Sixth Circuit Revives FMLA Interference Case Against Employer that Delayed Reinstating Employee From Leave

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.

This employee, Joseph Casagrande, was a man who had undertaken nursing as a second career. After spending 25 years as an accountant and corporate chief financial officer, Casagrande went back to school, obtained a nursing degree, and began working as a registered nurse at Riverside Methodist Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, in December 2011.

Just a few months after beginning to care for patients on his own, Casagrande started having health problems. First, he experienced severe neck pain. Then came the panic and anxiety attacks. Eventually, Casagrande took two leaves of absence to deal with his issues:  one in the summer and another later in the year.

In each instance, the employer made it clear that it was granting the nurse leave under its internal leave policy, and Casagrande was ineligible for FMLA leave. Even after the nurse cleared his one-year anniversary with the employer, the employer continued to maintain that Casagrande was not eligible under the FMLA. Casagrande informed the employer that he was ready to return to work in January 2013, but the employer refused to reinstate him because he had not provided a doctor’s note.

After the employer eventually discovered that Casagrande had achieved FMLA eligibility, it restored him to his old job, as required by the law. Several months later, OhioHealth fired Casagrande.

Casagrande sued on the grounds of FMLA interference and retaliation. The trial court granted summary judgment to the employer on both claims, and the Sixth Circuit reversed on both claims. The key to the FMLA interference claim centered around the type of policy on reinstatement OhioHealth had. Casagrande argued in his lawsuit that his employer interfered with his FMLA benefits by failing to reinstate him to work until March 18, even though he had given notice of his availability on January 18.

The law says that an employer can delay reinstating an employee without committing impermissible FMLA interference as long as the employer has a “uniformly applied policy for similarly situated employees requiring them to provide medical certification that they are able to return to work before returning from FMLA leave taken for a serious health condition.” In this case, the nurse argued that the employer had no such uniformly applied policy. Even the trial court, in granting summary judgment to the employer, stated that “reasonable jurors could reach conflicting conclusions” regarding whether OhioHealth committed interference when it didn’t reinstate Casagrande in January. That, the appeals court explained, is the very definition of a genuine dispute of material fact that should have triggered a denial of OhioHealth’s summary judgment request.

The Sixth Circuit also revived the retaliation claim. Even though the employer had provided extensive documentation of what it claimed were Casagrande’s shortcomings regarding patient safety, the appeals court stated that a reasonable jury could conclude that OhioHealth fired the nurse because of his pursuing his FMLA rights, rather than because of any of his “performance issues.”

As a Tennessee employee or employer, it is essential that you understand your rights and obligations under the FMLA. The skilled Tennessee FMLA attorneys at Parks, Chesin & Walbert have spent many years helping both employees and employers analyze and deal with their FMLA issues.

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

More blog posts:

The Options Tennessee Employers Have When They Detect Perceived FMLA Leave Misuse, Atlanta Employment Attorneys Blog, Nov. 2, 2016

Sixth Circuit Rules Against Employee in FMLA Case Due to Absence of Damages, Atlanta Employment Attorneys Blog, July 27, 2016

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