United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Jacksonville Division
MORALES HOWARD UNITED SLATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
CAUSE is before the Court on (1) Defendant's
Motion for Summary Judgment and Supporting Memorandum of Law
(Doc. 27; Defendant's Motion), filed on May 19,
2017; and (2) Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment and
Incorporated Memorandum of Law (Doc. 34;
Plaintiff's Motion), filed on May 30, 2017. On June 5,
2017, Plaintiff Markia Brooks filed Plaintiff's Response
Memorandum in Opposition to Defendant's Motion for
Summary Judgment (Doc. 37; Plaintiff's
Response), and on June 13, 2017, Defendant Prospect of
Orlando, Ltd. (Prospect) filed Defendant's Response in
Opposition to Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment and
Supporting Memorandum of Law (Doc. 42;
Defendant's Response). With leave of Court, see
Order (Doc. 45) and Order (Doc. 49), on
June 28, 2017, Prospect filed Defendant's Reply to
Plaintiff's Opposition to Defendant's Motion for
Summary Judgment and Memorandum of Law (Doc. 50;
Defendant's Reply), and on July 7, 2017, Brooks filed
Plaintiff's Reply to Defendant's Response in
Opposition to Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment
(Doc. 51; Plaintiff's Reply). Accordingly, this
matter is ripe for review.
is an organization that provides aviation support services at
various airports, including the Jacksonville International
Airport (JIA). See Defendant's Response, Ex. A:
Job Orientation Guide (JOG) at 3; Deposition of Gregory
Coleman (Coleman Dep.). at 6; Defendant's Motion, Ex. A:
Second Affidavit of Michael Strobel (Second Strobel Aff.)
¶3. Prospect “does not have any other locations
within 75 miles of” JIA. See Second Strobel
Aff. ¶6. Periodically, Prospect's duty manager, Herb
Levy, submits a roster of the Prospect employees working at
JIA to the Jacksonville Airport Authority (JAA). See
Coleman Dep. at 11, 16; Second Strobel Aff., Ex. 1: JIA
Employees Who Worked Between 1/1/2013-12/31/2015 (Roster).
Michael Strobel, Prospect's senior vice president,
see Second Strobel Aff. ¶2, and Gregory
Coleman, a manager at Prospect, see Coleman Dep. at
6, testified that from January 1, 2014, to December 31, 2015,
Prospect did not employ 50 or more employees at JIA,
see Second Strobel Aff. ¶6; Coleman Dep. at 53,
67. Specifically, Prospect did not employ more than 43
employees during any week in 2014, and did not employ more
than 47 employees during any week in 2015. See
Defendant's Reply to Plaintiff's Response in
Opposition to Motion for Rule 11 Sanctions, Ex. B:
Prospect's Jacksonville Weekly Pay Chart. Nevertheless,
Brooks believes that Prospect had over 50 employees
“during any given week." See Deposition
of Markia Keshawn Brooks (Brooks Dep.) at 116-17.
Brooks began working for Prospect, she received a copy of
Prospect's Job Orientation Guide (JOG). See
Brooks Dep. at 28-29, Ex. A: Receipt and Acknowledgement of
Job Orientation Guide (Guide), Customs Requirements, Policies
and Rules (Receipt of JOG). The JOG did not guarantee
“any fixed terms or conditions of” employment,
but instead served as a guide for employees on “the
benefits and responsibilities that go with employment at
Prospect.” See generally JOG at 3. With
respect to the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993, 29 U.S.C.
