In a noteworthy decision from this past June, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a judgment in favor of an employer in an employee’s Family and Medical Leave Act lawsuit. The appeals court decision clarified that, when it came to establishing whether or not the employee had a serious medical condition as required by the law, all of the evidence should be considered, regardless of when the employee provided that information to the employer. The fact that the employer had already terminated the employee when she handed over certain doctors’ forms was irrelevant to deciding whether those forms proved the employee had the required serious medical condition entitling her to FMLA leave.
The employee in the case, Regina White, worked for Beltram Edge Tool Supply, Inc., a food industry service provider. In 2010, White hurt her knee, but the injury was not so serious that she could not continue working. Near the end of the year, White’s health caused her to begin missing work, but that absence was unrelated to her knee injury. During that five-week absence, she reinjured her knee.
With this worsened condition, White requested FMLA leave. The employer gave her a “physician’s certification form” and informed her it was due back 15 days later. White did not return the form on time. By mid-February 2011, Beltram fired White. The employee sued, but the employer successfully requested summary judgment in the case. The trial court decided that White did not have a serious medical condition, did not give the employer proper notice of her FMLA request, and requested more leave than the law allowed.
The employee appealed and won. She won because the appeals court looked at the employee’s evidence and concluded that it raised at least a viable factual dispute. The trial court had ruled that White did not have a serious medical condition, but at least one document from the employee’s orthopedist stated that the employee’s knee problems would render her “incapacitated for a single continuous period of time due to his/her medical condition, including … treatment and recovery.”
The reason the appeals court and the trial court viewed the evidence in the case drastically differently was that the trial court refused to consider, for purposes of deciding if White suffered from a serious medical condition, any of the information White submitted to her employer after the date of her termination. The trial court was wrong not to consider this later-submitted proof, according to the appeals court. The law does not require that, in deciding if an employee had a serious health condition, a court must limit itself only to the evidence received by the employer before that employee was fired. The factual, analytical question regarding whether or not an employee had a serious medical condition “should be answered using all available evidence.”
An employee’s lateness in submitting the necessary supporting documents with her FMLA claim may ultimately undermine her case for other reasons, such as violating the law’s requirement that employees notify their employers of their need for FMLA leave on a timely basis. A document’s submission before or after termination, however, is irrelevant to whether or not it supports the employee’s claim that she suffers from a serious medical condition.
If you believe your employer has wrongfully denied you FMLA leave, you need representation by legal professionals who are familiar with this aspect of the law. Talk to the knowledgeable Georgia FMLA attorneys at Parks, Chesin & Walbert. Our attorneys have many years of experience helping both employers and employees in the Atlanta area.
To speak with one of our lawyers about your case, call (877) 986-5529.
More blog posts:
Eleventh Circuit Decides Employer Lacked Knowledge of Employee’s Disability, Atlanta Employment Attorneys Blog, Aug. 5, 2015
Eleventh Circuit Affirms Georgia Truck Driver’s Termination Did Not Violate ADA, FMLA, Atlanta Employment Attorneys Blog, Feb. 11, 2015