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Burciaga v. Ravago Ams., LLC

United States District Court, S.D. Iowa, Central Division

August 4, 2014


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For Elizabeth Burciaga, Plaintiff: Andrew L LeGrant, LEAD ATTORNEY, Margret Elizabeth White, LEGRANT LAW FIRM, Urbandale, IA.

For Ravago Americas LLC, Defendant: Kenneth M. Wentz, III, LEAD ATTORNEY, Christopher E Hoyme, JACKSON LEWIS, LLP, Omaha, NE; Susan M. Schneider, PRO HAC VICE, JACKSON LEWIS P.C., Omaha, NE.

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JAMES E. GRITZNER, Chief United States District Judge.

This matter comes before the Court on Motion for Summary Judgment by Defendant Ravago Americas, LLC (Ravago). Plaintiff Elizabeth Burciaga (Burciaga) resists. The parties did not request a hearing, and the Court finds the Motion may be resolved without one. The matter is fully submitted and ready for disposition.


A. Factual Background[1]

Ravago is an international company that distributes, sells, compounds, and recycles plastic and elastomeric raw materials. Channel Prime Alliance is one of Ravago's business units and distributes plastic and rubber resin. In August 2007, Burciaga began working for Channel Prime Alliance in Des Moines, Iowa, as a Customer Service Representative (CSR).[2] Burciaga was responsible for contact with sales representatives and customers, receiving and processing orders, scheduling shipments, and fixing customer issues. Customer Service Manager Jeremy Howe (Howe) served as Burciaga's supervisor for the duration of Burciaga's employment with Ravago.

Throughout her employment at Ravago, Burciaga used FMLA leave multiple times. In 2008, Burciaga took FMLA leave following the birth of her oldest son. In September 2010, Burciaga again requested and received FMLA leave for January 2011 following the birth of her twin children.

Burciaga had several performance-related issues during her employment. Ravago did not have a written evaluation process for employees, and Howe never carried out a formal evaluation of Burciaga's job performance. However, Howe began taking notes about Burciaga's employment on May 23, 2011, after she took a longer than normal lunch break without notifying him. Howe indicated that taking long lunches was an issue he had addressed with other CSRs in the past but could not recall a specific conversation with Burciaga regarding this incident. Howe also could not recall taking notes on other CSRs after they had taken long lunches. Howe's notes from May 23, 2011, also indicated an issue regarding an order that needed to be triggered.[3] According to Howe, this was a significant issue but not one that required a corrective action form.[4] Howe indicated that he took these notes on his own initiative and that he took notes on other CSRs.

On February 17, 2012, Burciaga made a shipping mistake by reshipping an order that had already been shipped. It is unclear from the record whether a corrective action form was filled out following this incident; however, Howe had a discussion with Burciaga about the mistake. Howe

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counseled Burciaga to take her time and make sure she entered orders correctly and warned her of the possibility of termination if she continued to make mistakes.

The leave at issue in this case occurred on approximately July 27, 2012; Burciaga requested FMLA paperwork authorizing intermittent FMLA leave to care for her son. Burciaga's son had a medical condition that required several medical appointments and a hospital stay. Jennifer Feliciano (Feliciano), a payroll and benefits administrator located in Ravago's corporate human resources department in Orlando, Florida, processed the request. Burciaga's request was granted, and she took half days off related to appointments for her son on August 8, 2012; September 5, 2012; and September 6, 2012.

According to both Feliciano and Donna Comey (Comey), a human resources manager located in Ravago's corporate human resources department in Orlando, Florida, local management is normally notified when an employee uses FMLA leave. However, neither could definitively say that Howe was in fact notified at the time of the requests.

Howe stated that he was aware of Burciaga's leave; however, he was unaware that Burciaga's absences were covered by the FMLA and acknowledged that he did not have a general understanding of what the FMLA provides or addresses. Further, Howe said that he had discussions with Burciaga about time off, but the discussions were " very general," and his major concern was not her explanation, rather it was making sure her desk was covered.