§ 2601 et. seq. (FMLA), the JOG stated that
“[e]mployees are eligible for unpaid family and medical
leave if they have worked for Prospect for at least 12 months
total (which need not be consecutive) and for at least 1, 250
hours over the immediate past 12 months.” Id.
at 5. The JOG listed “the birth and care of the newborn
child of an employee” as an appropriate reason for
taking FMLA leave. Id. Notably, the JOG did not
inform employees that they were not eligible for FMLA leave
if their employer employed less than 50 employees within 75
miles of their worksite. See generally JOG; see
also 29 U.S.C. § 2611(2)(B)(ii)). However, the JOG
informed employees that they could find further information
about the FMLA through the required postings in their work
areas, and instructed them to direct questions regarding the
FMLA to their manager or Human Resources. See JOG at
5. The JOG also provided that if an employee wanted to seek
FMLA leave, she should “discuss it with [her] Manager
who will then work with Human Resources to address [her]
request.” Id. Prospect held a training session
on the FMLA in Chicago in April 2015. See Coleman
Dep. at 43. Coleman attended on behalf of the JIA location.
Id. at 36-37, 43.
started working for Prospect as a wheelchair assistant, also
known as a skycap. See Brooks Dep. at 27-28.
Prospect employed approximately fifteen wheelchair assistants
at JIA per shift. Id. at 79. Coleman was responsible
for training Prospect's wheelchair assistants.
See Coleman Dep. at 70; Brooks Dep. at 23. The
duties of the position included transporting passengers in
wheelchairs up and down the inclined jetways. See
Coleman Dep. at 47; Brooks Dep. at 25-26, 54 (“[W]e
pushed them up from down.”). The inclines were not
steep, but more like “little hill[s].”
See Brooks Dep. at 25. Wheelchair assistants also
had to transport the passenger's carry-on bag, which
usually weighed around ten pounds. Id. at 51-52.
Although wheelchair assistants needed “the ability to
lift the passenger's carry-on bag and put it in the
storage bin, ” see Coleman Dep. at 48, Brooks
never performed this duty, see at Brooks Dep. 53.
Additionally, wheelchair assistants occasionally had to lift
a passenger out of the wheelchair and place the passenger in
an aircraft chair, or lift a passenger out of an aircraft
chair to an aisle chair, and from the aisle chair back into the
wheelchair. Id. at 24, 53-54; Coleman Dep. at 47-48.
Lastly, wheelchair assistants helped passengers retrieve
their bags from luggage claim, waited with them at the car
rental line, placed the passengers in the front seat of their
rental cars, and lifted their bags into the trunk.
See Brooks Dep. at 54, 58. Although the parties
dispute whether the written job description for the
wheelchair assistant position required the ability to lift a
particular amount of weight, see Brooks Dep. at
153-54, Coleman Dep. at 47, during training, Coleman
announced that wheelchair assistants had to be able to lift
70 pounds, see Coleman Dep. at 48-49. On rare
occasions, Prospect would not have enough wheelchair
assistants to help all passengers in need. Id. at
point in Brooks' employment, Prospect adjusted her
schedule such that she worked as a wheelchair assistant one
day a week and as a baggage handler for Delta Air Lines
(Delta) four days a week. See Brooks Dep. at 27. As
a baggage handler, Brooks' duties included lifting the
passengers' luggage and placing it on the luggage belt.
Id. at 48. Most of the bags weighed between 45 and
50 pounds. Id. Brooks needed assistance lifting bags
that exceeded 80 pounds, and those that contained oddly
shaped objects, such as boats, tubes, or skis. Id.
at 48-49, 57-58.
April 6, 2015, Brooks visited the Center for Women and
Children due to stomach pain. Id. at 61. At her
appointment, Brooks learned that she was pregnant and
expected to deliver on December 15, 2015. Id. at 65,
Ex. C: Center for Women and Children Letter dated April 6,
2015 (April 6, 2015 Letter). Brooks told her physician that
her job entailed lifting bags weighing 50 or even 80 pounds.
Id. at 62-63. Brooks' physician responded that
lifting more than 20 pounds put Brooks at risk of a
miscarriage or additional health complications. Id.
April 7, 2015, Brooks informed her supervisors, Levy,
Coleman,  and Helen Calhoun, about her pregnancy.
