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Bunch v. University of Arkansas Board of Trustees

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

July 24, 2017

Gloria A. Bunch Plaintiff- Appellant
v.
University of Arkansas Board of Trustees Defendant-Appellee

          Submitted: January 11, 2017

         Appeal from United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas - Little Rock

          Before RILEY, [1] Chief Judge, LOKEN and BENTON, Circuit Judges.

          RILEY, Chief Judge.

         Gloria Bunch appeals the grant of summary judgment to her former employer in her lawsuit alleging discrimination and retaliation leading to wrongful termination.

         We affirm the judgment of the district court.[2] See 28 U.S.C. § 1291 (appellate jurisdiction).

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual History

         In early June 2010, Gloria Bunch, an African-American woman, was hired by the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences as a program eligibility specialist for STRIVE (an acronym for Seeking to Reinforce My Identity and Values Everyday), a community outreach program that provides outpatient therapy for students in the Little Rock, Arkansas, school system. All new employees are subject to a 90-day probation period. In late August, before the end of her 90-day period, Bunch received a performance review conducted by her supervisor. Bunch earned satisfactory remarks in all categories except the category of cooperation. Bunch was informed her probation period would be extended until late November. Bunch refused to sign her performance review.

         Shortly after the review, Bunch met with a human resources administrator and asked to file a grievance of discrimination and retaliation because she was being harassed and taunted by her coworkers. Bunch also met with STRIVE's director, Paula McCarther. Bunch complained to McCarther about her coworkers, supervisor, and performance review. Bunch also told McCarther she suffered from disabilities and discussed requesting time off to attend a doctor's appointment.[3] McCarther explained to Bunch the leave policy requires employees requesting leave to do so two weeks in advance, or, if calling in sick, to call their supervisor by 7:00 a.m. on the day of the absence.

          On August 30, 2010, Bunch emailed McCarther stating she was making her "formal request for the Reasonable Accommodation to attend medical appointments." The next morning (four minutes before 7:00 a.m.) Bunch emailed McCarther, her supervisor, and others, "to report [she was] calling in sick on [sic] today." Later that day, she emailed the same group:

My Doctor is requesting for me to be off work for the next two weeks as a Reasonable Accommodation Request and is completing the FMLA Paperwork. I will submit the form upon his completion ASAP. Thank you in advance for your assistance.

         Bunch's doctor submitted paperwork for unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), see 29 U.S.C. §§ 2601-2654, on September 1, 2010. According to the paperwork, Bunch needed to be out of work for two weeks due to a "flare up" in her fibromyalgia syndrome, which left her unable to work "in any capacity."

         On September 2, 2010, McCarther left a voicemail for and emailed Bunch to inform her she did not qualify for FMLA leave because she had not been employed for one year and had not worked the requisite number of hours. See id. ยง 2611(2)(A) (defining eligibility). Bunch filed a charge with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), alleging discrimination based on race, sex, age, and disability, and also retaliation. One week later, Bunch received a letter from McCarther notifying Bunch her employment was terminated. The ...


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