FMLA Retaliation Claims Can Lead to Personal Liability of HR Managers
In a recent Second Circuit decision, Graziadio v. Culinary Institute of America, No. 15-888 cv (2d Cir. March 17, 2016), the court found that an HR manager could be personally liable under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 26 U.S.C. Section 2601 et seq. This is an important decision for employees and employers to take note of. Handling FMLA claims are fact sensitive and legal counsel ideally should be involved from the outset. Our Award Winning New York Employment Lawyer helps employers and employees understand their rights and responsibilities in leave situations.
The Graziadio Case – FMLA claims
Cathleen Graziado, an employee in the payroll department, took leave to care for her son and later took a second leave to care for her younger son. The Company argued that she failed to provide appropriate documentation supporting her leave requests and terminated her employment. In short, the Company claimed that Ms. Graziado had abandoned her job. Ms. Graziado disagreed and filed a lawsuit claiming her termination violated the FMLA’s retaliation and interference provisions and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) under an Associational Discrimination analysis claim.
The Second Circuit reversed the lower court’s decision in favor of the Company and found that Ms. Graziado had fulfilled her requirements to show interference under the FMLA. The court articulated the following standard that an employee must show in an interference case: (i) the employee is an eligible under the FMLA; (ii) the defendant is an employer as defined by the FMLA; (iii) the employee was entitled to take leave under the FMLA; (iv) the employee gave notice to the defendant of his or her intention to take leave; and (v) the employee was denied benefits which he or she was entitled to under the FMLA.
In addition, the Court found that the HR manager fit within the definition of an “employer” under the FMLA under the economic realities test. The HR manager played a critical role in the employee’s termination and responsibilities. HR managers should take care in when applying the FMLA analysis to employees. The FMLA case has been remanded to the lower court for further proceedings, which possibly could include a trial.
The ADA Associational Discrimination Claim
There are three types of associational discrimination case under the ADA – i) Expense: This occurs when an employer fears that an employee’s association with a disabled person will result in increased healthcare insurance costs; (ii) Disability by Association: This occurs when an employer fears that an employee may develop a medical condition because of the person the employee is associated with; and (iii) Distraction: This occurs when an employer believes that the employee will be inadequate at work due to the association with the disabled individual. Associational Discrimination cases are interested because the aggrieved employee may not fall within a protected category under federal law but the association part triggers protection. In this case, the Court found that the employee did not show enough evidence that her association with her son was a sufficient basis under the three above theories so the lower’s court dismissal of the ADA claim stands.
Employees and employers who are dealing with an FMLA or ADA issue are advised to consult with experienced employment law counsel from the outset to understand rights and responsibilities. FMLA issues are very fact specific because the basis for eligibility can vary from employee to employee and from year to year. Further the obligations can vary by state. For example, New Jersey has its own FMLA statute that must considered in applicable circumstances. Lastly, an employee may be ineligible under the FMLA but may be covered under a different statute such as the ADA or Workers Compensation Law. If you have any questions about your rights or obligations under the FMLA, contact our office for a confidential consultation at (800) 893-9645.
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