United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Abingdon Division
P. Jones United States District Judge Rodney B. Rowlett, III,
Shine & Rowlett, PLLC, Kingsport, Tennessee, for
Plaintiff; Joseph A. Piasta, Johnson, Ayers & Matthews,
P.L.C., Roanoke, Virginia, for Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
P. JONES UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
action arising out of the Family and Medical Leave Act
(“FMLA”), plaintiff Christopher Earl Snipes
alleges that defendant The Southwest Virginia Regional Jail
Authority (“Jail Authority” or “the
Authority”) violated the FMLA by terminating his
employment in retaliation for his use of FMLA-protected
leave. The Jail Authority has moved for summary judgment,
arguing that it terminated Snipes' employment for a
legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason and Snipes cannot show
that this reason was pretext for discrimination based on his
use of FMLA leave. For the reasons that follow, I will deny
the defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment.
following facts taken from the summary judgment record are
either undisputed or, where disputed, are presented in the
light most favorable to the plaintiff as the nonmoving party.
Jail Authority operates four jails in Southwest Virginia. The
Authority organizes its correctional officers in a
paramilitary structure - they begin as officers and may
progress in rank to corporal, sergeant, lieutenant, captain,
and major. Officers directly supervise the inmate population
and the jail's day-to-day operations. To prepare to take
on a higher rank, officers may apply to be corporals, who are
given additional responsibilities for disciplining inmates
and training new officers. Sergeants supervise the officers
on each shift and handle more serious inmate disciplinary
processes. Lieutenants are shift commanders and are
ultimately responsible for the functioning of each shift.
Lieutenants also have administrative responsibilities,
including determining the appropriate staffing for each
shift, scheduling employees' time off, and documenting
and investigating any accidents that occur during the shifts.
Captains supervise the lieutenants, and majors oversee all of
of correctional officers is approached on a case-by-case
basis and can be tailored to the rank of the officer.
Supervisors may give employees verbal warnings, and the
Authority's employee handbook provides for formal
disciplinary actions, which include written counseling,
written reprimands, suspension with or without pay, and
termination of employment. Termination may occur after an
employee commits multiple minor violations of the
Authority's policies or because of an employee's poor
job performance. Supervisory personnel are usually not
demoted when issues arise; rather, they “move up and
out.” Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 5, Kilgore Dep. 66:25, ECF No.
began working for the Jail Authority as an officer in 2005,
and he became a corporal in 2007. In 2010, he was promoted to
sergeant, and in December 2012, he was promoted to
lieutenant. During his time as a lieutenant, he oversaw the
jail's night shift.
2015, Snipes' wife developed a medical condition that was
ultimately diagnosed as Cacchi-Ricci disease. As a result,
she required inpatient care and experienced periods of
incapacity. In October 2015, she underwent a medical
procedure, and Snipes notified the Authority that he needed
to take FMLA leave to care for her. The Authority approved
his FMLA leave request, allowing him to take leave
intermittently per doctor's orders. On March 14, 2016,
Snipes' wife underwent another medical procedure, which
her doctor determined would leave her incapacitated from
March 14, 2016, to April 13, 2016. After both occasions,
Snipes submitted to the Authority certifications from the
doctor describing his wife's health issues and the care
she required. Snipes is uncertain of the exact dates on which
he took FMLA leave, but he did so intermittently between
October 2015 and March or April 2016.
Authority uses a form to notify employees of their
eligibility for FMLA leave and their rights and
responsibilities when taking this leave. Snipes' form
stated that, among other things, he was required to provide
to the Authority every thirty days reports about his leave
status and intent to return to work. The form also noted that
he had a right under the FMLA to up to twelve weeks of leave.
The Authority's Human Resources Manager, Georgia
Fitzgerald, testified in her deposition that employees using
FMLA leave may be disciplined if they do not provide the
Authority with the required status updates. Moreover,
employees may be terminated if they exceed the twelve weeks
of permitted leave.
March 2016, Larry Kilgore, then a captain supervising Snipes,
met with Fitzgerald regarding Snipes' leave. In a
memorandum that Kilgore prepared on March 29, 2016, to
document his conversations with Fitzgerald and Snipes,
Kilgore noted that he had told Snipes that
he was out of compliance with the Authority's FMLA
reporting requirements and the Authority would terminate him
if he exceeded his twelve weeks of leave and did not
communicate with Human Resources about his leave status.
Snipes returned to work sometime after this conversation.
April 26, 2016, Snipes missed a scheduled supervisory meeting
that Kilgore and Dwayne Lockhart, then a major, had expected
him to attend. Shortly after the meeting was supposed to have
begun, Lockhart called Snipes at home, and Snipes said that
he had forgotten about the meeting and would try to arrive in
time for the remainder of it. Lockhart told Snipes that they
were going to begin without him and not to rush to arrive.
Snipes came to the jail that day for his shift, which was
after the supervisory meeting, but he did not arrive in time
for any of the meeting.
April 26, Snipes received a written performance appraisal
from the Authority, which described his leadership and staff
relations as commendable, the second highest rating. It also
described his ability to interact with others and his
teamwork skills as distinguished, the highest rating.
Snipes' overall performance was characterized as
competent, the median rating. According to the appraisal
form, competent performance “clearly meets the
requirements of the position” and “reflects a
solid level of performance, ” and “[c]ontinued
performance at this level would be perfectly
acceptable.” Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 6, Kilgore Dep. Ex. 2 at
2, ECF No. 23-6. The appraisal also established three goals
for Snipes to meet by the end of the year, including spending
more time in the back of the jail rather than in his office,
and encouraging teamwork and building morale during his
10, a video recording showed Snipes using inappropriate
language with an inmate. Kilgore later referenced this
incident in a supervisory meeting, stating, “Let's
make sure we're doing the right thing. . . . You know
what I'm talking ...