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Taylor Wayne Trail v. Utility Trailer Manufacturing Co.

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

January 8, 2020

TAYLOR WAYNE TRAIL, Plaintiff,
v.
UTILITY TRAILER MANUFACTURING COMPANY, Defendant.

          Thomas E. Strelka, L. Leigh R. Strelka, and N. Winston West, IV, Strelka Law Office, P.C, Roanoke, Virginia, for Plaintiff;

          Mark M. Law son, Elliott Lawson & Minor, P.C, Bristol, Virginia, for Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JAMES P. JONES UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         In this civil case, the plaintiff, a former employee, alleges that the defendant, his former employer, violated his rights under the federal Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"). Because the plaintiff has failed to offer evidence showing that his children suffered from a serious health condition, he has not met his burden of establishing that he was entitled to FMLA leave. Accordingly, I will deny the plaintiffs Motion for Summary Judgment and grant the defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment.

         I.

         The following facts taken from the summary judgment record are undisputed except where noted.

         Plaintiff Taylor Wayne Trail began working for Utility Trailer Manufacturing Company ("Utility") as a welder on August 31, 2016. He worked second shift, from 4:00 p.m. to 2:30 a.m.

         Trail has two minor sons, one of whom has cerebral palsy. On March 1, 2018, Trail obtained from a human resources clerk at Utility a form to request leave under the FMLA. When he asked for the form, he told the clerk about his son's diagnosis, and she wrote a note about it. Trail gave the form to his son's doctor to be completed with supporting documentation. The completed form and accompanying documentation were never returned to Utility.

         Utility has an attendance system in which employees receive a point for missing more than half a day of work and half a point for missing less than half a day of work. Company policy provides that when an employee accumulates more than 15 points in a rolling 12-month period, the employee will be terminated. Trail knew that he was approaching the 15-point limit and that several of his absences had been due to illnesses or injuries of himself or his immediate family members. His mother told him about the FMLA, which prompted him to obtain the leave request form. He was under the mistaken belief that if he was approved for FMLA leave, it would cover any medical-related absence in the future, even those unrelated to the condition he identified in his request.

         Before March 8, Trail had accumulated 14.5 attendance points. On the evening of March 8, Trail's wife called Utility in an attempt to reach Trail. The couple's young children were vomiting and had rashes, and she had decided to take them to an emergency room. Mrs. Trail spoke to Pamela Greer Armstrong, a human resources clerk. There is some dispute about what Mrs. Trail told Armstrong. According to Armstrong, Mrs. Trail asked to speak to her husband, and Armstrong asked her if it was a "911 emergency." Pl.'s Br. Supp. Ex. B, Armstrong Dep. 14, ECF No. 47-2. Mrs. Trail answered in the affirmative. Armstrong transferred the call to Adam Harris, Trail's acting supervisor for the shift. Armstrong testified that she did not ask Mrs. Trail for any details about the nature of the emergency and Mrs. Trail did not provide any details. Mrs. Trail testified that she told the woman on the phone that she was taking her kids to the emergency room "because they were broke out and they were puking." Id. at Ex. C, Harmony Trail Dep. 8, ECF No. 47-3.

         Harris testified that when he answered the phone, he offered to get Trail, but Mrs. Trail asked him to just tell Trail that she was taking their child to the hospital. Harris relayed the message to Trail, who asked if he could take FMLA leave. Harris responded that he was not sure. Harris called Armstrong and asked if Trail's FMLA request had been approved. Armstrong said she did not know and that he would have to call back in the morning to find out.

         Trail told Harris that he needed to leave because his child was going to the hospital, and then he left. According to Trail, Harris told him that everything was fine and he could leave. Harris disputes this and testified in his deposition that he did not convey that Trail's absence would be excused. Trail did not personally speak with any human resources representative that evening. When Trail left work, he was unaware of the reason his child or children were being taken to the emergency room. Harris never followed up with Trail or the human resources department about Trail's absence.

         The children had started feeling sick on the evening of March 7. They had begun vomiting shortly before Mrs. Trail took them to the hospital on March 8.[1]When asked why she had called her husband before taking the children to the hospital, Mrs. Trail responded, “It was just two kids, and they were both puking and feeling awful. It was a little overwhelming.” Id. at 13.

         At the hospital, the five-year-old child, J.S.T., was tested for and diagnosed with “Strep pharyngitis with scarlet fever.” Pl.'s Br. Opp'n Ex. B, ECF No. 56-2. The younger child, M.T., was assessed as having “Strep tonsillitis” after having been exposed to his brother. Id. Ex. C, ECF No. 56-3. Both children were prescribed a ten-day course of amoxicillin. When asked in her deposition, “What happened after you started administering the amoxicillin?” Mrs. Trail replied, “I think they got ...


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