Patrick Hurley began working for Kent Naples, Inc. (Kent) in 2001. At some point around 2008, Hurley sent an email to the Chief Executive Officer of Kent's parent company and attached his vacation schedule, which listed eleven weeks of vacation over the next two years. When the CEO responded that Hurley's vacation request was denied, Hurley stated that it was a vacation schedule, not a request, and that he had "been advised by medical/health professionals" that he needed to avail himself of vacation time. Hurley did not mention in the email that he suffered from depression and anxiety that produced panic attacks.
The CEO met with Hurley the next day, and the parties dispute whether Hurley mentioned his medical condition during the meeting. It is undisputed that the CEO terminated Hurley's employment. According to the CEO, Hurley was terminated for insubordination and poor performance.
Hurley filed suit against Kent, its parent company, and the CEO alleging causes of action for interference with the exercise of his Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) rights and retaliation for exercising his right to leave. The case proceeded to trial. At the close of Hurley's case, Defendants moved for judgment as a matter of law, arguing that while Hurley had a chronic serious health condition, there was no evidence that he requested leave for a period of incapacity. The district court denied the motion, and trial proceeded. The jury found that Hurley's leave request was not a motivating factor in Defendants' decision to terminate his employment, but then awarded damages to Hurley for the harm caused by the termination. Defendants renewed their motion for judgment as a matter of law, and moved for a new trial in light of the inconsistent verdict. The district court denied both, and Defendants appealed. The Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed.
The FMLA allows an eligible employee to take up to 12 workweeks of unpaid leave annually for, among other reasons, "a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the functions of the position of such employee." In order to succeed on a claim for interference with, or retaliation for, the exercise of FMLA rights, the employee must prove that he qualified for FMLA leave.
Hurley argued that an employee only needs to "potentially qualify" for leave in order to bring a claim for FMLA interference. The Court of Appeals disagreed, stating that the FMLA makes no mention of "potential rights." In addition, the Court held that notice of leave is only relevant to an FMLA claim if the noticed leave is protected by the FMLA. Giving an employer notice of unqualified leave does not trigger FMLA protections.
Hurley also argued in the district court that his leave should have been granted because he had a "chronic condition" and his requested leave would have been beneficial. While one type of "serious health condition" that qualifies for FMLA leave is a chronic condition, the FMLA does not extend its protections to any leave that may be medically beneficial to an employee's chronic health condition. The employee may only take protected leave for a period of incapacity or treatment for such incapacity. Hurley admitted that his leave was not for a period of incapacity or for treatment for such incapacity. Therefore, Hurley failed to meet his burden of proving that his leave request qualified for FMLA protection.
The district court erred by denying Defendants' motion for judgment as a matter of law as to Hurley's interference and retaliation claims. The Court of Appeals remanded with instructions for the district court to enter judgment in Defendants' favor on all claims. Because this decision disposed of all claims, the Court of Appeals did not address the jury's potentially inconsistent findings.
Because this case was decided by the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit (which covers the states of Alabama, Florida, and Georgia), the decision is not binding precedent on the Ninth Circuit. However, if the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit is faced with a similar issue, it may view this decision as persuasive authority.
Employers may require employees who request FMLA leave to provide written certification from a health care provider. If the employee seeks to take FMLA leave for his own serious health condition, the certification must include a statement that the employee is unable to perform the essential functions of the employee's position. In other words, the employee does not have to be so incapacitated that he is unable to work at all; he only must be unable to perform the essential functions of his position.
Hurley v. Kent of Naples, Inc. (11th Cir. 2014) __ F.3d __ [2014 WL 1088293].