In order to qualify for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), an employee must meet certain eligibility requirements (e.g., work for the employer for the last twelve months and work at least 1250 hours within the past year). Employees who do not meet these requirements do not qualify for FMLA leave, which provides certain protections including job restoration at the end of the leave. However, in a decision earlier this past summer, a federal district court in Pennsylvania found that an employee who did not meet the initial threshold may still have a claim for discrimination based on the FMLA.
In Medley v. Montgomery County [pdf], the court denied a motion to dismiss the case brought by an employee, a nursing assistant, whose employment was terminated after she took leave to care for her son. Amy Medley’s son had health conditions, including Asperger’s Syndrome, anxiety disorder, and developmental delays, and she requested intermittent leave to care for her son. Although she had worked less than the threshold hours of 1250 in the past twelve months, her employer told her that she qualified for FMLA leave and gave her forms to complete. When Ms. Medley commenced her intermittent leave, she was written up for her absences. When Ms. Medley spoke to a human resources employee about filing a grievance for her write-ups, the H.R. representative tried to dissuade her from doing so and told her that nothing was going to be done to her. Ms. Medley, nevertheless, said that she wanted to file a grievance. The following day, the employer terminated Ms. Medley’s employment telling her that “she was fired because of the leave[.]” Ms. Medley alleges that she was never told that her leave was not covered by the FMLA or she would not have taken the leave.
Ms. Medley subsequently filed a lawsuit. As previously mentioned, the trial court denied a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. The court dismissed Ms. Medley’s claim that the employer interfered with her FMLA rights noting that Ms. Medley simply did not have any FMLA benefits with which the employer could interfere. However, the court refused to dismiss a claim for discrimination based upon the FMLA noting that the employer was estopped from asserting that Ms. Medley was not covered by the FMLA based on its alleged conduct.
This case highlights the importance of training employees responsible to administer FMLA. Failure to determine whether an employee meets the threshold requirements could result in a waiver of such defense. Employers cannot take adverse action against an employee based upon the employer’s miscalculation of FMLA eligibility.