Burciaga made a series of mistakes prior to her termination. On September 10, 2012, Burciaga made an error by entering 15,000 pounds into Ravago's system as the amount of ordered material when the actual amount was 22,500 pounds. Howe caught the mistake and told Burciaga to correct it. A corrective action form was not completed following this incident because Howe caught the mistake before the order shipped. Howe stated that after this mistake he " felt like [he] had to micromanage [Burciaga]." Howe Dep. 175:3-19, Def.'s App. 76, ECF No. 52-5. Howe noted that someone who had been with Ravago for five years, such as Burciaga, should not be required to have someone constantly looking over her shoulder.

On September 11, 2012, Burciaga submitted and shipped material under the wrong customer number. A corrective action form was completed following this incident. Howe had to remind Burciaga twice to fill out a corrective action form in connection with this mistake. Again, Howe noted that he felt he had to " micromanage" Burciaga. Howe Dep. 176:15-25, Def.'s App. 77, ECF No. 52-5. Howe could not recall whether he ever had to remind other CSRs to complete a corrective action form.

On September 18, 2012, Burciaga shipped the wrong material to a customer. A corrective action form was filled out in connection with this incident.

On September 27, 2012, Burciaga entered an order directing a shipment to the wrong customer and location. A customer named " Bob" emailed Burciaga requesting an order. Burciaga did not verify the proper customer and entered the order for a customer named " Bob" in Arizona; the order was actually requested by a customer named " Bob" in Utah. Burciaga had prior experience with both customers. A corrective action form was filled out in connection with this incident.

On September 28, 2012, Burciaga informed John Eighmey (Eighmey), a logistics coordinator at Ravago, of her mistake. Eighmey told Burciaga the mistake was not a " big deal" and that the shipment was

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still at the carrier so he could reroute it to the right location. Eighmey also told Burciaga that he had seen other CSRs make bigger mistakes and even gave her a specific example. Later that day, Eighmey went to Howe to discuss the mistake. Eighmey wanted to bring it to Howe's attention that Burciaga seemed to be making shipping mistakes habitually.

Burciaga also discussed the mistake with Howe on September 28. Howe was surprised and angry because he felt that Burciaga should have known her customers. Howe did not believe that Burciaga should be making the kinds of mistakes or the number of mistakes she was making after being employed at Ravago for five years.

Howe then met with Stephen Kramer (Kramer), a controller at Ravago, to discuss the possibility of terminating Burciaga. Howe did not recall reviewing any documents or corrective action forms with Kramer or discussing Burciaga's previous shipping mistakes with him at that time. At that meeting, Howe came to the conclusion that Burciaga needed to be terminated.

Howe gained knowledge of Burciaga's FMLA leave on September 28, 2012, when he called the human resources department to discuss the procedure for terminating Burciaga's employment. Feliciano told Howe that Burciaga was on FMLA leave or had filled out FMLA paperwork. Howe told Feliciano that he did not know about Burciaga's FMLA activity prior to their conversation.

Later in the afternoon, Howe and Kramer met with Burciaga and informed her that she was terminated from Ravago because of her mistakes and poor performance. Kramer added that the mistakes were having a detrimental effect on the company's reputation. Howe cited his frustration that, after five years with Ravago, Burciaga did not know or understand her customers and did not take her mistakes seriously or try to improve on them. Neither Howe nor Kramer made any reference to Burciaga's FMLA leave or her time missed during the termination process. However, Howe later stated that he " was probably a little frustrated" by how often Burciaga had to be away from work to deal with family issues. Howe Dep. 143:7-10, Pl.'s App. 47, ECF No. 69-3.

B. Procedural Background

On December 11, 2012, Burciaga filed a Petition at Law and Jury Demand in the Iowa District Court for Polk County. On January 2, 2013, Ravago timely removed the action to this Court under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. On January 28, 2013, Burciaga filed an Amended Complaint and Jury Demand alleging a cause of action based on the FMLA, 28 U.S.C. § § 2601 et seq. Burciaga alleges she was discharged based on her use of FMLA leave. On February 7, 2013, Ravago filed an Answer and Affirmative Defenses, which denied Burciaga's ...

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