For employers, complicated issues can arise from deciding to terminate an employee who is out on leave. Depending on the circumstances, executing this termination may leave the employer open to a Family and Medical Leave Act lawsuit. In the case of one city worker in Michigan, the employer went ahead with firing the employer while she was out on leave due to surgery, but the employee’s FMLA lawsuit still fell short. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling, which covers Tennessee as well as Michigan, makes it clear that an FMLA plaintiff must not only connect the termination and the FMLA leave in terms of timing but also provide a clear causation linkage. Whether you are in the role of employer or employee, these types of circumstances are clear examples of the need to retain skilled Tennessee FMLA counsel to ensure that your interests are protected.
In the case originating in Michigan, Margaret was a city manager for a local government. She had to undergo surgery and took an absence to deal with her medical needs. While she was out, the city council voted to terminate the woman’s employment, allegedly for causing political strife in the community.
The fired manager sued, alleging that the termination was a violation of the FMLA. The courts, however, ruled in favor of the employer, with the trial court granting summary judgment and the Sixth Circuit upholding that outcome.
There are several things an employee must have to put together a successful FMLA case. One of these is proof that the person (or people) who made the firing decision had proper notice that the employee was going to take FMLA leave. According to the courts, Margaret did not have that evidence. She sent every council member a memo in late October 2014 informing them about her surgery scheduled for January 2015. She, however, made no mention of FMLA leave. When the city’s finance manager approached Margaret about FMLA paperwork in January, she indicated that she would only miss a few days and was not going to take FMLA leave. The employee’s October memo could not be taken as notice because it only discussed the logistical parameters of the manager’s absence, and it never mentioned any intent by Margaret to take FMLA leave.
Another necessary element in presenting a viable FMLA case is proof that the employer acted because the employee took FMLA leave. The evidence in Margaret’s case, according to the Sixth Circuit, was not the right kind of proof to meet this “because of” requirement. The proof this plaintiff presented only persuaded the courts that the situation was one that had become extremely political and contentious and that the employer chose to fire the manager while she was out, not because she took FMLA leave but simply because she was absent, and terminating her behind her back was “personally or politically expedient” for the council. Had Margaret been away from work due to vacation or her taking a class, the employer likely still would have used the absence to fire her behind her back, the court concluded.
The courts also decided that, even if the employer had received notice, and the employee had provided a viable “prima facie” case, the employer still was entitled to a judgment in its favor because it had provided a valid, non-discriminatory reason for the termination.
Whether you are an employer or an employee, the FMLA can present many potential legal issues, especially when a case involves both FMLA leave and a termination of employment. Don’t wait; contact experienced counsel right away. The skilled Tennessee FMLA attorneys at Parks, Chesin & Walbert have spent many years working to protect the rights and interests of our clients, both employees and employers.
To speak with one of our lawyers about your case, call (877) 986-5529.
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
Tennessee Employee’s Failure to Follow Employer’s Reporting Policies Dooms FMLA Interference Case, Atlanta Employment Attorneys Blog, April 20, 2017