Employee fired after medical leave, his lawsuit may proceed

The director of an animal shelter has brought a discrimination and a wrongful discharge lawsuit against his employer after he took medical leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to treat a serious medical condition. Under the FMLA, an employee who leaves his job for a medical reason is entitled to return to the same or an equivalent position.

In this case, the employee was paid the same amount upon his return — and retained his same benefits and title — but he was reassigned to a different location. His authority as a supervisor was also eliminated, and his managerial duties were modified. He was fired shortly after his return to work.

The employee sued. His employer says that his position was simply eliminated due to budget cuts, and that they no longer had the funds to pay for his position. A federal judge dismissed the suit, saying there was a lack of evidence linking the dismissal to the medical leave.

On appeal, however, the court reversed. The court explained that, based on another recent decision, the employer’s intent is not relevant in protected medical leave claims. As a result, the discrimination and wrongful termination claims were reinstated.

Now, a jury will have to decide if the employer’s explanation for discharging the employee was legitimate, or if the plaintiff’s rights as an employee were violated after he returned from his medical treatment. In addition, the jury will have to consider whether his medical condition and treatment resulted in the elimination and modifications of his responsibilities.

Wisconsin residents who may be in a similar situation may find this story interesting. If you believe that you have been fired in retaliation for taking a protected medical leave, you should seek help to protect your rights as an employee.

Source: The Register-Guard, “Fired man wins ‘day in court’” Karen McCowan, Jan. 5, 2011

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