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Can I Sue If I Was Fired For Requesting FMLA Leave? I Need A Lawyer!

| Dec 3, 2014 | family medical leave claims, Wrongful Termination |

Best Ohio FMLA Attorney Answer: Can my boss refuse to give me FMLA leave? Do I qualify for medical leave from my job? What should I do if my manager threatens to fire me if I apply for FMLA? Who is the best FMLA Lawyers in Ohio?

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Usually when an employee brings an employment discrimination or wrongful termination claim against a former employer, the employer will assert a “legitimate reason for termination” as a defense to the employee’s claim. At that point, the employee is left with arguing that the alleged reason for termination is just a “pretext” for discrimination or retaliation. But what constitutes “pretext”? What if you show that the “legitimate reason for termination” is actually incorrect and even have proof to that effect? Is that enough? What if your termination claim is based on a violation of the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”)?

The FMLA, enacted in 1993, entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons. Employees are, for example, entitled to take FMLA leave to care for a spouse or a child who has a serious health condition. There are basis requirements under the FMLA in terms of eligibility such as being employed for at least one year with an employer who has at least 50 employees within a specific mile radius, as well as other requirements.

My boss will not give me medical leave to care for my sick son. How do I get FMLA if my daughter needs medical care? How much time do I get off of work for the birth of a child. Can I be fired for taking FMLA?

Recently, in Yontz v. Dole Fresh Vegetables, Inc., a Federal District Court for the Southern District of Ohio examined the applicability of the “honest belief” rule to an FMLA interference claim. Yontz was a former employee of Dole from 2005 through June of 2011. Throughout his employment, Yontz frequently used vacation time for about three to four years a year to go to Florida and stay at a time share with his family. Several times, Yontz acquired the necessary time off for his vacation by submitting Leave of Absence requests that were approved by the company. However, over time, Dole started denying Yontz’s leave of absence requests, telling him that “vacation is not a subject for a Leave of Absence.”

Later, Yontz’s wife became pregnant and Yontz submitted a request for FMLA asking for eight weeks of leave. The FMLA documentation was certified by his wife’s physician; however, the company’s Human Resources representative testified that Dole was “suspicious” about the request for eight weeks off. Dole approved Yontz’s FMLA request. Yontz’s wife gave birth to baby with Down syndrome. Throughout this period, Dole conducted internal meetings regarding their suspicion that Yontz was abusing his FMLA rights.

Thereafter, Yontz was on vacation at his Florida timeshare when his newborn daughter began experiencing health complications. As a result, Yontz was forced to stay in Florida for longer than anticipated. Yontz notified Dole, however, based on Yontz’s prior pattern of taking vacations and Dole’s already mounting suspicions about him misusing FMLA, felt that Yontz was simply engaging in fraudulent conduct and terminated his employment.

Thereafter, Youtz filed an FMLA interference claim against Dole asserting that the company interfered with his right to use eligible FMLA time to care for his daughter’s serious health condition. After finding that Yontz met his prima facie case for FMLA interference, the burden switched to Dole to present a “legitimate reason” for terminating Yontz.

In doing so, Dole asserted that Youtz’s termination “was not based upon ‘fraud’ but Defendant’s reasonable belief that Plaintiff was at or returning from his Florida timeshare on those days.” As such, Dole asserted that it had an “honest belief” that Yontz had misused his FMLA leave. The Court countered by stating:

Dole may not use an honest mistaken belief that Yontz misused FMLA leave as a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for his termination. See Saulter v. Detroit Area Agency on Aging, No. 12-2203, 2014 U.S. App. LEXIS 6323, *49 (6th Cir. 2014), citing Donald v. Sybra, Inc., 667 F.3d 757, 762 (6th Cir. 2012) (“an employer may prove it had a legitimate reason unrelated to the exercise of FMLA rights for terminating the employee.”). Here, the attendance points themselves violate the FMLA. Demyanovich v. Cadon Plating & Coatings, L.L.C., 747 F.3d 419, 429 (6th Cir. 2014) (“If an employer takes an adverse employment action at least in part because an employee requested or took FMLA leave, the employer has denied an FMLA benefit.”); 29 C.F.R. § 825.220(c) (“employers cannot use the taking of FMLA leave as a negative factor in employment actions, such as hiring, promotions or disciplinary actions; nor can FMLA leave be counted under no fault attendance policies.”). That Yontz received attendance points for using what may have been legitimate intermittent FMLA leave is the problem, not a legitimate, non-discriminatory excuse for the problem.

The Court then examined, in detail, Dole’s argument that it was entitled to the “honest belief” defense against Yontz’s FMLA interference claim. The Court noted that “the Sixth Circuit has not decided whether the rule applies to FMLA interference claims.” The Court, then explaining the limitations of the “honest belief” defense, reasoned that in this case, “Dole had in its possession the FMLA certification authorizing the FMLA leave Yontz claimed. Thus, a reasonable juror could find that Dole did not make a reasonably informed and considered decision before terminating Yontz.”

The Court also rejected Dole’s “honest belief” defense as to Yontz’s FMLA retaliation claim as well.

So, the moral of the story is simply this, if you request FMLA, and especially if you provide medical documentation, your boss or manager cannot fire you or otherwise interfere with your leave simply because he or she may have some belief – honest or not – that you are lying.

If you feel that you are being denied leave rights under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or are being retaliated against for taking medical leave, you should call the right attorney as quickly as possible to schedule a free and confidential consultation. The phone number to contact an Ohio attorney for FMLA help is (216) 291-4744. While you focus on your family medical needs, let our FLMA attorneys focus on your medical leave rights.

Disclaimer:

This employment law website is an advertisement. The materials available at the top of this medical leave page and on this employment law website are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. If you are still asking, “how do I get medical leave under the FMLA?”, “what should I do when my job won’t give me medical leave?”, “can my boss deny me medical leave?”, “what should I do if I was fired in retaliation for taking FMLA leave?”, or “is my employer allowed to…?”, your best option is to contact an Ohio medical leave attorney to obtain advice with respect to FMLA questions or any particular employment law issue. Use and access to this employment law website or any of the links contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship. The legal opinions expressed at or through this site are the opinions of the individual lawyer and may not reflect the opinions of The Spitz Law Firm, LLC, Brian Spitz, or any individual attorney.