In November, the United States Court of Appeals reversed a judgment made in favor of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles US LLC, an automobile manufacturer that was sued by a former employee for FMLA interference and retaliation. The Family and Medical Leave Act, commonly referred to as FMLA, is a federal law that provides the right to unpaid, protected leave for family and medical reasons for eligible employees. Edward Render, the lawsuit’s plaintiff, was an assembly line worker at one of Fiat Chrysler’s factories. Due to inconsistent attendance, Fiat Chrysler had previously fired Render but conditionally reinstated him after Render filed a complaint through his union. The terms of Render’s conditional return to work were based on his improved attendance in the next year. In the case that Render incurred two unexcused tardies or one unexcused absence, Fiat Chrysler would be allowed to fire him.
Render suffered from anxiety and depression – illnesses that would at times highly interfere with his ability to go to work. He applied for FMLA leave in order to manage these symptoms which was approved by Fiat Chrysler’s leave administrator. The Michigan district court found that Render had not given Fiat Chrysler sufficient notice of his tardies or absences, and thus ruled in favor of Fiat Chrysler’s petition for a summary judgement in Render’s lawsuit. However, according to the appeal, Fiat Chrysler’s employees gave Render contradictory and unclear instructions on how to report an FMLA-related work tardy or absence. While Render claimed that he specifically mentioned FMLA as a reason for his tardiness and absences, administrators at Fiat Chrysler claimed that Render did not properly give notice for his FMLA claims, and they could not find the information in their system. Because Render accrued more tardies and absences than what was permitted from his conditional reinstatement, he was ultimately fired from the company.
What counts as Interference and Retaliation in an FMLA Lawsuit?
Render brought forth two FMLA claims against Fiat Chrysler: interference and retaliation. Prohibited activities of employers under FMLA include interference with an employee exercising their FMLA rights, as well as discriminating and discharging an employee who has attempted to exercise any FMLA rights. The Michigan district court ruled in favor of Fiat Chrysler because it found that Render did not give sufficient notice to his employer for his tardiness and absences. Since Fiat Chrysler alleged that they were unaware of his attempt to engage in a protected activity, Render’s retaliation claim was rejected.
In repealing the Michigan district court’s decision, the Court of Appeals argued that determining whether or not Render appropriately contacted his employer each time he had a tardy or an absence was focusing the discussion in the wrong place. The judges stated that Render did not need to formally notify Fiat Chrysler every time he planned to use his FMLA leave. The regulation provides that “whether FMLA leave is to be continuous or is to be taken intermittently . . . notice need only be given one time, but the employee shall advise the employer as soon as practicable if dates of the scheduled leave.” Since Render did seek approval for intermittent FMLA leave, he complied with the requirements for giving appropriate notice for FMLA leave.
The claims against Fiat Chrysler have been brought back to court. Render’s legal counsel stated that he was “very pleased with the Sixth Circuit’s decision today to uphold the commonsense concept that employees who have been approved for intermittent FMLA leave should not have to meet unreasonable and unrealistic requirements for giving notice for each day that they miss work due to their medical condition.”
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Has your employer improperly handled your claims to medical and/or family leave? If so, seek legal assistance from the Law Office of Christopher Q. Davis, located in New York City and Livingston, NJ. Contact us today at (646) 430-7930 to schedule a free case evaluation and receive experienced legal counsel.
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