FMLA: Recent Case Law

The Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) has been around for 20 years and since its inception has been very well received and accepted in the workplace. Recent rulings regarding FMLA’s staying power have helped solidify its prominence in the work place.

FMLA states that employees can take up to 12 weeks of job protected leave due to a serious health condition.


Clinkscale v. St. Therese of New Hope, 701 F.3d 825 (8th Cir. 2013)

In this case, Clinkscale, a nursing home nurse at a long care facility, St. Therese of New Hope, was reassigned to a different unit in the facility. She expressed that she did not feel comfortable with the transfer because of her lack of training in that area and requested additional training. Her supervisor responded that if she did not want to work in the new unit she could lose her job. Clinkscale spoke with the human resources department and in that meeting she suffered a panic attack so severe that she requested an ambulance. The human resources manager told her to take the rest of the day off.

The next day, Clinkscale made an appointment with her physician who recommended medication and that she take a week off of work. When she presented this to the human resources department she was given FMLA paperwork to complete. Later that day, however, human resources contacted her and told her that she was terminated the day before for walking off the job. Clinkscale’s doctor eventually turned in her FMLA paperwork which recommended time off of work.

Clinkscale filed a lawsuit against St. Therese alleging interference with her FMLA rights. St. Therese moved for summary judgment claiming that Clinkscale’s termination was not related to her FMLA request and was done prior to any request for FMLA leave. The district court granted St. Therese’s motion for summary judgment.

The Eighth Circuit reversed holding that Clinkscale’s recommendation from her doctor and medications prescribed were considered a “serious health condition” as defined under FMLA. The more important issue was whether Clinkscale could establish that St. Therese actually interfered with her FMLA rights. Witnesses said that the supervisors and human resources did not discuss Clinkscale’s “voluntary” termination until the day after her panic attack—which was also the same day she was given FMLA paperwork from human resources. And, since she complied with FMLA’s requirement that notice of FMLA request be given “as soon as practicable” and generally within two business days of the employee’s knowledge of need for a leave, a jury could conclude that Clinkscale provided notice as soon as practicable and that St. Therese was on notice that she required FMLA leave.

Marez v. Saint-Gobain Containers, Inc. 688 F.3d 958 (8th Cir. 2012)

Marez, who worked at a bottling plant as a production supervisor took medical leave following a surgery. Her supervisor expressed annoyance after her first leave request. Following her return to work she requested additional FMLA leave due to her husband’s upcoming surgery. She was terminated 48 hours later by the management team. Marez’s supervisor cited various performance reasons, but never informed the management team that she had made an FMLA request.

Plaintiff sued and alleged that the “cat’s paw theory” applied, which means “that an employer cannot shield itself from liability for unlawful termination by using a purportedly independent person or committee as the decisionmaker where the decisionmaker merely serves as the conduit, vehicle, or rubber stamp by which another achieves his or her unlawful design.” Marez v. Saint-Gobain Containers, Inc., No. 4:09CV999MLM, 2011 WL 1930706 (E.D. Mo. May 18, 2011)aff’d, 688 F.3d 958 (8th Cir. 2012). The Eighth Circuit agreed and found that liquidated damages can be awarded under a cat’s paw theory of liability and that the close proximity between her notice of need for FMLA leave and her termination could prove to a jury that discrimination existed.

Leave a Public Comment