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Eason v. Walgreen Co.

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

July 15, 2015

Aaron Eason, Plaintiff,
v.
Walgreen Co., Defendant.

Daniel G. Leland, Esq., Baillon, Thome, Jozwiak & Wanta LLP, Minneapolis, MN, on behalf of Plaintiff.

Dominic J. Cecere, Esq., Stinson Leonard Street LLP, Minneapolis, MN, on behalf of Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

ANN D. MONTGOMERY, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

On April 23, 2015, the undersigned United States District Judge heard oral argument on Defendant Walgreen Co.'s ("Walgreens") Motion for Summary Judgment [Docket No. 37]. Plaintiff Aaron Eason ("Eason") asserts claims for violations of the Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 2601-54, the Americans with Disabilitis Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 1201-1213, and the Minnesota Human Rights Act ("MHRA"), Minn. Stat. §§ 363A.01-.41. For the reasons set forth below, Walgreens' motion is granted.

II. BACKGROUND[1]

Eason began his employment with Walgreens in November 2010 as the Inbound/Outbound Operations Manager at its Distribution Center in Rogers, Minnesota. Compl. [Docket No. 1-1] ¶ 8. Eason's duties included overseeing the flow of goods to and from the Distribution Center and supervising four employees. Conway Aff. [Docket No. 40] Ex. A ("Eason Dep.") 10:14-20. His hours overlapped with the Distribution Center's first and second shift operations so that he could supervise employees working on both shifts. Id . 13:3-10. Eason's position was created to provide support for his immediate supervisor, Ralph Walser ("Walser"), the Manager of Operations at the Rogers facility. Id . 12:19-23. Walser reported to Robert Varno ("Varno"), the Director of Operations for the distribution centers in Rogers and Windsor, Wisconsin. Leland Decl. [Docket No. 46] Ex. 10 ("Walser Dep.") 18:13-18.

A. Eason's 2011 Employment

In 2011, Eason began having attendance issues, missing 20 days of work. Leland Decl. Ex. 2. Walser understood that some of Eason's absences were due to anxiety and stress stemming from a marital separation and related financial concerns. Walser Dep. 56:3-15. Walser met with Eason in February 2011 to discuss his attendance. Eason Dep. 84:23-85:1. Walser, feeling that Eason's issues were temporary, did not pursue any disciplinary action. Despite the attendance issues, Eason earned high marks on his annual review which was submitted on August 24, 2011. Leland Decl. Ex. 3; Eason Dep. 151:16-19.

B. Eason's 2012 Employment

Eason's attendance issues continued into 2012. In January alone, he had nine attendance-related issues. See generally Eason Dep. Eason initiated a meeting with Walser on February 3, 2012 to discuss his attendance. Conway Aff. Ex. K. At this meeting, Eason disclosed that he had long-term mental health issues relating to anxiety and depression. Id . Upon learning Eason's mental health problems were not situational, Walser encouraged Eason to apply for FMLA leave. Id.

Eason's FMLA paperwork was submitted on February 28, 2012. Dr. Sarpal, Eason's physician, wrote that his condition would cause "episodic flare-ups periodically preventing [Eason] from performing [his] job functions." Second Leland Decl.[Docket No. 47] Ex. 7. On May 9, 2012, Eason attempted to take his first FMLA absence.[2] Walser Dep. 93:9-13. The following day, Eason emailed several Walgreens employees (including those he supervised), informing them of his FMLA leave and that he had a medical condition which necessitated periodic absences without advanced warning. Leland Decl. Ex. 11. Eason forwarded the email to Walser and Rebecca Santowski ("Santowski"), a Walgreens Human Resource Manager. At this point, Eason's supervisors determined that his future sick days would be unpaid. Id . Ex. 14. The error with Eason's FMLA paperwork was also corrected and he was approved for intermittent leave from May 16 to November 16, 2012. Id . Ex. 17.

