United States District Court, D. Montana, Billings Division
TIMOTHY J. CAVAN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Josef Sims brings this action under 29 U.S.C. § 2615(a)
against Stillwater Mining Company (“Stillwater”),
alleging Stillwater violated his rights under the Family
Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”). Pending is
Stillwater’s Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 24.) As
discussed below, Stillwater’s motion is DENIED.
owns and operates the East Boulder Mine near McLeod, Montana.
Stillwater employed Sims as an operator from 2007 until
August 13, 2015. (Doc. 29 at ¶¶ 1, 49.) On August
13, 2015, Stillwater terminated Sims’ employment based
on an allegedly unexcused absence. Id. at ¶ 3.
suffered from joint problems and pain in his right shoulder.
On July 20, 2015, his doctor gave him a cortisone shot for
his symptoms, and the following day he experienced an adverse
reaction. Id. at ¶¶ 6-7. The complication
did not immediately cause Sims to miss work, but by July 23,
2015 Sims realized he would not be able to work his next
scheduled shift on July 24. Id. at ¶¶
8-10. Sims contacted Stillwater’s human resources
department to request FMLA leave, and the human resources
department provided him with the necessary FMLA paperwork.
Id. at ¶ 11. Sims’ doctor also faxed
Stillwater a FMLA “Certification of Healthcare
Provider,” indicating Sims had a serious health
condition that would require him to be absent from work from
July 20th until August 1st. Id. at ¶ 13.
returned to work on August 1, 2015 but planned to request
additional time off from August 2nd through 4th using his
vacation time. Id. at ¶ 17. Nevertheless, Sims
ended up working August 2nd and 3rd. During his August 3rd
shift, however, he spoke to his supervisor about the need for
additional time off due to his shoulder injury, and he
submitted a vacation request form for August 4th.
Id. at ¶ 19. Sims included a comment on the
request form stating, “for Doctor Apt Regarding FMLA
follow up.” Id. at ¶ 20.
thought he had vacation days remaining when he submitted his
leave request form for August 4th, and his supervisors
approved his requested leave. Id. at ¶¶
39, 40. Stillwater later took the position, however, that
Sims did not have any vacation days remaining. Therefore, on
August 12, 2019, Sims’ supervisor, a union
representative, and Stillwater’s human resources
representative met with Sims to determine the circumstances
of his August 4th absence. Id. at ¶¶ 42,
45. After discussing Sims’ absence, Stillwater
concluded Sims violated the terms of his Collective
Bargaining Agreement (“CBA”) with the company by
using a vacation day he did not have and terminated his
employment. Id. at ¶¶ 46-49.
his termination, Sims returned to his doctor’s office
to determine whether his shoulder injury could be
work-related. Id. at ¶ 50. Either his doctor or
a nurse revised the FMLA certification originally faxed to
Stillwater to indicate that Sims’ injury prevented him
from working through August 4, 2015, rather than August 1,
2015. Id. at ¶ 54. Sims’ doctor also
provided him with a notice indicating Sims was off work on
August 4,2015 due to “shoulder pain, Extended
FMLA.” Id. at ¶ 55. Sims thereafter
submitted the revised FMLA paperwork to Stillwater as part of
his grievance of his termination. Id. at ¶ 58.
His grievance was not successful.
alleges in Count I of his Complaint that Stillwater denied
and interfered with his FMLA rights, and in Count II that
Stillwater retaliated against him for the exercise of those
rights. (See generally Doc. 1). Sims claims the
interference and retaliation resulted in his termination,
which caused him to suffer damages, including: (1) loss of
wages and benefits; (2) liquidated damages; and (3)
attorneys’ fees and costs. Id. at ¶
20-22. Sims also seeks equitable relief as may be
appropriate. Id. at ¶ 22.
moves for summary judgment on both counts of the complaint.
(Doc. 24.) First, Stillwater argues Sims’ interference
claim fails as a matter of law because FMLA protections are
not triggered by merely referencing a potentially qualifying
reason for taking a day off. Specifically, Stillwater
maintains Sims affirmatively elected to take vacation rather
than FMLA leave, and therefore Stillwater acted appropriately
by treating August 4, 2015 as a vacation day. (Doc. 27 at
also contends it is entitled to summary judgment on
Sims’ FMLA retaliation claim. As to this claim,
Stillwater argues Sims’ allegation that he was
wrongfully terminated because of his use of FMLA leave
constitutes an interference claim rather than a retaliation
claim. Retaliation under FMLA, Stillwater contends, is
implicated only if an employee is punished for opposing an
unlawful practice of his employer. In the absence of any such
allegation by Sims, Stillwater claims it is entitled to
summary judgment. Id. at 7.
response, Sims argues genuine issues of material fact
preclude summary judgment. Specifically, Sims argues it is
disputed whether the verbal and written notice he provided to
Stillwater regarding his medical condition and need for leave
constituted sufficient notice of his intent to take FMLA
leave. Additionally, Sims argues the Court should consider
his retaliation claim as an interference claim rather than
grant Stillwater summary judgment. (Doc. 28 at 6.)
reply, Stillwater argues it is irrelevant whether Stillwater
should have known Sims’ absence was potentially
FMLA-qualifying because Stillwater had previously provided
Sims with the required “FMLA paperwork” for his
July 24th through July 27th absences concerning the same
injury. Stillwater therefore ...