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Salem v. Monsanto Co.

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

June 18, 2018




         Before the Court is the Defendant, Monsanto Company's Partial Motion to Dismiss (R. Doc. 8). The motion is opposed. R. Doc. 14. A reply to the opposition was also filed with the Court's leave. R. Doc. 23. The motion was heard on the briefs.

         I. Background

         The instant action was filed by the Plaintiff, Ahmed S. Salem (“Salem” or “Plaintiff'), a Process Engineer employed by Monsanto Company (“Monsanto” or “Defendant”) alleging violations of the ADA Amendment Act of 2008, the Family and Medical Leave Act, and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. R. Doc. 1. Monsanto is a chemical company that operates a facility in Luling, Louisiana. Id. at p. 2. The Plaintiff worked for Monsanto for over four years at the time of his discharge in April 2016. He alleges that he had a good work history up until the time when (1) he needed to return to Egypt to care for his father and (2) he began experiencing depression, a disability.

         Salem alleges that at the end of 2015 he learned that his father, who lives in Egypt, was suffering from a life-threatening illness which required him to travel to Egypt in December of 2015 to care for his father. He alleges he requested and was granted an additional few days to remain in Egypt with his family. Id. Salem alleges that upon returning from Egypt in early January of 2016 he suffered from a “deep depression.” The Plaintiff argues that he went back to work and during this time suffered from insomnia and lack of ability to concentrate at work, which he attributed to depression, stress, and anxiety. Id.

         Salem alleges that on or about January 7, 2016, he visited Kristopher Steffen of Monsanto's Human Relations at his office about the depression, stress, and anxiety of his father's illness and his being located far away from his father. The Plaintiff contends that at this meeting he asked how he could return to Egypt to care for his father without losing his job at Monsanto. Id. According to Salem, shortly after the meeting he was informed by Steffen that he should see a doctor about his medical condition, which if verified, would allow Salem to apply for short-term disability or that Salem could apply for FMLA leave without seeing a doctor. Id.

         The Plaintiff alleges that he elected to see a doctor to get medical help and on January 11, 2016 he visited Dr. Jackson Hatfield who diagnosed him with acute depression, prescribed an anti-depressant, and recommended that Salem not return to work for eight weeks or until March 7, 2016. Id. Salem contends that after seeing the doctor, and pursuant to Steffen's instructions, he submitted a claim for short-term disability benefits to Kristi Flann, Disability Plan Specialist at Sedgwick Claims Management Services, Inc. under Monsanto's disability insurance and that both Jim Yarborough, his supervisor, and the Human Relations Department approved of Salem's leave of absence while his short-term disability claim was pending. Id. at pp. 3-4. Salem argues that he knows many employees of Monsanto who have gone out on short-term disability and he discussed the procedure with Jessica Gautier, a mechanical engineer, whose national origin is that of the United States, about her experience of being on short-term disability for five-months. Id. at p. 4.

         The record indicates that after his January visit with Monsanto's Human Resources he returned to Egypt to care for his father. There is no indication of the exact date which Salem left the country to travel to Egypt. He contends that during the first week of February 2016 he was performing caretaking duties in Egypt when he was contacted by Sedgwick Claims Management, a non-party claims administrator, who requested that he provide a second medical opinion on his disability. Id. Salem argues that he was out of the country and had been informed by his physician, Dr. Hatfield, that in other cases Sedgwick had approved disability claims based on his recommendation. Id. at pp. 4-5. The Plaintiff alleges that Sedgwick insisted he was to provide a second medical opinion from a U.S. psychiatrist, which he states was impossible because he was in Egypt. Plaintiff states that his short-term disability benefits were denied on February 5, 2016. Id. at p. 5.

         After his short-term disability claim was denied the complaint suggests that Salem stayed in contact with his supervisor at Monsanto. Id. at p. 5. As a result, on March 24, 2016, he was advised by Kristopher Steffen of Monsanto's Human Resources that it was his responsibility to contact Monsanto's medical department and begin the FMLA application process. Id. Salem began the FMLA process in March and was referred to Danielle Breaux, a Medical Administrative Assistant, to complete the necessary paperwork, which he did. Id. Plaintiff further states that on April 5, 2016 he was informed by Breaux that all the forms necessary for the FMLA leave application had been received. Id.

         On April 14, 2016, the Plaintiff contends that he was informed by Human Resources that his FMLA leave was approved and this his 12 weeks of FMLA leave ended on April 8, 2016, three days after the application was received.[1] Id. Plaintiff contends that he was informed that because his FMLA leave was exhausted he would be terminated if he did not return to work by April 18, 2016, ten days after his FMLA expired. Id. However, because he did not learn of this deadline until April 14, 2018 he was given only 4 days to return from Egypt. Salem alleges that he was unable to substitute care for his father, make travel arrangements from Egypt to Louisiana, and travel in such a short-period of time. Id. at pp. 5-6. Salem believed and communicated with Monsanto's Human Resources that he should be given additional time to return to the United States. Instead, he was terminated on April 18, 2016.

         Salem filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC on November 7, 2016 and filed the instant lawsuit within ninety (90) days of receiving his right to sue letter. Id. Salem contends that: (1) Monsanto terminated him because he took FMLA leave; (2) other Monsanto employees were allowed to take leave and return to work; (3) Monsanto breached its duty to provide written notice of his obligations and the consequences of failing to comply; (4) Monsanto violated the Americans with Disabilities Act because it failed to make a reasonable accommodation for his disability, depression, and treated others more favorably than he; and (5) Monsanto terminated him because of his national origin.

         Monsanto seeks a dismissal of the national original claim arguing that: (1) there is no link between Salem's national origin and termination; (2) the alleged comparators listed in the amended complaint were not similarly situated employees because the employer's action must be taken in nearly identical circumstances, the comparator employees must have held the same job, supervisor, or their employment status determined by the same person; and (3) Salem's alleged comparators who were non-Egyptian engineers who were granted leave due to family issues and allowed to return is deficient such that the national origin discrimination claim should be dismissed. R. Docs. 8, 23.

         Salem filed an opposition to the motion to dismiss the national origin claim because other employees not in his protected class were treated more favorably for failing to timely return from FMLA leave and the reason for termination, Salem had exhausted his leave, is a pretext for discrimination. R. Doc. 14, pp. 1-2. The Plaintiff argues that these factual allegations support his national origin discrimination claim. R. Doc. 14. He argues that the comparators he identified are adequate because they are non-Egyptian engineers who had family issues, were granted four-to-five months of leave, and allowed to resume their employment when Salem was not. Id. at pp. 4-5.

         II. Stand ...

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