EAST ST. LOUIS — A U.S. District Court judge ruled that a Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) case against Prairie State Generating Company will move forward on several counts despite the defendant’s motion to dismiss the suit.
The case filed by Timothy Owens and Shelley Owens against Prairie State Generating Company centers around Timothy Owens' termination while he was taking time off under FMLA. Prairie State is a coal mining company located in Washington County.
According to court documents, Owens worked at Prairie State as a facilities manager since 2012. In 2014, Owens took FMLA leave because of his brother’s death and serious illness of his own son. Owns was to be on FMLA leave until Nov. 1, 2014, but was terminated from his position on Oct. 31, 2014—a day prior to his scheduled return to work from FMLA leave.
Following the incident, the plaintiffs filed suit against Prairie State, and in their amended complaint, they allege that the company violated FMLA (Count I) and allege three additional counts against the company. These include “infliction of emotional distress in regard to Timothy Owens” (Count II), “infliction of emotional distress in regard to Shelley Owens” (Count III) and “retaliatory eviction” (Count IV).
Prairie State filed a motion to dismiss the counts of infliction of emotional distress to both parties as well as the retaliatory eviction count. According to Prairie State, these counts are preempted by Owens' initial complaint that it allegedly violated FMLA and that the only allowable recovery is through seeking “wages, salary and employment benefits or other compensation denied or lost to such employee by reason of the FMLA violation.”
The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois, where the case was filed, dismissed the count that alleged retaliatory eviction without prejudice or argument by the defendant, according to court documents. District Court Judge J. Phil Gilbert ruled in the matter and went on to further analyze the additional motions by Prairie State.
Judge Gilbert in part granted the other motions by Prairie State and denied them in part. He granted summary judgment to the defendant in the case in regard to the count of infliction of emotional distress to Timothy Owens and Shelley Owens by allowing portions of the counts to be stricken from the pleading, but he maintained that the counts “may proceed on the remaining allegations.”
For his ruling, Gilbert wrote that a portion of the emotional distress counts fall within the FMLA and other portions of the complaint do not. He cited several paragraphs within the pleadings that should be stricken from the complaint, including the first paragraphs of Count II and paragraphs 19, 20, 21 and 22 of Count III, which he maintained were preempted by the initial FMLA complaint in Count I.
Gilbert recalled the Naeem v. McKesson Drug Co. case for his ruling. Here, he referred to what type of claims can be preempted, citing that “IHRA does not preempt a state law claim seeking recovery for it.” Gilbert also referred to the Maksimovic v. Tsogalis case in regard to the court’s ability to rule on a tort claim.