Tag Archives: FMLA leave

Terminated Employee Eligible for FMLA Leave Wins $200,166 Judgment Against Employer

When an employer terminates an employee shortly after an employee requests a leave from work due to a medical condition, several possible causes of action may exist. One of those causes of action is under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which entitles qualifying employees to take reasonable leave for medical reasons and upon return to work within a 12-week period, the employee must be to be restored to the same or similar job at the same pay. Causes of action available to an employee under the FMLA may arise under two different theories as employers are prohibited from: (1) interfering with an employee’s exercise of the right to take reasonable leave for medical reasons; and (2) discriminating or retaliating against an employee who exercises this right. FMLA interference claims concern the denial of a benefit or protection afforded by the FMLA, whereas FMLA retaliation claims pertain to whether an employer used an employee’s FMLA leave as a negative factor in its decision to terminate employment.

In Poff v. Prime Care Medical, Inc. (M. D. Pa. no. 13-cv-03066) (June 14, 2016) (Schwab, M. J.), the Court found in favor of the employee, a licensed practical nurse on her claim that her former employer, violated the FMLA by terminating her employment after she requested medical leave for a serious health condition. The employee claimed that the employer violated the FMLA in two ways: (1) by failing to notify her of her FMLA eligibility and (2) by terminating her because of absences from work due to her serious health condition. In Poff, the employee advised her supervisor, that she was ill and had to leave work and the supervisor called the on-call administrator, to inform him that the employee had left work early and on the same day the employee sent an email requesting FMLA forms. The court found that the request for FMLA forms coupled with the fact that the employee left early after informing the charge nurse that she was ill, was sufficient to place the employer on notice that the FMLA may apply and thereafter there was evidence that the employee had forwarded the FMLA certification form before her termination. The Court found that the employee left work early due to a serious health condition, that she provided the employer with adequate notice of her need to take FMLA leave on the same date and that the employer violated the FMLA by terminating her employment. The Court also found that the employer did not meet its burden of showing that it acted in good faith and that it had reasonable grounds for terminating the employee despite her request for FMLA leave.

In order to prevail in a FMLA interference claim, an employee must establish: (1) the employee was an eligible employee under the FMLA; (2) the employer was subject to the FMLA’s requirements; (3) the employee was entitled to FMLA leave; (4) the employee provided notice to the employer of the intention to take FMLA leave; and (5) the employee was denied benefits to which the employee was entitled under the FMLA. While an employee seeking FMLA leave must state a qualifying reason for the needed leave, the employee does not need to expressly assert FMLA rights or even mention the FMLA or ask for FMLA forms. Where the employer does not have sufficient information about the reason for an employee’s use of leave, the employer is required to inquire further to ascertain whether the employee’s leave is potentially FMLA-qualifying.

An employer who violates the FMLA is liable to the employee for damages equal any wages, salary, employment benefits, or other compensation denied or lost by reason of the FMLA violation, interest and an additional amount as liquidated damages, except that if an employer proves to the satisfaction of the court that the act or omission was in good faith and that the employer had reasonable grounds for believing that the act or omission was not a the court may, in the discretion of the court, reduce the amount of the liability. In addition, the employee mat be awarded equitable relief such employment, reinstatement, and promotion.

In Poff, the court denied the Defendant employer’s motion to amend the Court’s findings following a nonjury trial and entered a judgment totaling $200.166 which included out of pocket wage related damages, liquidated damages and interest in the amount of $103,606 plus attorneys’ fees and costs in the amount of $96,599.

For more information on the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and Abramson Employment Law see http://www.job-discrimination.com/lawyer-attorney-1126523.html.

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FMLA and ADA: Fragrance-Sensitivity Protected at the Workplace

In Brady v. United Refrigeration, (June 3, 2015, E. D. Pa. no. 13-cv-06008-ER) (Robreno, J.), the court held that an employee with fragrance sensitivity whose employment was terminated may proceed to trial with her claims for interference and retaliation under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and for discrimination and harassment under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

In Brady, the employee developed adverse reactions in the form of headaches and burning of the throat, to perfumes and other fragrances. The employee contacted the employer’s human resources manager to inform the employer that she suffered from “multiple chemical sensitivity” and requested a fragrance-free zone within the office. The record before the court established that the employer took certain measures to address the employer’s condition, such as multiple memoranda to other employees banning fragrances at the workplace; the purchasing of air purifiers and breathing masks; and the relocation of the employee to another area of the office location. However, there was evidence the employees ignored the memoranda, the air purifiers were substandard, and the employee refused to wear a mask. When the fragrance scents arose at the workplace, the employee’s symptoms were triggered and at times caused absences from the workplace. After being notified that she may qualify for FMLA leave, the employee presented a note from her doctor which indicated that the employee would experience three-hour flare-ups once or twice a week during the following one year period.

