Eleventh Circuit Upholds Ruling in Favor of Georgia Employer in FMLA Retaliation Case

When an employee launches a legal action against his employer that asserts that the employer engaged in illegal discriminatory or retaliatory conduct in the termination of the employee, each side will have important evidentiary showings they’ll need to make. The employer needs to prove that it had a legitimate reason for taking action. The employee must show that the employer’s stated reason was a ruse to hide an illegal motive. Whether you’re an employer or an employee in a discrimination or retaliation case, it helps to have knowledgeable Georgia discrimination attorneys working on your side.

One case in which this legitimate-reason-versus-pretext-for-discrimination battle took place was a lawsuit filed by Duane, the general manager at an Acura auto dealership in Savannah. In the fall of 2012, eight years into his employment, the manager discovered his unborn child had a serious bone disease. The manager missed a week in October and indicated that he’d have to take additional leave in the future, but he did not identify specific dates.

Shortly after returning to work, the manager became involved in a disagreement with a charitable organization volunteer about the organization’s failure to consult him about a charity event held at the dealership. In the discussion, the manager cursed and said “demeaning and embarrassing things.” The employer ordered Duane to apologize to the volunteer, and he did. Four days later, though, the employer terminated Duane.

Duane sued, alleging that the employer fired him in retaliation for his using Family and Medical Leave Act leave and that the employer interfered with his use of FMLA leave. The employer sought and obtained a summary judgment in its favor on all claims.

The manager appealed, but the employer again was successful. In many retaliation claims like this manager’s, the key to the outcome may come down to which side has the stronger case when it comes to the employer’s proof of an alleged legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the action it took versus the employee’s ability to demonstrate that the stated non-discriminatory reason was really just a pretext for illegal discrimination.

This employer won because it had sufficient evidence to show that it really fired Duane for his verbal treatment of the charity volunteer. The employer had evidence, in the form of the statements of one of the owners, that the interaction with the volunteer was the sole reason for the firing.

The manager failed to show that this reason was a pretext. When an employee seeks to demonstrate that an employer’s stated reason is just a pretext for discrimination, the employee must prove that the reason was just a “cover” for the employer’s true discriminatory designs. Duane failed to do that. He introduced evidence about being ordered to apologize (which he did) and the employer’s statements expressing sympathy with his personal situation. All of these pieces of evidence merely pointed to the employee’s disagreement with the employer’s decision; none of them showed that the incident with the volunteer was not the genuine basis behind the decision to end his employment.

If you think you’ve been subjected to retaliation for using FMLA leave, or you find yourself facing such a claim from an employee, talk to the diligent Georgia FMLA attorneys at Parks, Chesin & Walbert. Our team has many years of experience effectively representing both employees and employers in FMLA, retaliation, and other employment cases.

To speak with one of our lawyers about your case, call 404-873-8048.

More blog posts:

Nurse Allegedly Fired for Sleeping on the Job Unable to Show Termination Was Actually FMLA Retaliation, Atlanta Employment Attorneys Blog, June 7, 2017

Eleventh Circuit Ruling Clarifies the Correct FMLA Leave Date that Matters in Retaliation Cases, Atlanta Employment Attorneys Blog, May 4, 2017


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