By July 23, 2012, Eason had already accumulated about 11 partial-day absences and 10 full-day absences for the calendar year. Eason had also taken FMLA approved absences on July 10, 16, 17, and 18. Id . Ex. 18.

C. Eason's Suspension and Termination

On the morning of July 23, 2012 Eason emailed Walser and others, stating that he was taking his dog to the vet because she was ill. Conway Aff. Ex. O. Later that morning, Eason emailed Walser:

I just got back from the vet and they could not figure out what is wrong with her. They suggested someone stay with her and keep an eye on her, but I do not have anyone that can do that (my girls are in Missouri with my parents still). Would it be possible to make this day up by working the equivalent hours over the weekend - I can't afford to miss another day.

Id. Ex. P. Walser responded to Eason's email that afternoon:

Just catching up on emails. I've been out on the floor. Sorry to hear about problems with the pooch. I can't offer you the "make-up" option. We just have too many irons in the fire that require you to have personal interaction with the team. Please bring in documentation tomorrow to substantiate today's absence. Hope your pooch is feeling better. Talk to you tomorrow.

Id. Ex. Q.

Eason took a FMLA absence the following day, July 24, and returned to work on July 25, 2012. Leland Decl. Ex. 10. Eason initiated a meeting with Walser the morning of his return. Conway Aff. Ex. R. Eason stated he was not doing well with his depression and anxiety and expressed interest in additional unpaid time off to deal with his mental health issues. Id . Walser understood this request as related to both FMLA leave and personal issues. Id . Walser responded that he needed to review Eason's current FMLA paperwork before he could address Eason's request for additional leave. Id.

Walser then shifted the conversation to Eason's July 23, 2012 absence and inquired whether Eason had documentation to substantiate his visit to the vet. Id . Eason responded that he spoke only with the receptionist and did not see his vet out of financial concerns. Id . Eason became defensive and claimed Walser's request was unfair because he had not previously submitted documentation for absences. Id . At the conclusion of the meeting, Walser placed Eason on an indefinite suspension pending review. Id.

Immediately following the meeting with Walser, Eason stopped by the vet's office seeking documentation for his July 23 visit. Eason Dep. 115:8-11. Later that morning, Eason emailed Walser, stating that the office "will not provide anything since I did not keep the appointment." Conway Aff. Ex. S. Eason wrote to Walser again on July 25 regarding his FMLA leave paperwork. Leland Decl. Ex. 25. Walser responded that day to Eason, copying Director of Operations Varno:

Your suspension and subsequent review is not based on absences that are covered under FMLA. The request for copies of any documents provided to you by the unpaid leave department, which I originally made on May 16th, is simply to insure that we are both on the same page with regard to your needs under FMLA. My mention of it today is/was in response to your request for options to get more time off of work. My intention is to follow up with you as soon as possible and hope to be able to do that with you by tomorrow or Friday.

Id. Varno responded directly to Walser only with the word: "Nice." Id . Ex. 26.

On July 30, Varno, Walser, and Santowski reviewed Eason's situation. The following day, Walser emailed Eason and requested an explanation for the variation in Eason's story relating to his July 23 absence with his dog. Conway Aff. Ex. T. Varno responded to Walser by writing "Perfect." Leland Decl. Ex. 28. In a detailed reply, Eason alleged there was no variation and that he could not obtain documentation because he "did not make an appointment" as he could not afford the visit to the vet. Id . Ex. 23.

On August 3, 2012 Eason participated in a conference call to review his situation with Walser, Santowski, and Claire Reeve ("Reeve"), a Human Resources Generalist at the Rogers facility. Leland Decl. Ex. 31. In the call, Eason explained he left his dog in the car and spoke with the receptionist about his dog's health because he was concerned about the cost of the visit. Id . Eason elected not to see a vet and followed the receptionist's advice to "keep an eye on her." Id . After speaking with Eason, Walgreens contacted the vet's office. Walser Dep. 198:5-11. Although the office verified Eason's brief visit on July 25 seeking documentation, they were ...


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