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Browett v. City of Reno

United States District Court, D. Nevada

February 17, 2017

MICHAEL S. BROWETT, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF RENO, Defendant.

          ORDER

          ROBERT C. JONES United States District Judge

         This case arises under the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 (“FMLA”). Pending before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 18). The Court grants the motion in part and denies it in part.

         I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff Michael Browett began working for Defendant City of Reno (“the City”) as a Police Cadet on September 2, 2005. (Compl. ¶ 9, ECF No. 1). After graduating first in his class at the Northern Nevada Law Enforcement Academy, he began duty as a Police Officer for the City, and he was promoted to Sergeant in 2011. (See Id. ¶¶ 10-13). His performance evaluations indicate that he has always met or exceeded standards. (Id. ¶ 15). Plaintiff took and passed the Lieutenant exam in early 2015, obtaining the top score of all examinees. (See Id. ¶ 17).

         On April 7, 2015, Plaintiff's second child was born. (Id. ¶ 18). Prior to his child's birth, Plaintiff had discussed with his supervisors, Lieutenants Newman and Larson, his need to take sick leave to care for his newborn child, his 2-year-old child, and his wife, who had been experiencing medical issues related to the pregnancy. (Id. ¶ 19). Because Plaintiff had accrued sufficient paid sick leave, Lieutenant Newman or Larson scheduled several weeks of paid sick leave into the Reno Police Department's (“RPD”) employee timecard management system that day. (Id. ¶ 20).

         On April 8, 2015, RPD Payroll Clerk Lori Heidenreich emailed Plaintiff requesting an explanation for the sick leave, explaining that it was appropriate if necessary to care for a sick family member but not if it was for “bonding with your new baby, ” in which case he would have to use vacation time. (Id. ¶ 21). Plaintiff responded the same day that the request was an invasion of his privacy and a violation of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (“the CBA”). (Id. ¶ 22). Plaintiff also spoke with Deputy Chief Venzon about the incident, and Venzon told him that the issue was with the City, not RPD, that other members of RPD had had similar issues with the City, and that Plaintiff would suffer no consequences at RPD as a result of any conflict with the City over his use of sick time. (Id. ¶ 23). On April 10, 2015, Plaintiff confirmed to Heidenreich that he was not taking “paternity leave.” (Id. ¶ 24). On April 20, 2015, Plaintiff told Lieutenant Newman that his wife was now suffering a life-threatening complication. (Id. ¶ 25). Plaintiff called Deputy Chief Venzon with this information on May 5, 2015, and Venzon requested verification from Plaintiff's wife's doctors. (Id. ¶ 26). That day, Plaintiff provided Venzon with letters from two of his wife's providers indicating the need for Plaintiff to care for his wife and newborn for up to 12 weeks following the birth and specifically noting that the time was not “bonding time” but was essential for the health and well-being of the mother and child. (Id. ¶ 27).

         On May 6, 2016, the City sent correspondence to Plaintiff indicating that it had designated his leave as FMLA leave, that his accrued sick leave was not available for use, and that the time would be counted against his vacation or other leave time. (Id. ¶ 28). Plaintiff responded on May 11, 2015 by email to Marlene Chapel of the City's Human Resources Department, objecting to the designation of his leave as FMLA leave and noting that he was using accrued sick leave in accordance with the CBA. (Id. ¶ 29). He explained that the City's assumption that the time was being used for “bonding with his new baby” was incorrect, and he briefly explained his wife's medical condition. (Id.). He further explained that because he had sufficient accrued sick leave, he did not want to take unpaid FMLA time because he may need it later. (Id.). On May 12, 2015, Chapel emailed Plaintiff to tell him that the City had determined he was eligible to use accrued sick leave but that it was still going to designate the time as FMLA leave, i.e., it would run his FMLA leave concurrently with his paid sick leave. (Id. ¶ 30).

         On June 2, 2015, Plaintiff was interviewed for promotion to Lieutenant by Acting Police Chief Jason Soto and members of the Command Staff. (Id. ¶¶ 31-32). Plaintiff was questioned about his use of FMLA leave and criticized about how the situation was handled. (Id. ¶ 32). On June 11, 2015, Plaintiff was informed that he was being passed over for the open Lieutenant positions, even though he was ranked highest on the promotion list. (Id. ¶ 33). His FMLA leave was noted as the reason. (Id. ¶ 34). Plaintiff was interviewed again on July 20, 2015, and his FMLA leave was again discussed. (Id. ¶ 35). The next day, Soto advised Plaintiff he was again denying him promotion to Lieutenant. (Id. ¶ 36). Plaintiff was interviewed a third time on August 24, 2015, and he was again denied promotion to Lieutenant. (Id. ¶¶ 37-38).

         Plaintiff has sued the City in this Court under the FMLA, 29 U.S.C. § 2615. Defendant has moved for summary judgment.

         II. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARDS

         A court must grant summary judgment when “the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Material facts are those which may affect the outcome of the case. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute as to a material fact is genuine if there is sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party. See Id. A principal purpose of summary judgment is “to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986).

         In determining summary judgment, a court uses a burden-shifting scheme. The moving party must first satisfy its initial burden. “When the party moving for summary judgment would bear the burden of proof at trial, it must come forward with evidence which would entitle it to a directed verdict if the evidence went uncontroverted at trial.” C.A.R. Transp. Brokerage Co. v. Darden Rests., Inc., 213 F.3d 474, 480 (9th Cir. 2000) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). In contrast, when the nonmoving party bears the burden of proving the claim or defense, the moving party can meet its burden in two ways: (1) by presenting evidence to negate an essential element of the nonmoving party's case; or (2) by demonstrating that the nonmoving party failed to make a showing sufficient to establish an element essential to that party's case on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. See Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 323-24.

         If the moving party fails to meet its initial burden, summary judgment must be denied and the court need not consider the nonmoving party's evidence. See Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144 (1970). If the moving party meets its initial burden, the burden then shifts to the opposing party to establish a genuine issue of material fact. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). To establish the existence of a factual dispute, the opposing party need not establish a material issue of fact conclusively in its favor. It is sufficient that “the claimed factual dispute be shown to require a jury or judge to resolve the parties' differing versions of the truth at trial.” T.W. Elec. Serv., Inc. v. Pac. Elec. Contractors Ass'n, 809 F.2d 626, 631 (9th Cir. 1987). In other words, the nonmoving party cannot avoid summary judgment by relying solely on conclusory allegations unsupported by facts. See Taylor v. List, 880 F.2d 1040, 1045 (9th Cir. 1989). Instead, the opposition must go beyond the assertions and allegations of the pleadings and set forth specific facts by producing competent evidence that shows a genuine issue for trial. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e); Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 324.

         At the summary judgment stage, a court's function is not to weigh the evidence and determine the truth, but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. The evidence of the nonmovant is “to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.” Id. at 255. But if the evidence of the nonmoving party is merely colorable or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted. See Id. at 249-50. Notably, facts are only viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party where there is a genuine dispute about those facts. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007). That is, even where the underlying claim contains a reasonableness test, where a party's evidence is so clearly ...


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