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Johnson v. Bethesda

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

December 3, 2014

La Nae Johnson, Plaintiff,
Bethesda, et al., Defendants.

Jenny M. Helling, Nicholas G.B. May, Fabian May & Anderson, P.L.L.P., Minneapolis, Minnesota, for Plaintiff.

Michael L. Puklich, Neaton & Puklich, P.L.L.P., Chanhassen, Minnesota, for Defendants.


RICHARD H. KYLE, District Judge.


Plaintiff La Nae Johnson alleges in this action that her former employer, Defendant Bethesda (d/b/a Bethesda Heath & Housing and Bethesda Home Health) ("Bethesda"), and her former supervisor, Defendant Nancy Deiter, terminated her employment in violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq. Defendants now move for summary judgment, and for the reasons explained below, their Motion will be denied.


The following facts are recited in the light most favorable to Johnson.

Bethesda, a unit of a not-for-profit social ministry organization in Willmar, Minnesota, offers home health care services primarily for older adults. (Haefner Aff. ¶¶ 1-2.) Johnson worked at Bethesda for ten years as a home health scheduler, creating the work schedule for home health aides and homemakers who served its clients. (Johnson Decl. ¶ 1; Helling Aff., Ex. E, at 1.) She was also charged with other administrative tasks, including filing documents in patients' charts; in fact, she was the only Bethesda employee whose official job description included filing. (Helling Aff., Ex. E., at 2, ¶ 11; Deiter Aff. ¶ 9.)

In early 2012, Johnson learned she required knee surgery. She informed Bethesda in early February that she would need to take medical leave later in the spring. (Johnson Decl. ¶ 8.) That same month (February), Bethesda demoted its director of nursing and hired Deiter as the new director. (Raap Decl. ¶ 4.) Deiter quickly began reorganizing many of Bethesda's operating policies and procedures (Miner Decl. ¶ 5), which included changing Bethesda's software system and, as a result, restructuring some jobs. (Deiter Dep. 56.)

One of the jobs Deiter restructured-with the approval of Bethesda's CEO Michelle Haefner-was Johnson's, reducing her hours and changing her responsibilities. (Helling Aff., Ex. J; id., Ex. I, at 5.) Deiter investigated the impact Johnson's upcoming FLMA leave would have on Bethesda's ability to change her job description, noting Bethesda was required to return her to the same or an equivalent job, but its obligation was less clear if the job no longer existed. ( Id., Ex. I, at 5-6.) Deiter advised Johnson of her new job description on March 20. ( Id., Ex. I, at 5.) In a meeting a few days later, Deiter cautioned Johnson that, based on her work habits, she might not be capable of meeting the new requirements and recommended she use her leave time to look for other jobs, including other clerical positions at Bethesda. ( Id., Ex. I, at 5-6.) When Johnson expressed concern she would be fired after her FMLA leave, Deiter assured her she would get 25 hours of work per week upon return.[1] ( Id., Ex. A, at 3-4.) Johnson also was told by human resources employee Lora Taatjes that she should look for a new job while on FMLA leave because her termination "was a planned thing."[2] ( Id., Ex. A, at 4; Raap Decl. ¶ 12.)

Johnson began her FMLA leave on April 2, 2012. (Johnson Decl. ¶ 10.) A month later, while she was on leave, the Minnesota Department of Health ("DOH") conducted an audit to check Bethesda's compliance with federal and state regulations. (Haefner Aff. ¶ 7.) DOH found Bethesda failed to meet twelve standards. (Helling Aff., Ex. M.) In subsequent discussions DOH focused on Bethesda's failure to maintain patient files. (Haefner Dep. 89.) DOH found documents missing from each of the ten patient files it randomly reviewed. (Helling Aff., Ex. M, at 10.) As a result of these deficiencies, Bethesda was given ten days to submit a plan of corrective action and 45 days to correct the deficiencies or lose Medicare and Medicaid certification. (Haefner Aff., Ex. C, at 2.) In effect, because of these deficiencies and their potential financial implications, Bethesda was at risk of being shut down. (Id. ¶ 7.)

The filing practices at Bethesda before the DOH survey were, as Johnson acknowledges, chaotic. (Johnson Dep. 96.) Deiter and Haefner both knew there was no filing policy. (Helling Aff., Ex. M, at 12; Williamson Decl. ¶ 12.) While Johnson was the only person at Bethesda whose job description included filing, in practice nurses and home health aides also regularly completed filing. (Nelson Decl. ¶ 5; Williamson Decl. ¶ 10; Raap Decl. ¶ 8.) But, as they were overworked, these employees often fell behind. (Raap Decl. ¶ 7.) In addition, the nurses informed Deiter that they had asked Johnson to put documents on their desks instead of filing them, so they could better meet client needs. (Duininck Decl. ¶ 7.) And others also occasionally did filing work: Dawn Weyrauch, for example, came in on a Sunday in March, with Deiter present, to work on filing. (Weyrauch Dep. 14-17; Johnson Decl. ¶ 9.)

On June 4, 2012, when Johnson attempted to return to work following her FMLA leave, her employment was terminated. (Helling Aff., Ex. A, at 4.) According to Deiter, Johnson was dismissed because of the results of the DOH survey, as well as her observations of Johnson's performance before she went on leave. (Deiter Aff. ¶ 8.) According to Haefner, Johnson was terminated because she was responsible for the filing deficiencies, or at the very least knew about them and failed to report them. (Haefner Aff. ¶ 10-12.) Johnson received an Employee Corrective Action Notice explaining her employment was terminated because she had failed to complete tasks as assigned to the extent it threatened Bethesda's Medicare certification. (Helling Aff., Ex. I, at 1.) Bethesda did not put Johnson into its progressive discipline program; rather, she was terminated without any prior warning or reprimand. (Johnson Decl. ¶ 3.) This was the only time in Taatjes's tenure that an employee was fired without going through the progressive discipline program (Taatjes Dep. 19), but according to Deiter, it was because Johnson's failure to properly file was sufficiently severe to justify immediate termination. (Deiter Aff. ¶ 8.)

Johnson filed this action in September 2013, asserting in a single claim that Defendants violated her FMLA rights by firing her. Defendants now move for summary judgment. The Motion has ...

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