Sixth Circuit Rules Against Employee in FMLA Case Due to Absence of Damages

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.

The employee, Carla Theiss, worked in the shipping department at one of Walgreen Company’s distribution centers. In the fall of 2010, Theiss requested FMLA leave, which she allegedly sought due to her experiencing anxiety brought on by co-workers and managers at her job. Walgreen’s turned down the request because, according to the employer, Theiss hadn’t met the law’s “work hour” criteria for FMLA leave eligibility. In order to be eligible for FMLA leave, an employee must have worked for her employer for at least 12 months and have put in at least 1,250 hours in the preceding 12 months.

The employer sent Theiss additional correspondence a month later, demanding that Thiess go to her doctor and obtain additional clarifying information from the doctor, or else the employer would close the request. The employee didn’t get this information from her doctor. Despite the employer’s not approving the request, Theiss still took several days off from work over the next several months. By March 2011, Walgreen’s terminated Theiss.

Theiss sued the employer, alleging that Walgreen’s violated her rights under the FMLA and engaged in retaliation by terminating her. The employer sought summary judgment in its favor on both of these claims, and the trial court granted that request. In order to succeed on an FMLA claim, an employee must show that she suffered some sort of “harm, prejudice, or denial of her rights.” In other words, in order to succeed in your FMLA claim, you have to show that you suffered damages, such as lost “wages, salary, employment benefits, or other compensation.”

The evidence Theiss had in her case established none of these things. The employer did not deny the employee time off, allowing her to take numerous leaves from work while the FMLA request was pending. The employer engaged in “corrective action” against Theiss for the absences, but that action was conditional, meaning that, if her FMLA request was ultimately approved, the employer would reverse this action, and Theiss would have suffered no job-related harm. The employee also argued that she would have taken even more time off from work if Walgreen’s had promptly granted the request, but this was not valid proof of interference with Theiss’ FMLA rights.

The retaliation claim also lacked sufficient proof. Theiss would have needed evidence showing that Walgreen’s terminated her for a discriminatory reason instead of a valid one. In this case, Theiss’ termination took place after she accused a co-worker of striking her. The employer (and police) investigated, and those investigations concluded that Theiss lied about the interaction with the other employee and that Thiess was the one who had struck the other employee. Walgreen’s had specific policies prohibiting “harassment or horseplay,” which would have covered her touching her co-worker, as well as falsifying documents, which she did in her harassment complaint. These actions were enough to give the employer legitimate, non-discriminatory bases for its action against Theiss.

As you plan to go forward in pursuit of, or defend against, an employment law case, the diligent Tennessee FMLA attorneys at Parks, Chesin & Walbert are here to help. Our attorneys have the experience you need on your side to put forward a strong case.

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

More blog posts:

Alert to Tennessee Employers: Errors in Your Employee Manuals Can Cost You When it Comes to FMLA Litigation, Atlanta Employment Attorneys Blog, Nov. 18, 2015

Sixth Circuit Upholds Ruling for Employer in FMLA, Pregnancy Discrimination Dispute, Atlanta Employment Attorneys Blog, Oct. 28, 2015

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