FMLA entitles a worker to take up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave for a serious personal or health condition and the statute governing this law prohibits an employer from interfering with an employee's right to exercise FMLA rights. There are three possible claims an employee can make for acts by an employer that violate the federal law governing FMLA leave under 29 U.S.C. 2615:
1) an "entitlement claim" - the employee claims he was denied benefits under FMLA that he is entitled to under the statute. The employee need not show discriminatory intent by the employer, but must be prejudiced by the employer's actions that violate FMLA.
2) a "retaliation claim" - an employer discharges or in any way discriminates against an employee who opposes any practice made unlawful by the statute.
3) a "discrimination claim" - the employer takes adverse action against an employee who exercises rights he lawfully has under FMLA. The employee must prove that the employer's actions were motivated by the employee's exercise of rights under FMLA.
To establish a prima facie case of FMLA discrimination, an employee must show: 1) he engaged in activity protected by FMLA, 2) he suffered a materially adverse employment action, and 3) a causal connection exists between the employee's action and the adverse employment action. Once a prima facie case is established, the burden shifts to the employer to present a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for its actions. The employee can then present evidence that the reason given by the employer is "pre-textual" or should not be persuasive as the only reason for the employer's action.
While presenting a successful claim under FMLA that an employer violated the act is complicated, it can work if the employer truly acted in a way that wrongfully harms the employee and his rights under FMLA. An employer will not get away with improperly terminating an employee if there was no legitimate reason for doing so.
(See Pulczinski v. Trinity Structural Towers, Inc., 691 F.3d 996 (8th Cir. 2012); Stallings v. Hussmann Corp., 447 F.3d 1041 (8th Cir. 2006)).
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