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Hasenwinkel v. Mosaic

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

December 29, 2015

Bonnie Hasenwinkel, Plaintiff- Appellant,
v.
Mosaic; Kelly Thompson; Janet Fisher; Carol Mau, Defendants-Appellees.

Submitted: September 23, 2015

Appeal from United States District Court for the Southern District of Iowa - Des Moines

Before WOLLMAN, COLLOTON, and KELLY, Circuit Judges.

COLLOTON, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

Bonnie Hasenwinkel sued her former employer, Mosaic, for allegedly interfering with her rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq., and for allegedly terminating her employment in violation of public policy. The district court[1] granted summary judgment in favor of Mosaic, and we affirm.

I.

In reviewing the district court's grant of summary judgment, we describe the facts in the light most favorable to Hasenwinkel. Mosaic operates group-living and nursing-care facilities for adults with intellectual disabilities. In the summer of 2007, Mosaic hired Hasenwinkel as a registered nurse. Hasenwinkel's responsibilities included making rounds at six group homes, providing patient care, taking clients to doctors' appointments, and supervising the in-home nursing staff.

While employed by Mosaic, Hasenwinkel obtained leave under the FMLA on seven occasions. Hasenwinkel took continuous periods of FMLA leave to have knee surgery (March 4 to 17, 2010), treat depression (April 7 to 24, 2011), undergo a heart procedure (July 27 to August 7, 2011, and October 4 to October 16, 2011), and recover from neck surgery (November 23, 2011, to April 2, 2012). She also took intermittent FMLA leave to attend physical therapy (June 18, 2009, to June 17, 2010) and to care for her ailing father (January 10, 2011, to January 9, 2012).

Mosaic never rejected an explicit request for leave, but Hasenwinkel contends that on one occasion the company forced her to return from FMLA leave and then punished her for taking it. Hasenwinkel was absent on May 3 and 4, 2011, due to chronic depression. Hasenwinkel believes these absences were part of her FMLA leave, but there is no record of her asking permission to be absent. At the time, Hasenwinkel was approved only for intermittent FMLA leave to care for her father; her depression-related leave had ended two weeks earlier.

Supervisor Kelly Thompson called Hasenwinkel on May 5 and ordered her to return to work the next day. Hasenwinkel did not tell Thompson that she needed FMLA leave and did not ask Thompson for time off. When she returned on May 6, Mosaic gave Hasenwinkel an informal evaluation that noted her unapproved absences and a lack of follow through with patients. On her annual performance review the following month, Hasenwinkel received a "needs improvement" rating in one of forty evaluative categories. Hasenwinkel believes that the company gave her a negative informal evaluation and one unsatisfactory rating in retaliation for her using FMLA leave and with a design to make her quit.

Hasenwinkel also received three formal corrective actions that she claims were retaliation for taking FMLA leave. The most serious corrective action was an approximately one-month suspension for unsatisfactory work performance. Residents at a group home reported mold in the basement. Rather than report the mold to Mosaic, Hasenwinkel used a Petri dish to collect and culture the mold herself. After learning of the experiment, Mosaic placed Hasenwinkel on unpaid administrative leave effective August 31, 2011. An investigation concluded that Hasenwinkel failed to follow Mosaic's policy on reporting health concerns. Mosaic ultimately gave Hasenwinkel a written warning and reinstated her with backpay on September 27, 2011.

Hasenwinkel received other written warnings on July 26, 2011, for failing to train staff members and on October 17, 2011, for practicing on an expired nursing license and making numerous documentation errors. Hasenwinkel admits that these events occurred but disagrees that her punishments were appropriate or fair. In addition to these formal employment actions, Hasenwinkel reported being treated differently than other nurses and feeling "gang[ed] up on" due to her FMLA leave. Hasenwinkel says she was held to a different standard than the other nurses at Mosaic and received unfair scrutiny from supervisors who lacked medical training. She also experienced personal slights such as not being invited to lunch with other employees.

Hasenwinkel had neck surgery in November 2011 and never returned to work at Mosaic. Hasenwinkel exhausted her FMLA benefits when she was unable to return to work on January 8, 2012. Fortuitously, however, Mosaic changed its method for calculating FMLA accrual at the beginning of 2012, and Hasenwinkel thus was granted an additional twelve weeks of FMLA leave to which she would not have been entitled under the former method. Hasenwinkel could not recover during this second period of FMLA leave, and she again exhausted her FMLA benefits on April 2, 2012. Mosaic gave Hasenwinkel an additional ninety-day medical leave of absence, but she was still unable to work after ninety days. Consequently, Mosaic terminated her employment on July 2, 2012.

Hasenwinkel sued Mosaic under the FMLA and Iowa common law. Hasenwinkel claims that Mosaic interfered with her FMLA rights by denying her benefits to which she was entitled and discriminating against her for taking FMLA leave. She further claims that her discharge was in violation of the public policy of the FMLA. The district court granted summary judgment for Mosaic, concluding that Hasenwinkel received all of the benefits to which she was entitled under the FMLA, that the ...


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