Yesterday, the Seventh Circuit issued a ruling in James v. Hyatt Regency Chicago, No. 12-1511 (February 13, 2013), affirming that the District Court did not err in granting Hyatt's motion for summary judgment.
The suit was brought pursuant to the Family and Medical Leave Act, alleging Hyatt wrongfully required James to remain on FMLA leave and refused to reinstate him after his physician released him to “light-duty” status.
In the underlying action, the District Court held that the is no duty under FMLA to return an employee to former position where: (1) the employee could not do all essential duties of the position; and (2) prior to the scheduled return date, the employee presented the employer with certifications indicating that the employee was completely unable to work.
Likewise, the employee could not establish a FMLA retaliation claim when: (1) Hyatt made several attempts to return James to work by seeking clarification of the releases; (2) the employee failed to respond to the employer's requests for clarification; and (3) once Hyatt received a clarifying letter from a physician, it promptly scheduled meeting with James to discuss his return.
Recently, the Seventh Circuit held that an employer cannot judge an employee's productivity or performance over a period of time without first accounting for time that the employee was out of work using FMLA-protected leave.
The Court stated that "the FMLA does not require an employer to adjust its performance standards for the time an employee is actually on the job, but it can require that performance standards be adjusted to avoid penalizing an employee for being absent during FMLA-protected leave."
Further, the Court noted that when an employer holds an employee using FMLA leave to higher standards than other employees, it looks "suspicious" and could be interpreted as "setting [the employee] up to fail", therefore, the jury should be allowed to consider this evidence and make their own reasonable interpretations as to whether the employer was merely looking for a way to justify the termination.
Pagel v. TIN, Inc., 2012 WL 3217623 (7th Cir. Aug. 9, 2012).
On March 20, 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an opinion in Coleman v. Court of Appeals of Maryland, No. 10-1016.
By way of some background, the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) entitles an employee to take up to 12 work weeks of unpaid leave per year for (A) the care of a newborn son or daughter; (B) the adoption or foster-care placement of a child; (C) the care of a spouse, son, daughter, or parent with a serious medical condition; and (D) the employee's own serious health condition when the condition interferes with the employee's ability to perform at work. 29 U. S. C. §2612(a)(1). The FMLA also creates a private right of action for equitable relief and damages “against any employer (including a public agency) in any Federal or State court.” §2617(a)(2). Here, subparagraphs (A), (B), and (C) are referred to as the family-care provisions, and subparagraph (D) as the self-care provision.
In Nevada Dept. of Human Resources v. Hibbs, 538 U.S. 721, 730−732, the Supreme Court held that Congress could subject States to suit for violations of subparagraph (C) based on evidence of family-leave policies that discriminated on the basis of sex.
In this case, the employee filed suit, alleging that his employer, the Maryland Court of Appeals, an instrumentality of the State, violated the subparagraph (D) of the FMLA, by denying him self-care leave.
The District Court dismissed the suit on sovereign immunity grounds. The Fourth Circuit affirmed, holding that unlike the family-care provision in Hibbs, the self-care provision was not directed at an identified pattern of gender-based discrimination and was not congruent and proportional to any pattern of sex-based discrimination on the part of States.
Justice Kennedy delivered the opinion for a divided court (dissent by Justice Ginsberg and Breyer, joined in part by Justices Kagan and Sotomayor). The Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal, with four justices holding that suits against states under the self-care provision are barred by sovereign immunity, where the sex-based discrimination that supports allowing section 2612(a)(1)(C) suits against states—for denying leave for the care of a spouse, son, daughter, or parent with a serious medical condition—is absent with respect to the self-care provision.
The opinion can be found at: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/11pdf/10-1016.pdf
Last week, the Seventh Circuit reversed and remanded a District Court decision granting an employer’s motion for summary judgment in a Title VII and FMLA case. Makowski v. SmithAmundsen LLC, No. 10-3330 (November 9, 2011). The employee alleged that the employer (SmithAmundsen) eliminated her job during a "restructure" because of the her pregnancy and to interfere with the employee’s FMLA rights. Only two jobs where eliminated, one because of performance issues and hers because of her pregnancy and use of FMLA leave.
The Human Resources Director actually said to Makowski that "was let go because of the fact that [she] was pregnant . . . and took medical leave." However, the District Court (Judge Darrah) excluded the evidence as "hearsay." The Seventh Circuit held that the District Court erred in doing so because the evidence fell within an exception to hearsay - “admission.” While the Director was not personally involved in termination decision, the Director’s duties “encompass[ed] some responsibility related to ‘the decision making process’” affecting the termination. The Director here consulted with decision-makers leading up to Makowski’s termination decisions and she was responsible for compliance with federal anti-discrimination laws.
Shaffer v. American Medical Association, No. 10-2117 (October 18, 2011). The Seventh Circuit panel of Judges Kanne, Williams and Tinder reversed and remanded a District Court’s (Judge St. Eve) decision, which had granted an employer’s motion for summary judgment on October 18, 2011. Employee Shaffer brought his lawsuit for an Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) violation alleging that his employer terminated him in retaliation for requesting FMLA leave.While the American Medical Association (AMA) contended that operational needs motivated its termination of Shaffer, the Seventh Circuit held that the record contained sufficient evidence of a triable issue with respect to reason for Shaffer’s termination given that the record contained evidence that: (1) employer's management had originally identified another co-worker for termination, but then selected Shaffer shortly after he announced intention to take FMLA leave; (2) an AMA manager backdated a memo to make it appear that termination decision was not influenced by leave request; and (3) the AMA gave inconsistent explanations regarding Shaffer’s job performance as factor in termination decision. The Seventh Circuit noted, “the judge’s function is not himself to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial.” Read the 7th Circuit's decision here: http://www.ca7.uscourts.gov/tmp/C90NGSYQ.pdf