Court Finds Genuine Issue of Material Fact Where Employee Terminated Same Day She Returned From FMLA Leave
A federal court recently held that an employer may have violated the FMLA where it terminated the employee the same day that she returned from FMLA leave. In Mastin v. SYSCO Food Services of Detroit, LLC, the plaintiff, a former employee, brought a claim against her former employer for FMLA interference and FMLA retaliation. The court refused to dismiss the case on summary judgment, finding that there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the employee was terminated because she had taken FMLA leave.
In this case, the employee took FMLA leave after the birth of her two children in 2002 and 2006. In 2007, she took a third leave under the FMLA after having hip surgery. Her third FMLA protected leave began in November 2007 and lasted until February 2008. The plaintiff was terminated the day she returned from leave in February. The employer stated that it terminated the plaintiff because her position was being eliminated. The employer alleged that it had began an analysis of the plaintiff’s department in November 2007. The analysis looked at the current jobs in the department, the amount of work that needed to be done in the department, and the people in the department. The employer claimed that the results of this November analysis plus dismissal 2007 holiday sales yielded a decision that the plaintiff’s position was no longer needed.
In finding that the plaintiff had viable FMLA claims, the court relied heavily on the timing of her termination. She was terminated the exact date that she returned from her FMLA leave. The court also found suspect the fact that the employer’s alleged analysis of the department began the same time that the plaintiff began her FMLA leave. In addition to these timing issues, the court cited the fact that the plaintiff had a stack of work waiting for her on desk when she returned from leave and the fact that her coworker had testified that there was more work than could be done in the department while the plaintiff was on leave. The court found that these factors, taken together, could lead a reasonable jury to find that the employer interfered with the plaintiff’s FMLA rights and terminated her in retaliation for exercising those rights.
If an employee is terminated at or near the time she returns from taking FMLA protected leave, she should look further into the reason given for her termination. If there is reason to doubt the employer’s explanation for the termination, she should contact an attorney, as her FMLA rights may have been violated.