Id. at 66-68. Brooks gave Levy and Coleman a letter
from her physician as proof of her pregnancy and explained
that lifting luggage caused her to experience stomach pain.
Id.; April 6, 2015 Letter. In response, Coleman
requested another letter from Brooks' physician
explaining her physical limitations. See Brooks Dep.
at 66. While awaiting a response, Prospect eliminated
Brooks' duties as a baggage handler. Id. at
68-69, 72. However, the record is unclear as to whether
Prospect limited her new duties to checking in passengers,
id. at 72, or whether Prospect assigned her to work
as a wheelchair assistant five days a week, id. at
three days later, on April 10, 2015, Brooks was rushed to the
emergency room because of stomach pain. Id. at 70.
Brooks gave her supervisors a copy of her discharge
instructions. Id. at 71, 90, Ex D: Discharge
Instructions (Patient Copy) (Discharge Instructions). The
Discharge Instructions stated that Brooks could return to
work on April 11, 2015, and push wheelchairs, but could not
lift more than 10 pounds. Id.
Prospect received the Discharge Instructions, it scheduled
Brooks to work as a wheelchair assistant five days a week.
Id. at 74-75, 152-53. Although Brooks was able to
push passengers down the Jetways, id. at 72-73, 86,
other employees had to fulfill all of her other duties,
id. at 72-74, 86, 152-53. Specifically, Brooks was
unable to push passengers up the Jetway, lift passengers, or
assist with luggage. Id. Coleman was concerned that
Prospect lacked the manpower to have other employees perform
Brooks' duties. See Coleman Dep. at 73-74.
7, 2015, Coleman handed Brooks a letter and asked Brooks to
have her health care provider review and complete an enclosed
Medical Inquiry Form by May 21, 2015. Id. at 83, Ex.
F: Letter from Coleman to Brooks dated May 7, 2015 (May 7,
2015 Letter); Coleman Dep. at 24, 31. The Medical Inquiry
Form explained Brooks' duties and asked questions
regarding the nature and duration of Brooks' performance
limitations and reasonable accommodations. See May
7, 2015 Letter.
Brooks did not return the Medical Inquiry Form, see
Brooks Dep. at 109-114, Coleman Dep. at 68, on May 19, 2015,
she gave Coleman a letter from her physician, see
Brooks Dep. at 87, Ex E: Center for Women and Children Letter
dated May 18, 2015 (May 18, 2015 Letter), Ex. G: Letter from
Coleman to Brooks dated May 20, 2015 (May 20, 2015 Letter).
In the letter, Brooks' physician “requested that
[Brooks] be able to continue a 40 hour work week, eight hour
shifts, with fifteen (15) minute morning and afternoon breaks
and a lunch period.” See May 18, 2015 Letter.
However, Brooks' physician also advised Brooks to adhere
to “the normal precautions of pregnancy, ” which
entailed “no heavy lifting (over 20 lbs), no
hyperextension motions, and avoidance of biohazardous
materials (certain chemicals, acetylene torches,
20, 2015, Coleman sent Brooks a letter acknowledging his
receipt of the May 18, 2015 Letter. See May 20, 2015
Letter; Coleman Dep. at 70-71. Coleman noted that Brooks'
limitations prevented her from performing the essential
functions of the baggage handler position and advised that
she would “not be assigned to baggage handling
functions until after [her] baby [wa]s born or the
restriction [wa]s lifted.” See May 20, 2015
Letter. However, Coleman stated that because Brooks was able
to push wheelchairs, Prospect would be able to accommodate
her as a wheelchair assistant by eliminating the aspects of
the job that required handling bags in excess of 20 pounds.
