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Matamoros v. Broward Sheriff's Office

United States District Court, S.D. Florida

August 8, 2019

CAROLINA MATAMOROS, Plaintiff,
v.
BROWARD SHERIFF'S OFFICE, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          RODNEY SMITH UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [DE 21], Plaintiffs Response [DE 30], and Defendant's Reply [DE 36]. This action was brought pursuant to the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Florida Civil Rights Act of 1992 (FCRA). Plaintiffs remaining claims[1] allege (1) interference with rights under the FMLA; (2) retaliation under the FCRA; and (3) retaliation under the FMLA. These claims are based on Defendant's alleged response to Plaintiffs requests to take FMLA leave to care for her son, who suffers from a serious medical condition. Defendant now moves for summary judgment on all remaining claims. For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is granted.

         I. UNDISPUTED MATERIAL FACTS

         Beginning in January 2010, Plaintiff was employed by Defendant as a Communications Operator III. During the time Plaintiff was employed, she consistently received good performance evaluations, except for her evaluations in the "Attendance and Punctuality" category, which was always marked "Needs Improvement." (DE 32-6.)

         Plaintiffs FMLA Leave Requests and Other Requests Related to Her Son 's Illness

         Plaintiffs son suffers from severe asthma. Beginning in 2016, his asthma became progressively worse, resulting in multiple hospitalizations. In March 2016, Plaintiff requested leave under the FMLA to care for her son. Defendant approved the leave and Plaintiff then took intermittent leave under the FMLA until October 2016, when all of her FMLA leave had been expended. (Parker Aff [DE 22-8] ¶¶ 3-4.) On August 4, 2017, Plaintiff made another request for FMLA leave, which was denied because she had not worked the requisite 1250 hours in the preceding twelve-month period, which would make her eligible for FMLA leave. (Parker Aff. ¶ 5.) Even if Plaintiff had worked an additional 160 hours during the preceding twelve-month period, she would not have met the requisite 1250 hours to be eligible for FMLA leave in August 2017. (Parker Aff. ¶ 6.)

         In August 2016, Plaintiff learned that a part-time position had become available. Plaintiff sent an email to her supervisor stating that, due to her son's condition and her role as his caretaker, she was interested in the position and requested to be considered for a part-time schedule for a temporary period of about six-months. (DE 32-18.) In response to Plaintiffs email, Plaintiffs supervisor emailed Plaintiff back stating that a limited number of part-time positions were available and directed Plaintiff to make an appointment with another individual, Darra Andretta, to discuss the request further. (DE 32-18.) Plaintiffs supervisor also noted that such a change would reduce Plaintiffs benefits. (DE 32-18.) Plaintiff responded by email thanking the people on the email chain for the opportunity to discuss possible alternatives to her current schedule because of the hardships caused by her son's illness. (DE 32-18.) She further stated that her son's recent admittance to the ICU had "prompted my decision to accept the part time work shift." (DE 32-18.) In response, Plaintiff was told to come in to discuss with her supervisor her schedule to finalize the part-time position. (DE 32-18.) By the time Plaintiff met with her supervisor, another employee had been given the position because he had submitted a schedule and committed to the part-time position before Plaintiff had. (DE 32-18.) As a result of not getting the part-time position, Plaintiff filed a grievance. (DE 32-19.) The grievance was denied; however, Plaintiff was told that she would be offered the next available part-time position. (DE 32-20.) In January 2017, Plaintiff was given a part-time position.

         Plaintiffs Disciplinary Record

         During her course of employment with Defendant, Plaintiff was the subject of seven Internal Affairs Investigations:

1. PC # 03-12-0086 for repeated violations of Broward Sheriffs Policy Manual (SPM) section 2.6.1 Promptness. The violations were sustained[2] on June 19, 2012 and Plaintiff received a written reprimand. (Lowe Aff. [DE 22-5] ¶¶ 3-5.)
2. PC # 08-1-0271 for violations of SPM section 2.8.2 Sick Leave Use and SPM section 2.6.1 Promptness. The violations were sustained on December 4, 2012 and Plaintiff received a one-day suspension. (Lowe Aff. ¶¶ 3-5.)
3. PC # 03-14-0063 for violations of SPM section 2.6.1 Promptness, SPM section 2.8.2 Reporting Illness, and SPM section 2.4 Meeting BSO Standards. The violations were sustained on March 2, 2015 and Plaintiff received a three-day suspension. (Lowe Aff. ¶¶ 3-5.)
4. PC # 01-15-0015 for violations of SPM section2.8.3 Absent Without Leave and SPM section 2.8.2 Reporting Illness. The violations were sustained on July 18, 2015 and Plaintiff received a five-day suspension. (Lowe Aff. ¶¶ 3-5.)
5. PC # 03-16-0059 for numerous violations of SPM section 2.6.1 Promptness. The violations were sustained by the Professional Standards Committee on June 20, 2016 and Plaintiff received a ten-day suspension. (Elmaadawy Aff. [DE 22-4] ¶¶ 3-4; LoseyAff. [DE22-l] ¶3.)
6. PC # 10-16-0294 for violations of SPM section 2.6.1 Promptness. The violations were sustained by the Professional Standards Committee on April 25, 2017 and Plaintiff received a twenty-day suspension. (Erdelyi Aff. [DE 22-3] ¶¶ 3-5, 11; Losey Aff ¶4.)
7. PC # 2018-0117 for violations of SPM sections 4.3.4 Sick Leave Use, 2.5.2 Truthfulness, and 3.16.1 Off-Duty Employment. The violations were all sustained by the Professional Standards Committee on September 13, 2018 and Plaintiff was terminated. (Hornsby Aff. [DE 22-2] ¶¶ 4, 15; Losey Aff. ¶ 9.)

