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Carlson v. Chippewa Valley Technical College

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

May 11, 2018

KASEY CARLSON, Plaintiff,
v.
CHIPPEWA VALLEY TECHNICAL COLLEGE, Defendant.

          OPINION & ORDER

          JAMES D. PETERSON, District Judge

         Plaintiff Kasey Carlson is a nursing instructor at defendant Chippewa Valley Technical College. In 2014, CVTC placed Carlson on a special assignment, which by contract was supposed to last through 2017. Carson contends that CVTC violated the FMLA by removing her from the assignment prematurely in 2015, shortly after she took two weeks of medical leave. Carlson also asserts state law claims for breach of contract and breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing for terminating her employment contract.

         CVTC moves for summary judgment on the ground that it removed Carlson for reasons unrelated to her FMLA leave, an issue on which Carlson bears the burden of proof for all of her FMLA claims. The court's role is not to second-guess CVTC's personnel decisions, but to determine whether Carlson had adduced evidence from which a reasonable jury could find that CVTC terminated Carlson from the special assignment because she took FMLA leave. The court concludes that no reasonable jury could make this finding on the basis of the summary judgment record here, so the court will grant summary judgment on Carlson's FMLA claims. The court will decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Carlson's state law claims and dismiss them without prejudice.

         Carlson has also moved to take the deposition of Kristin Woghan “to preserve her testimony and for use at trial.” Dkt. 58. Because that motion is not related to CVTC's summary judgment motion, the court will deny the motion for leave to depose Woghan as moot.

         UNDISPUTED FACTS

         The following facts are undisputed unless otherwise noted.

         Carlson worked as a full-time nursing instructor at CVTC. In November 2014, CVTC assigned Carlson to a special assignment, the Augmented Reality Integration Simulation Education (ARISE) project. The project's goal was to integrate augmented reality into learning simulations for students studying nursing or other medical disciplines. While she worked on the project, Carlson held the position of simulation-curriculum specialist, which required her to “develop and compile simulation scenarios and associated augmented reality content.” Dkt. 45, ¶ 53; see also Dkt. 46-2, at 30. Carlson and CVTC entered into a “Special Assignment Agreement” and agreed that her assignment on the ARISE project would last from November 2014 through August 2017. Dkt. 39-1, at 1.

         In September 2015, Carlson requested a two-week FMLA leave for a medical reason, and CVTC approved her request. She returned and continued her work on the ARISE project on a part-time basis on October 1, 2015. She began working full-time on the ARISE project on October 15, 2015. CVTC removed her from the project on October 27, 2015, but she continued on as a full-time instructor.

         The court will discuss the facts related to CVTC's reasons for its decision to remove Carlson from the ARISE project in the analysis section.

         ANALYSIS

         Under the FMLA, an employee may take leave up to 12 weeks in a year. 29 U.S.C. § 2612(a); King v. Ford Motor Co., 872 F.3d 833, 840 (7th Cir. 2017). After an employee takes FMLA leave, the employer must restore the employee to the same or equivalent position she had when her FMLA leave began. 29 U.S.C. § 2614(a)(1); 29 C.F.R. § 825.214. The employer may not interfere with an employee's right to take leave and it may not retaliate against an employee for opposing a practice prohibited by the FMLA. 29 U.S.C. § 2615(a), (b); 29 C.F.R. § 825.220(c).

         In this case, Carlson asserts claims of both “interference” and “retaliation, ” but her theory under both claims is the same, which is that CVTC removed her from her assignment because she took FMLA leave. And both sides assume that the dispositive issue on summary judgment is the reason that CVTC removed Carlson from her assignment. In other words, if no reasonable jury could find that CVTC removed Carlson because she took leave, the court must grant CVTC's motion.

         CVTC offers three reasons for removing Carlson from the project: (1) at the time of her removal, Carlson had completed only four of the 25 augmented-reality scenarios that were supposed to be completed during the first year of the ARISE project; (2) Carlson disregarded a directive from her supervisor, Margaret Dickens; and (3) Carlson had difficulty working with her colleagues. Even if the court assumes that there are genuine disputes about the first two reasons, CVTC is entitled to summary judgment because no reasonable jury could find the third reason is pretextual. Simpson v. Beaver Dam Cmty. Hospitals, Inc., 780 F.3d 784, 798 (7th Cir. 2015) (general rule in employment discrimination cases is that plaintiff must show that each of employer's stated reasons is pretextual).

         The parties agree that several of Carlson's colleagues complained about difficulty working with her. For example, one colleague assigned to the project from the marketing department, Melissa Wilson, complained to Dickens and Pam Haller, the director of marketing, that Carson was “sarcastic, condescending, and difficult to work with.” Dkt. 44, ¶ 91. Another marketing employee, Sara Pertz, eventually replaced Wilson, but Pertz, too, complained ...


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