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Flowers v. McCartney

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Western Division

January 8, 2019

MARY FLOWERS PLAINTIFF
v.
MAIRI McCARTNEY, in her individual and official capacities, et al. DEFENDANTS

          OPINION AND ORDER

          J. LEON HOLMES UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Mary Flowers worked as a nurse at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. She entered into a contract with UAMS that provided for her to work on weekends with an additional 30% pay as long as she did not miss more than six weekend shifts during the contract's six-month period. In the second half of 2016, Flowers missed more than six shifts due in part to her taking FMLA leave in July and August. When she returned to work, UAMS discontinued her 30% weekend pay differential. After Flowers continued to clock in using the 30% pay differential code despite being told she was not receiving such pay anymore, UAMS terminated her employment in January 2017.

         Flowers sued. Her complaint asserts violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. She also brings state law claims for breach of contract and an Arkansas Civil Rights Act violation. The defendants move for summary judgment. For the reasons to be explained, their motion is granted.

         A court should enter summary judgment if the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, demonstrates that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249-50, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2511, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986); Torgerson v. City of Rochester, 643 F.3d 1031, 1042 (8th Cir. 2011) (en banc). A movant meets its “far from stringent” initial burden if it points out that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case. Bedford v. Doe, 880 F.3d 993, 996 (8th Cir. 2018). Once this is done, the nonmoving party must submit evidentiary materials showing there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. at 997. A genuine dispute of material fact exists only if the evidence is sufficient to allow a jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249, 106 S.Ct. at 2511.

         As mentioned, Flowers was a nurse who worked weekend shifts at UAMS. All nurses working weekend shifts received a 10% weekend differential increase in pay, but some nurses who worked weekend shifts signed a “Weekend Option Agreement” which provided, instead, for a 30% weekend pay differential. To receive the 30% increase in pay, the nurses agreed not to miss more than six[1] weekend shifts. If a nurse missed more than six shifts, that nurse no longer qualified for the 30% pay differential and could not apply to receive the weekend option pay for one year.

         Flowers was on a Weekend Option Agreement from January 1, 2016 to June 30, 2016. During that period she missed work for her mother's illness and funeral. The parties dispute whether Flowers was on a Weekend Option Agreement from July 1, 2016 to December 31, 2016. Flowers said she slid the signed contract under her supervisor's door; the defendants say she did not. For the purposes of this motion the Court assumes that Flowers turned the contract in and was on the Weekend Option Agreement for the second half of 2016.

         Flowers began having health problems requiring hospitalization in mid-July. She took FMLA leave from July 23, 2016 until August 10, 2016. During that FMLA leave, Flowers missed six weekend shifts. Prior to that leave she had also missed two other weekend shifts for a vacation, so by the time she returned to work in August, Flowers had missed more than six weekend shifts.

         When Flowers returned to work, UAMS discontinued her 30% weekend pay differential. In November, Flowers asked a supervisor why she did not receive the 30% pay differential during the previous pay period. The supervisor responded that she was not in the system as a weekend option employee. Another supervisor told her a few days later that she was not on the pay differential due to her absences. Flowers continued to clock in the way she had always done, which, as she learned later, involved pushing a button indicating she was on the shift differential. UAMS characterized this as intentional falsification of time records and terminated Flowers's employment in January 2017.

         Family and Medical Leave Act

         Many of Flowers's claims rely on whether the defendants could lawfully discontinue the 30% shift differential because of her absences due to FMLA leave. Under the circumstances, they could.

         An employee who takes FMLA leave is entitled, upon return, to be restored to the same position or an equivalent position with equivalent benefits, pay, and other terms and conditions. See 29 U.S.C. § 2614(a)(1). The FMLA also prohibits retaliation against an employee who exercises her FMLA rights. Lovland v. Emp'rs Mut. Cas. Co., 674 F.3d 806, 810-11 (8th Cir. 2012).

         The regulations interpreting the FMLA expand upon what “equivalent pay” means. They state:

(c) Equivalent pay.
(1) An employee is entitled to any unconditional pay increases which may have occurred during the FMLA leave period, such as cost of living increases. Pay increases conditioned upon seniority, length of service, or work performed must be granted in accordance with the employer's policy or practice with respect to other employees on an equivalent leave status for a reason that does not qualify as FMLA leave. An employee is entitled to be restored to a position with the same or equivalent pay premiums, such as a shift differential. If an employee departed from a position averaging ten ...

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