Segal McCambridge Employment Team Wins Summary Judgment in FMLA Interference and Retaliation Suit

News

February 14, 2014

Segal McCambridge attorneys David Yates, Robert McLaughlin, and Misty Martin obtained a complete summary judgment for The Pavilion Foundation, a healthcare facility, in the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois. Plaintiff claimed the facility interfered with her right to twelve weeks of protected leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and then retaliated against her for taking FMLA leave when she returned.  

The FMLA guarantees qualifying employees twelve weeks of unpaid medical leave each year. If the employee returns to work by the time her FMLA leave expires, she must be returned to the same, or an equivalent, position held. There is no such thing as FMLA “light duty.” An employee must be able to return and perform the essential functions of her job. If the employee fails to return within the twelve weeks or is unable to return and perform the essential functions of her job, there is no right to reinstatement to any position.  

In this case, the plaintiff suffered a non-work related injury and was not 100% medically cleared to return to work until twelve weeks had passed. When she was cleared to return, her prior position was no longer available but the facility was able to offer her a different position. The plaintiff claimed that by failing to return her to the same or equivalent position, the facility interfered with her rights under FMLA. Although absent for more than twelve weeks, the plaintiff claimed she was entitled to first use accrued vacation and personal time and then use her twelve weeks of FMLA leave. The plaintiff’s claim is inconsistent with the law. An employee may request, or an employer may require, the employee to substitute accrued paid time off during FMLA leave but the application of such benefits are not applied consecutively to FMLA leave. The purpose of this requirement is to accommodate the right of employees to reasonable leave for medical reasons, but to do so in a manner which accommodates the legitimate business interests of employers.  

After completing discovery, Segal McCambridge filed a motion for summary judgment seeking a dismissal of the plaintiff’s lawsuit. Segal McCambridge argued there was no interference of the plaintiff’s FMLA rights because her position had been held for twelve weeks and because the plaintiff did not present sufficient fact-specific evidence of intent to retaliate. In a five page written opinion, the Court agreed with the arguments and evidence presented by Segal McCambridge and dismissed the plaintiff’s lawsuit in its entirety. The Court ruled that the facility fully complied with its obligations under FMLA and the plaintiff failed to offer sufficient fact specific evidence of an intent to retaliate or that she suffered an adverse employment action. The plaintiff’s general complaints that she felt harassed or humiliated were insufficient to survive summary judgment. Further, the Court found that to be actionable, the employer’s actions must be materially adverse. Mere inconveniences in one’s job, or an alternation of job responsibilities, are not materially adverse events as a matter of law.