Id. Prospect believed this accommodation was
“sufficient to allow [Brooks] to continue to
work.” Id. Although Coleman sent the May 20,
2015 Letter by certified mail, Brooks did not receive it.
See Coleman Dep. at 70-71; Brooks Dep. at 97.
afternoon of May 20, 2015, Levy told Brooks that she
“was being placed, involuntarily, on FMLA leave and
that [she] needed to leave the premises.” See
Plaintiff's Motion at 2, Ex: A: Declaration of Markia
Brooks (Brooks Decl.) ¶5; Brooks Dep. At 103. From
Brooks' perspective, Prospect “refused to let
[Brooks] work and [she] was forced to take FMLA leave when
[she] was not required to.” See Brooks Decl.
¶9. As explained by Brooks:
[Levy] came up to me and said, “You can't do this
no longer. Mike Strogertold me to go ahead and have the baby
and then come back after you have the baby.” And I
said, “Okay.” He said, “Well, don't
worry about your job, you're on FMLA. The paperwork will
be sent out to you.”
See Brooks Dep. at 68-69. Levy told Brooks that it
would “take a couple of days” to send the
paperwork. Id. at 104. He also represented that
Brooks would be paid during her leave. Id. at 102.
However, Levy told Coleman that he told Brooks “that
she was able to go out on medical leave” because of
Brooks' complaints to Calhoun about her difficulties
pushing wheelchairs up and down the inclines. See
Coleman Dep. At 26, 52-55, 60. Brooks disputes that she was
unable to push wheelchairs down the Jetway. See
Brooks Dep. at 86. Nevertheless, after Levy instructed Brooks
“to leave the premises, ” see Brooks
Decl. ¶5, Brooks went home and did not return to
Prospect, see Brooks Dep. At 98, 115.
29, 2015, Coleman signed another letter addressed to Brooks
explaining that Prospect needed a better understanding of the
limitations discussed in the May 18, 2015 Letter.
See Brooks Dep., Ex H: Letter from Coleman to Brooks
dated May 29, 2015 (May 29, 2015 Letter). Coleman requested
that Brooks have her physician review and complete the
attached Medical Inquiry Form by June 15, 2015 so that
Prospect would “be better able to assess what, if any
accommodations” it could offer Brooks. Id.
Although Coleman testified that he told Brooks to pick up the
May 29, 2015 Letter, see Coleman Dep. at 55-56,
Brooks disputes that she received any calls from Prospect
after May 20, 2015, see Brooks Dep. at 140-41.
Additionally, Coleman sent Brooks the May 29, 2015 Letter by
certified mail. See Coleman Dep. at 55-56. However,
Brooks did not receive it. See Brooks Dep. at
never received FMLA paperwork from Prospect. See
Brooks Dep. at 69, 99, 103, 105. If Brooks had known that she
was not eligible for FMLA protection, she “would not
have accepted the leave [she] was placed on because [she]
preferred to continue to work and earn income, ” and
“would have asked more questions.” See
Brooks Decl. ¶6. Because Prospect did not send Brooks
FMLA paperwork, Brooks believed that Prospect had terminated
her on May 20, 2015. See Brooks Dep. at 98, 107,
115; Complaint and Demand for Jury Trial (Doc. 1;
Complaint) ¶8. However, Coleman disputes that Brooks had
been terminated. See Coleman Dep. at 22, 65-66. He
testified that when Brooks left on May 20, 2015, her job was
safe and she could have come back. Id. at 66. Nobody
from Prospect told Brooks that she had been terminated,
see Brooks Dep. at 106-07, 115, and Prospect listed
Brooks as an active employee until September 24, 2016,
on her belief that she had been terminated, in June or July
2015, Brooks filed a claim for unemployment
compensation.See Brooks Dep. At 69, 98-100,
105, 124. Ultimately, the Florida Department of Economic
Opportunity awarded Brooks six months of unemployment
benefits, which Prospect appealed. Id. at 100;
Deposition of Veronica Strobel (Strobel Dep.), Ex. 1: Letter
from John Voyles dated August 18, 2015 (Unemployment Letter).
In support of Prospect's appeal, Veronica Strobel, an