A considerable variety of employment law cases, especially when the employee’s claims relate to discrimination or retaliation, can succeed or fail based upon which side (employee or employer) presents a stronger case about whether the employer’s adverse action was legitimate or merely a pretext for engaging in illegal conduct. Many times, this may boil down to other employees working for the same employer and whether or not they qualify as “similarly situated” in relation to the employee who has sued. The case of a nurse from Florida allegedly fired for sleeping on the job offers a real-life example of this.
An old fable tells the story of a cat and a monkey. The monkey convinces the cat to fetch some chestnuts from the embers of a recently extinguished fire. The cat gets the nuts and gives them to the monkey, burning its paw in the process. A maid interrupts their activity, resulting in the cat getting nothing but a burned paw for its troubles. This fable is the origin of a phrase – “cat’s paw” – that means being the tool of another person. In employment law, the “cat’s paw” theory of liability is something that can hold an employer liable even when the employer has been duped by one of its supervisory or managerial employees.
A recent Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals case addressed the question of whether the “cat’s paw” theory of liability can apply in a Family and Medical Leave Act retaliation case. The plaintiff was a woman who worked for a company that provided “cost containment” services for insurance companies. The employee had depression, anxiety, and PTSD issues. Due to a bout of acute mental health problems, the employee took an unplanned period of FMLA leave in early 2012. Sometime after this, the company demoted her from a team lead position to an analyst role.
A nursing facility’s activities director got good news from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals when that court revived his Family and Medical Leave Act lawsuit, concluding that his retaliation claim was sufficient to escape summary judgment. Of larger significance, the 11th Circuit declared for the first time what the proper method was for measuring temporal proximity in circumstantial FMLA retaliation claims, establishing that the proper measure was the gap between the last day of FMLA leave and the date of the adverse employment action.
In an employee’s Family and Medical Leave Act case, there are various potential avenues to success for an employer. One way an employer can blunt an employee’s case is by establishing that the employee did not follow company policy for reporting his FMLA absences. That’s what happened to one waffle-packaging machine operator in Tennessee, and the employer’s evidence proved to be enough to allow it to obtain summary judgment on the employee’s FMLA claims.
Employers often concern themselves with making sure that employees are not misusing resources or benefits available to them. While an employer has certain latitude in terms of, say, using tracking software to monitor employees’ use of company-provided internet, things can be different when it comes to statutorily guaranteed rights like leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. In one recent case, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals sided with an employee after her employer demanded extra documentation related to her FMLA absences, even though it had no proof that she was abusing the FMLA leave process.
A nurse was able to revive his Family and Medical Leave Act claim against his former employer after the employer failed to reinstate him from leave immediately after he informed the employer of his availability. Since reasonable jurors could disagree regarding whether the employer handled the reinstatement in a way that complied with the law, the nurse’s case was not one properly decided by issuing summary judgment, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals decided.
It is often a tricky situation for an employer. You’ve approved an employee’s taking a certain amount of time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act, only to discover soon thereafter that your employee wasn’t completely honest with you about his leave. When an employer encounters this issue, it is important to understand what the laws says are your options. In a recent case from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, that court concluded that an employer couldn’t be liable for FMLA retaliation when it forced into retirement an employee whom it deemed to have misused his FMLA leave. The employer won because it had ample proof that the employee had been dishonest, and dishonesty and abuse of FMLA leave were permissible non-discriminatory reasons for the employer’s actions.
A recent case pitting a Tennessee bank teller against her former employer resulted in a judgment in favor of the bank and a Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals decision upholding the lower court’s ruling. The bank teller’s lupus required her to miss long stretches of work, and these prolonged absences allowed the bank to terminate her employment without violating either the Family and Medical Leave Act or the Americans with Disabilities Act, since the job that the woman had at the bank required regular attendance.
An important new ruling from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals highlights when employees can, and cannot, offer arguments in federal employment cases even after administrative bodies have already ruled against that same argument. In this recent case, the court allowed an employee to pursue a Family and Medical Leave Act retaliation case because, even though a state unemployment compensation appeals hearing officer had previously ruled that the employer fired the employee based upon dishonesty, rather than her use of FMLA leave, the hearing officer didn’t rely on competent evidence in making that conclusion. While this case originated in Alabama, the 11th Circuit’s ruling in the matter can affect employers and employees in Georgia.
In any employment case in which an alleged statutory violation has taken place, it is always important to know exactly what the law requires an employee to show in order to make her case. Tennessee employers and employees should take note of a recent Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in favor of the employer. In this case, the employee lost because she did not have the required proof of damages to support her Family and Medical Leave Act case.