Employee's case under FMLA laws made by manager's "adverse action"

by on March 17, 2009 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: HR Info Center

Poor management decisions make for an FMLA compliance nightmare

Supervisor Al Hanson called Chuck May into his office and cut right to the chase: “You’re fired Chuck. You missed two shifts, you entered a facility you shouldn’t have been in and your performance has been poor.”

“This wouldn’t have anything to do with my father, would it?” said Chuck.

Chuck’s father had been fired recently as well, and he sued claiming his rights under Age Discrimination in Employment Act and FMLA law had been violated. Chuck had cooperated with his father’s attorney, providing information that hurt the company.

“This has nothing to do with that case,” said Al.

‘It’s retaliation and a violation of FMLA law and whole lot of other stuff ,” said Chuck. “Other guys have done worse things than I’ve done, but they haven’t gotten fired. You guys are famous for giving slaps on the wrist. And I’ll bet a jury would see it my way.”

Chuck sued his employer for retaliation. Did he win?

The decision

Yes. Chuck prevailed in court.

ADEA and FMLA laws both contain provisions protecting employees from retaliation when they cooperate with other employees who have filed lawsuits against the company.

In other words, under the law, Chuck had engaged in protected activity.

In reaching its decision, the court said, “We also believe that Chuck’s perception of illegal retaliation, that is, his perception that he was fired because his employer thought he was engaged in protected activity – even if he wasn’t actually doing so – presents a valid legal claim.”

Shortcomings were real

No one disputed that Chuck had entered a security zone that he wasn’t supposed to enter, or that he had racked up a number of warnings for lateness.

But Chuck had documentation showing that he’d been guilty of infractions many times before his father had been fired – but his job wasn’t in jeopardy then. Also, Chuck showed that other employees had erred like he had, but they hadn’t been fired.

It wasn’t until Chuck’s father filed his lawsuit that the company began holding Chuck to a higher standard than it had before.

The supervisor, Al, needed to ask himself a tough question before taking an adverse action against Chuck: “Am I doing this because Chuck deserves to be fired? Or is my judgment influenced by the fact that Chuck was disloyal to the company?”

Cite: Fogelman v. Mercy Hospital, Inc., U.S. Court of Appeals, No. 00-2263, 3rd Cir. Fictionalized for dramatic effect.

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