiff was not on authorized leave and requesting the medical certification as soon as possible “for FMLA compliance reasons.” Ms. Cornelio extended the deadline for the certification to March 28, 2016. Later that day, Ms. Cornelio again emailed Plaintiff advising her that it was imperative that ROC-Houston receive the medical certification promptly in order “to determine whether [Plaintiff was] eligible for leave under the FMLA.” Later on March 24, 2016, Dr. Huang submitted the completed medical certification to ROC-Houston.

         On March 30, 2016, Ms. Cornelio telephoned Plaintiff and informed her that her employment had been terminated because she held outside employment in violation of company policy.

         Plaintiff filed this lawsuit on August 9, 2016. In her Second Amended Complaint [Doc. # 21], filed January 27, 2017, Plaintiff asserts an FLSA claim, a retaliation claim under the FMLA, and a breach of contract claim. After the close of discovery, Defendant filed its Motion. Plaintiff in her Response addressed only the arguments relating to the FMLA retaliation claim.[1] The Motion has been fully briefed and is now ripe for decision.


         Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides for the entry of summary judgment against a plaintiff who fails to make a sufficient showing of the existence of an element essential to her case and on which she will bear the burden at trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Curtis v. Anthony, 710 F.3d 587, 594 (5th Cir. 2013); Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (en banc). Summary judgment “should be rendered if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23; Curtis, 710 F.3d at 594.

         For summary judgment, the initial burden falls on the movant to identify areas essential to the non-movant's claim in which there is an “absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” ACE Am. Ins. Co. v. Freeport Welding & Fabricating, Inc., 699 F.3d 832, 839 (5th Cir. 2012). The moving party, however, “need not negate the elements of the nonmovant's case.” Coastal Agric. Supply, Inc. v. JP Morgan Chase Bank, N.A., 759 F.3d 498, 505 (5th Cir. 2014) (quoting Boudreaux v. Swift Transp. Co., 402 F.3d 536, 540 (5th Cir. 2005)). The moving party may meet its burden by pointing out “the absence of evidence supporting the nonmoving party's case.” Malacara v. Garber, 353 F.3d 393, 404 (5th Cir. 2003) (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323; Stults v. Conoco, Inc., 76 F.3d 651, 656 (5th Cir. 1996)).

         If the moving party meets its initial burden, the non-movant must go beyond the pleadings and designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue of material fact for trial. Gen. Universal Sys., Inc. v. Lee, 379 F.3d 131, 141 (5th Cir. 2004); Littlefield v. Forney Indep. Sch. Dist., 268 F.3d 275, 282 (5th Cir. 2001) (internal citation omitted). “An issue is material if its resolution could affect the outcome of the action.” Spring Street Partners-IV, L.P. v. Lam, 730 F.3d 427, 435 (5th Cir. 2013). “A dispute as to a material fact is genuine if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” DIRECT TV Inc. v. Robson, 420 F.3d 532, 536 (5th Cir. 2006) (internal citations omitted).

         In deciding whether a genuine and material fact issue has been created, the court reviews the facts and inferences to be drawn from them in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Reaves Brokerage Co. v. Sunbelt Fruit & Vegetable Co., 336 F.3d 410, 412 (5th Cir. 2003). A genuine issue of material fact exists when the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-movant. Tamez v. Manthey, 589 F.3d 764, 769 (5th Cir. 2009) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). Conclusory “allegations and denials, speculation, improbable inferences, unsubstantiated assertions, and legalistic argumentation do not adequately substitute for specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial.” Pioneer Exploration, L.L.C. v. Steadfast Ins. Co., 767 F.3d 503, 511 (5th Cir. 2014) (quoting Oliver v. Scott, 276 F.3d 736, 744 (5th Cir. 2002); accord Delta & Pine Land Co. v. Nationwide Agribusiness Ins. Co., 530 F.3d 395, 399 (5th Cir. 2008). Instead, the nonmoving party must present specific facts which show “the existence of a genuine issue concerning every essential component of its case.” Firman v. Life Ins. Co. of N. Am., 684 F.3d 533, 538 (5th Cir. 2012) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). In the absence of any proof, the court will not assume that the non-movant could or would prove the necessary facts. Little, 37 F.3d at 1075 (citing Lujan v. Nat'l Wildlife Fed'n, 497 U.S. 871, 888 (1990)).

         The Court may make no credibility determinations or weigh any evidence, and must disregard all evidence favorable to the moving party that the jury is not required to believe. Chaney v. Dreyfus Serv. Corp., 595 F.3d 219, 229 (5th Cir. 2010) (citing Reaves Brokerage Co., 336 F.3d at 412-13). The Court is not required to accept the nonmovant's conclusory allegations, speculation, and unsubstantiated assertions which are either entirely unsupported, or supported by a mere scintilla of evidence. Id. (citing Reaves Brokerage, 336 F.3d at 413); accord, Little, 37 F.3d at 1075. Affidavits cannot preclude summary judgment unless they contain competent and otherwise admissible evidence. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(4); Love v. Nat'l Med. Enters., 230 F.3d 765, 776 (5th Cir. 2000).

         Finally, “[w]hen evidence exists in the summary judgment record but the nonmovant fails even to refer to it in the response to the motion for summary judgment, that evidence is not properly before the district court.” Malacara, 353 F.3d at 405. “Rule 56 does not impose upon the district court a duty to sift through the record in search of evidence to support a party's opposition to summary ...

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