Ultimately, the employer terminated the employee and in the termination letter the employer stated, “After what we consider to be extraordinary efforts to accommodate you, you have still not been able to consistently perform the essential functions of your job. These accommodations have not allowed you to report to work regularly, which we need you to do. We do not have work available that meets all of your restrictions. Accordingly, effective today you are being laid off.”

The court held that the fact that the employee technically did not receive a final approval or disapproval of her request for FMLA leave prior to the termination of employment does not end the inquiry: “Just because plaintiff’s employer may have sat on her request for FMLA leave without deciding to grant or deny it does not mean that defendant is not legally responsible for denying said leave. And moreover, defendants did at least constructively deny her request with her firing.” In ruling that the employee could proceed to trial, the court held that the evidence could support a finding that the employer terminated the employee based on her request for leave. The court was persuaded by the fact that prior to the employee’s FMLA request, management did not express concern with excessive absences or any other performance issues. Further, the court held that “logically speaking, simply because an employee may have attendance or performance issues prior to a request for FMLA leave does not necessarily preclude an employer from improperly retaliating against the employee as a result of her request.”

In its ruling the court noted that the temporal proximity- the length of time between the FMLA request and the termination – was “unusually suggestive” and could be a retaliatory act under the FMLA.
The court also found that there was evidence of hostility existed toward the plaintiff’s medical condition on the part of the employer in the form of disgusted looks by management and a statement made by management when the employee stated that fragrances in the office persisted even after corrective measures were taken, “Well, let’s go down and we’ll sniff everybody.”

In Brady, the court also held that the employee could proceed with her disability discrimination claims under the ADA and Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA) because the facts support a prima facie case finding in that (1) the employee has a disability, (2) the employee was a qualified individual, and (3) the employee suffered an adverse employment action because of that disability. While the court found that the employer provided a legitimate, nondiscriminatory explanation for the adverse employment action- the employee’s inability to report to work regularly the court held that the evidence supported a finding of sufficient evidence to disbelieve the employer’s articulated legitimate reason, and instead conclude that there was disability discrimination and harassment under the ADA and PHRA.

For more information on the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), Disability Discrimination and Abramson Employment Law, see http://www.job-discrimination.com/lawyer-attorney-1126523.html, job-discrimination.com/lawyer-attorney-1126511.htm, http://www.job-discrimination.com/lawyer-attorney-2122109.html

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Filed under Americans with Disabilities Act - Disability Discrimination, FMLA, Retaliation

Pregnancy Discrimination – Terminating Employment Shortly After Notification of Pregnancy and Request for Pregnancy Leave Supports Pregnancy Discrimination Finding

The likelihood of prevailing in any employment case substantially increases when a Plaintiff is able to show temporal proximity (i.e. termination occurs shortly after Plaintiff engages in conduct protected by the law).  An inherent feature of a pregnancy discrimination claim is that temporal proximity is almost always apparent. This concept recently played out in Turevsky v. Fixtureone Corp., 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 151221 (E. D. Pa. no. 10-cv-2911) (October 18, 2012) (Joyner, J.), where the Plaintiff notified the employer she was pregnant in June 2007. Thereafter, on November 11, 2007, Plaintiff informed the employer she would begin a leave in early December 2007 and the Defendant laid Plaintiff off on November 16, 2007. In Turevsky, the Court denied a Motion for Summary Judgment finding it was undisputed that the Defendants knew of her pregnancy, Plaintiff was qualified for the job in question, and her termination constitutes an adverse employment decision. The Court relied upon the temporal proximity between Plaintiff informing the Defendants of her anticipated maternity leave and her termination and found that temporal proximity raises an inference of discrimination.

 For more information on Pregnancy discrimination and Abramson Employment Law see http://www.job-discrimination.com/lawyer-attorney-1126517.html

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