An Alabama employee recently lost her Family Medical Leave Act case because the period for which she sought leave was after the last day of her temporary employment. The case, and the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in it, provides some helpful guidance to Georgia employers and employees when it comes to temporary employees and the FMLA. In ruling in favor of the employer, the court explained that employers can terminate temporary employees, thereby preventing them from taking FMLA leave, as long as the termination would have occurred just the same even in the absence of the employee’s leave request.
The employee in this case, Janet Scotnicki, was a nurse in the Coronary Care Unit (CCU) at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital. Scotnicki had a condition called Autoimmune Cerebellar Ataxia. Symptoms of her condition include problems with balance and walking. In 2007, the nurse took a month of FMLA leave to seek medical treatment. When she and her supervisor discussed her return to work, her supervisor proposed two possible opportunities that were more sedentary than her CCU job. Scotnicki chose a job with the Interventional Cardiology office, even though the supervisor clearly indicated that this job was only temporary.
In December 2010, the hospital decided that Scotnicki’s last day would be April 2, 2011. In February, the nurse filed a FMLA leave request that would begin immediately upon the end of her job. The hospital denied the request, stating that, since Scotnicki was not able to return to either of her previous jobs (because the Interventional Cardiology job had ended and her disability prevented her from performing her old CCU job), she was ineligible to receive FMLA leave for the period requested.
The nurse sued, claiming that the hospital’s decision violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and the FMLA. The federal trial court in Alabama awarded summary judgment in favor of the employer on all the federal claims. The nurse appealed the unfavorable ruling on her FMLA claim, but the 11th Circuit upheld the ruling in favor of the employer.
When it comes to the FMLA, the law is clear that an employee’s “right to commence FMLA leave is not absolute,” and an employer can terminate an employee and prevent that employee from exercising her right to take leave under the FMLA, if that employer would have terminated that employee regardless of the FMLA leave request. That’s what happened in Scotnicki’s case. When she took the Interventional Cardiology job, she took it with the understanding that it was temporary, that she was brought in due to a shortage of nurse practitioners in the office, and that, as soon as the office hired and oriented four new nurse practitioners, her Interventional Cardiology job would end. The hospital would have terminated Scotnicki in early April 2011 regardless of her FMLA leave request. In fact, the hospital first notified Scotnicki of the impending end of her job in December 2010, several weeks before she made her leave request (the following February).
Dealing with FMLA leave requests, whether the requester is a part-time employee, full-time, or temporary, can be tricky. It is very important that you understand exactly what the law requires in terms of granting FMLA leave. Whether you are an employer who has an employee who is requesting FMLA leave that is outside the bounds of the law, or you are an employee who has been wrongfully denied FMLA leave, you need capable legal counsel to help you defend your rights in a FMLA case. The skilled Georgia FMLA attorneys at Parks, Chesin & Walbert have an extensive knowledge of the law and the experience to provide the representation you need.
To speak with one of our lawyers about your case, call 404-873-8048.
More blog posts:
Welder’s FMLA Retaliation Case Fails Due to Lack of Proof that Leave Request Triggered Termination, Atlanta Employment Attorneys Blog, Sept. 16, 2015
Employee Can Use Information Submitted Post-Termination to Prove Part of FMLA Case, Atlanta Employment Attorneys Blog, Aug. 19, 2015