         The last Internal Affairs Investigation began as a violation of SPM section 4.3.4 Sick Leave Use. (Hornsby Aff. ¶ 4.) However, as the investigation progressed, the Internal Affairs Investigator revised the alleged violations to include the Truthfulness and Off-Duty Employment violations. (Hornsby Aff. ¶ 4.) During the investigation, Plaintiff gave a sworn statement to the Internal Affairs Investigator in which Plaintiff stated that she had no outside employment. (Hornsby Aff. ¶ 6.) After Plaintiff gave her statement, the Investigator discovered that Plaintiff had been employed continuously, and without interruption, by the City of North Miami since 2015 and that Plaintiff had been employed by others during her time with Defendant. (Hornsby Aff. ¶ 7.) During the year preceding the last Internal Affairs investigation, Plaintiff had worked more hours for the City of North Miami than for Defendant. (Hornsby Aff. ¶ 7.) The Investigator found 17 days when Plaintiff reported illness or used sick leave at Defendant and worked for the City of North Miami. (Hornsby Aff. ¶ 7.) These discoveries led to the amendment of the charges against Plaintiff in PC # 2018-0117 to include the Truthfulness and Off-Duty Employment charges. (Hornsby Aff. ¶ 8.) At an October 25, 2018 pre-disciplinary conference related to PC # 2018-0117, Plaintiff confirmed that she had been engaged in unapproved, off-duty, outside employment for pay. (Losey Aff. ¶ 9.) A truthfulness violation on its own is severe enough to warrant termination and bypass progressive disciplinary steps. (Losey Aff. ¶ 7; SPM 9.4.5 [DE 22-1] at 13-14.) The investigation and its findings were sustained on September 13, 2018. (Losey Aff. ¶ 8.) On November 8, 2018, the Executive Director of Defendant's Department of Professional Standards approved Plaintiffs termination. (Losey Aff. ¶ 9.)

         After the last three Internal Affairs investigations were complete, the cases were reviewed and sustained by the Professional Standards Committee (PSC), which is an autonomous committee within Defendant that reviews completed investigations in all cases involving disciplinary suspensions of six-days or more, demotions, or terminations. (Losey Aff. ¶¶ 3-4, 6, 10.) The decisions were then approved by the Executive Director of Defendant's Department of Professional Standards. (Losey Aff.'¶¶ 3-4, 9.) At the time it considered the Internal Affairs investigations involving Plaintiff, the members of the PSC were unaware of Plaintiff s association with a disabled person and were also unaware that Plaintiff had filed any charges or claims of discrimination against Defendant. (Losey Aff. ¶¶ 16, 18.) The Plaintiff did not arbitrate the findings in support of any of her suspensions, as permitted by the governing Collective Bargaining Agreement. (Losey Aff. ¶ 5.)

         Plaintiff s EEOC and FCRA Charge

         On July 18, 2017, Plaintiff filed a charge with the Florida Commission on Human Relations and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC Charge or Charge). The EEOC Charge alleged continuing action of disability discrimination against Plaintiff by Defendant. (DE 22-10 at 3.) The Charge alleged that, on August 17, 2016, Plaintiff requested an accommodation as the sole care provider for her son's medical condition. (Id.) Specifically, Plaintiff stated that a part-time position became available. She requested it, but was denied, and the position was given to another. (Id.) Thereafter, Plaintiff was subject to several disciplinary proceedings. (Id.) While the Charge states that Plaintiff eventually received a part-time position, it also stated that she continued to be subjected to disciplinary proceedings regarding her attendance despite asking for an accommodation due to her son's medical condition. (Id.) The Equal ...


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