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Lamonaca v. Tread Corp.

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division

June 22, 2015

VALARIE LAMONACA, Plaintiff,
v.
TREAD CORPORATION, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

GLEN E. CONRAD, Chief District Judge.

Valarie LaMonaca filed this action against her former employer, Tread Corporation (Tread), alleging violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA), 29 U.S.C. ยงยง 2601-2654. The case is presently before the court on Tread's motion for summary judgment. The court held a hearing on the motion on June 17, 2015. For the reasons stated during the hearing and for those set forth below, the motion for summary judgment will be denied.

Factual Background

The following facts are either undisputed or, where disputed, are presented in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Tolan v. Cotton, 134 S.Ct. 1861, 1866 (2014) (emphasizing that courts must view the evidence on summary judgment in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party).

LaMonaca began working for Tread in 2009. After initially serving as an executive assistant to Tread's former chief executive officer (CEO), Bill McClane, LaMonaca was appointed to serve as the interim human resources (HR) director on August 26, 2012. On March 10, 2013, the current CEO, Barry Russell, officially promoted LaMonaca to HR director. She remained in that position until April of 2014, when the events giving rise to this action occurred.

In April of 2014, LaMonaca struggled emotionally after being exposed to heightened levels of stress at home and at work. Her husband had lost his job while recuperating from open heart surgery and, thus, her job was the family's sole source of income and insurance benefits. Additionally, LaMonaca's relationship with Russell had grown increasingly strained. One source of tension between them was a lawsuit Tread had filed in state court against LaMonaca's former boss, Bill McClane, and the company's former chief financial officer, Carl Miller.

On the afternoon of Friday, April 11, 2014, LaMonaca met with Russell to discuss issues related to the lawsuit against McClane and Miller. The parties dispute what transpired during the meeting. While Tread maintains that LaMonaca resigned during the meeting, LaMonaca contends that she merely informed Russell that she was considering resigning, and that he suggested that she take some time to think about the decision. During her deposition, LaMonaca testified that Russell told her that she seemed "stressed out, " that "he did not think that [she] should resign, " and that he would want her to submit a written resignation if she ultimately decided to do so. LaMonaca Dep. Tr. 72-73.

LaMonaca returned to her office after the meeting. Approximately twenty minutes later, Russell recommended that she leave early, because he was concerned about her "state of mind." Russell Dep. Tr. 60-61. LaMonaca was observed crying when she passed Kimberly Butler, the HR assistant, on the way out of the building.

Later that night, Russell sent LaMonaca two text messages asking if she planned to submit a written resignation. LaMonaca did not respond to the messages that night.

On the morning of Saturday, April 12, 2014, LaMonaca scheduled an appointment to see her physician, Dr. Nina Sweeney, the following Monday, April 14, 2014. After scheduling the appointment, LaMonaca sent Butler an email indicating that she was "suffering from psychological distress due to prolonged exposure to high levels of stress, " and that she had scheduled to see her physician on Monday afternoon. Def.'s Ex. P. LaMonaca asked Butler to send her the company's FMLA forms to take with her to the appointment.

On Sunday, April 13, 2014 at 12:47 p.m., Russell sent LaMonaca another series of text messages which provided as follows:

Valarie - your failure to respond to my last two questions indicates that you have decided to discontinue your employment at Tread immediately. If this is incorrect, please respond immediately. Otherwise, I will assume the resignation you verbally tendered on Friday is effective immediately and I will arrange on Monday to discontinue your pay and benefits.

Def.'s Ex. Q.

LaMonaca responded an hour later as follows:

Barry, I do not think that this is an appropriate medium to have this conversation. I was preparing to discuss with you on Monday. However, since you demand my immediate response, no I do not plan to tender my ...

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