BROWN v. AUTOMOTIVE COMPONENTS HOLDINGS (September 8, 2010)
Letecia Brown was employed at Ford's Indianapolis plant from 1998 until her discharge in 2006. Her discharge resulted from her noncompliance with the FMLA leave policies in the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). Under the CBA, an employee desiring leave: a) must submit a doctor's form before the leave’s expiration date, b) is deemed AWOL if she fails to do so, c) is considered AWOL if she fails to do so even if she seeks extension, and d) is sent a five day termination notice by registered mail if AWOL. Brown requested leave on August 11, 2006. Her doctor submitted the required form on August 21, indicating an August 28 leave expiration date. He also referred her to a psychiatrist. When Brown could not get an appointment with the psychiatrist until August 29, she asked her referring doctor to submit additional paperwork for an extension. He failed to do so – she failed to check. Brown's psychiatrist recommended that she extend her leave through September 15. Brown claims she advised Ford of the extension and was told to pick up a new form. Once her original leave expiration date (August 28) arrived without additional forms, Ford considered her AWOL and sent her a termination notice on August 31 by certified mail. Brown picked up a form from the clinic on September 6. She claims that she advised Ford that she could not return the completed form until September 11. On September 11, she found out that she had been fired. Her union filed a grievance but withdrew it because of her failure to follow the CBA procedures. Brown filed suit, alleging FMLA interference. Chief Judge Young (S.D. Ind.) granted summary judgment to the defendants. Brown appeals.
In their opinion, Circuit Judges Evans and Sykes and District Judge Der-Yeghiayan affirmed. The FMLA prohibits an employer from interfering with an employee's exercise of any rights under the Act. In order to state an interference claim, an employee must prove that she was eligible, that the employer was covered, that she was entitled to the leave, that she provide sufficient notice to her employer, and that her employer denied her FMLA benefits. At issue in the appeal was the notice element. The FMLA regulations in effect at the time addressed the notice requirement in the context of an unforeseeable extension of leave. The regulation provided that the employee should give notice as soon as practicable -- "within no more than one or two working days of learning of the need for leave." Here, Brown's doctor referred her to the psychiatrist on August 21. On that same day, she learned that she would not be able to see him until August 29, the day after her leave expired. She knew at that time that she would need an extension. The regulation required her to notify Ford within one or two days of August 21. She did not contact Ford until August 30. Brown fails to satisfy the notice element of an FMLA interference claim.