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Misusing FMLA Leave

On Behalf of | May 24, 2013 | Family Medical Leave Claims |

In yet another example of why the attorneys at Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm advise our clients not to post on social media websites during the pendency of their lawsuits, a federal district court in Michigan upheld a hospital’s termination of an employee who posted pictures of her vacation while she was out on medical leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). In Lineberry v. Richards, the court held that the hospital’s actions in firing an employee who was on FMLA leave did not violate the FMLA. The employee had posted photos on her personal Facebook page about vacation activities that were inconsistent with her medical restrictions. To make matters worse, the employee subsequently lied about those activities.

The FMLA is a federal law that prohibits employers from discriminating against or retaliating against employees for taking FMLA leave. The FMLA further provides that an employee returning from such leave shall be reinstated to his or her employment position or an equivalent position.  However, an employer can avoid liability under the FMLA by demonstrating that its decision to terminate an employee was motivated by legitimate business reasons, and not related to the employee’s decision to take leave under the FMLA.

In Linberry, the plaintiff worked as a registered nurse at Detroit Medical Center (DMC). When she injured her back at work, she requested and was approved for FMLA leave for 3 months. The plaintiff then went on a week’s long vacation to Mexico during her FMLA leave. During the vacation, the plaintiff posted photos on Facebook about her vacation, including pictures of her riding in a motorboat, pictures of her holding her grandchildren while she stood, and pictures of her engaging in other physical activities.

When DMC learned of the pictures, it contacted the plaintiff. The plaintiff sent an email to DMC stating that she had to use a wheelchair in the airports because she could not stand for more than 10 minutes at a time. Upon the plaintiff’s return to work, DMC held a meeting with her regarding the pictures. During the meeting, the plaintiff confessed to lying to DMC about using a wheelchair in the airports and admitted to holding her grandchildren. As a result, DMC terminated plaintiff’s employment.

The plaintiff sued DMC, arguing that DMC interfered with her use of FMLA leave and retaliated against her based on the same. The court granted summary judgment to DMC, holding that DMC’s termination of the plaintiff was motivated on legitimate business reasons (the plaintiff’s dishonesty) and was unrelated to her use of FMLA leave. The court further held that DMC did not violate the FMLA because it had an honest belief that the plaintiff had misused her FMLA leave.

If you even think that your employment rights have been violated or that you might need an employment lawyer, then call the right attorney to schedule a free and confidential consultation at 866-797-6040. Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm is dedicated to protecting employees’ rights and solving employment disputes.


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