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Vannoy v. Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

June 28, 2016

JOHN VANNOY, Plaintiff - Appellant,

          Argued: March 24, 2016

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, at Richmond. John A. Gibney, Jr., District Judge. (3:13-cv-00797-JAG)


          Mary Ann Kelly, THE LAW OFFICES OF MARY ANN KELLY, Fairfax, Virginia, for Appellant.

          David E. Nagle, JACKSON LEWIS PC, Richmond, Virginia, for Appellee.

         ON BRIEF:

          Crystal L. Tyler, JACKSON LEWIS PC, Richmond, Virginia, for Appellee.

          Before AGEE and WYNN, Circuit Judges, and Thomas D. SCHROEDER, United States District Judge for the Middle District of North Carolina, sitting by designation.


         John Vannoy sued his former employer, the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond ("FRBR"), for interference and retaliation in violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. § 2601, et seq., and failure to accommodate and discriminatory discharge in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq. The district court granted summary judgment in FRBR's favor as to all of the claims.

         For the reasons discussed below, we affirm the district court's judgment as to the FMLA retaliation claim and the ADA claims. However, because genuine issues of material fact exist as to whether FRBR interfered with Vannoy's FMLA rights by providing him defective notice that omitted his right to reinstatement at the conclusion of the medical leave term, we hold that summary judgment as to that claim was not warranted. Accordingly, we vacate that part of the district court's judgment and remand for further proceedings as to Vannoy's FMLA interference claim.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background[1]

         Vannoy worked for FRBR from 1994 until his termination on December 21, 2010, at which time he held the position of Project Construction Manager / Technical Services Director within FRBR's Facilities Management Department. By the summer of 2010, Vannoy's supervisors, Robert Minteer and Mattison Harris, noticed Vannoy was having problems with his work and attendance. In July 2010, Harris reported his concern that Vannoy may be depressed to FRBR's Medical Director, Dr. Victor Brugh.

         Dr. Brugh, who had treated Vannoy for depression previously, was aware of Vannoy's history of depression "going way back, " and that Vannoy had taken antidepressant medications "for a long time." J.A. 419-20.[2] As the Medical Director of the Health Services Department, Dr. Brugh was responsible for core aspects of FRBR's FMLA and ADA compliance, including: evaluating and treating employees; overseeing administration of short term disability and ADA benefits; working closely with human resources on health and disability related benefits; overseeing and reviewing applications for FMLA leave; and working with FRBR departments in connection with employee performance issues potentially related to health problems. The record does not reflect that Dr. Brugh ever spoke with Vannoy about his rights and responsibilities under the FMLA.

         On September 23, 2010, Vannoy saw Mimi Kline, a licensed professional counselor, who diagnosed him with "major depression" and noted his need for "an in-patient 30-day program." J.A. 169.

         Beginning on October 22 and lasting through November 15, Vannoy had several unscheduled absences from work, which he cleared informally with his supervisors by text message or email. The record does not indicate whether these absences were to seek medical treatment. However, the record does show that Vannoy was admitted to St. Mary's Hospital on November 10 for psychiatric treatment. His family informed Harris and Dr. Brugh that Vannoy was in the hospital, and Dr. Brugh spoke directly with Vannoy during his hospital stay. Vannoy's physicians recommended that he enter a 30-day rehabilitation program for treatment of depression and alcohol dependency, but Vannoy refused, expressing concern that taking additional time off from work would result in termination. Vannoy was discharged from the hospital on November 13.

         Around that time, Vannoy submitted his application for short term disability, which also functioned as a request for FMLA leave. To that application, Vannoy attached a physician's statement from his primary care doctor taking him out of work from November 10 to December 10. Based on these documents, FRBR determined and notified Vannoy that he was eligible for leave under the FMLA through December 10.

         The parties' accounts diverge as to whether Vannoy received sufficient individualized notice of his FMLA rights and responsibilities as required by the Act. FRBR represents that it sent Vannoy the applicable notice document on November 16, but Vannoy asserts that he did not receive it. In any event, the notice FRBR claims to have sent omitted reference to job protection rights, the precise information Vannoy contends he needed to answer his concerns that continued absences for treatment of his depression and alcoholism would result in termination.

         Fearful of losing his job, Vannoy reported to work on November 15 without a doctor's note and well before the end of his approved FMLA leave period. FRBR sent Vannoy home with instructions that he could not return to work until he obtained a release from his physician. Shortly thereafter Vannoy provided FRBR a doctor's note, allowing him to return to "full work duty" as of November 15. J.A. 203. Vannoy returned to work on November 16.

         On November 18, Vannoy arranged a meeting with Minteer and Harris to follow up about his recent hospitalization and ongoing medical issues. Apparently, the FMLA was not discussed during this meeting, though Vannoy states he was "reassured that [his] job was not in jeopardy." J.A. 118. Vannoy contends he reiterated to his supervisors that he ...

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