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Today our employee’s rights attorneys look at the case recently decided by the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Robinson v. Rainbow Beach QOC, LLC, No. 21 C 5548, 2022 WL 1803376, at *1 (N.D. Ill. June 2, 2022).

According to the District Court’s Opinion, Antoria Robinson started working for Rainbow Beach in September 2017 as an Activity Aide. Robinson became pregnant in late 2019, but in January, her doctor diagnosed her as having a high-risk pregnancy would likely result in a spontaneous miscarriage at any time. As a result, Robinson could only wait and prepare to lose her pregnancy.

Robinson informed her employer of her condition and that her doctor advised that she would need several weeks of bed rest to recover and heal following whenever the miscarriage happened. Specifically, Robinson communicated her need for medical leave to her supervisors, Jefferey Roberts and Willie Sims, and other Rainbow Beach managers and human resources administrators (“HR”). Because they did not provide her paperwork and information regarding Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), Robinson repeatedly asked for the FMLA paperwork throughout that January, February, and March. The employer ignored these requests.

In March, her physician advised Robinson that miscarriage was likely to take place within a matter of weeks. Robinson shared this information with her supervisor.

Finally, in late March 2020, Rainbow Beach medical director Melissa Wade finally gave the FMLA paperwork to Robinson, who promptly completed and submitted it to the employer.

Following the miscarriage, Robinson’s FMLA leave started on April 28, 2020.

On May 1, 2020, a mere few days later, Rainbow Beach’s human resources department contacted Robinson to require a doctor’s note identifying her return-to-work date, which Robinson promptly provided. On May 26, 2020, about two weeks before her scheduled return to work date, Rainbow Beach executive administrator Sandra Knox phoned Robinson to let her know that she had been fired since May 12, 2020, for “failing to handle her business.”

If true, this is just pure evil. It also would be a violation of the FMLA and unlawful pregnancy discrimination.

What is FMLA interference?

Best Medical Leave Rights Lawyer Answer: FMLA interference is occurs when an employer either fails to provide FMLA information to an eligible employee who has identified a qualifying need for leave or when an employer takes actions to block or discourage an employee from using FMLA leave rights. (Best Law Read: What Is An FMLA Interference Claim?). To state a claim for FMLA interference, the employee show that (1) (s)he was FMLA eligible; (2) the employer meets the requirements to be covered by the FMLA; (3) the employee has a qualifying reason for leave; (4) the employer received proper and timely notice of the need for leave; and (5) the employer took actions to discourage, interfere, block or reject the employee’s FMLA leave benefits. See 29 U.S.C. § 2615(a)(1), 2617(a). While it looks like Robinson meets all of these elements to establish a violation based on the refusal and delay of providing FMLA paperwork, the law also requires an employee to show that he or she was prejudiced by the employer’s conduct in order to gain any relief or recovery. In Robinson, the employee did eventually get the paperwork and was given leave, which makes it difficult to show prejudice, which is likely why she did not file a FMLA interference claim, and instead focused on …

What is FMLA Retaliation?

Best Wrongful Termination Answer: The FMLA makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate and/or retaliate against an employee for requesting or using FMLA benefits, including job protected leave. (Best Law Read: Why Retaliation Is The Easiest Employment Claim; FMLA Retaliation Tips – Call The Right Attorney). To state a prima facie claim for FMLA retaliation, the employee must present evidence that: (1) (s)he engaged in protected activity; (2) the employer took adverse action against him/her; and (3) and that the adverse action was causally connected to the plaintiff’s protected activity. (Best Law Read: What does prima facie mean?; What Is An Adverse Employment Action?).

If the facts asserted in Robinson’s Complaint hold true, all of these elements will be met, which will give the employer the opportunity to state a legitimate, nondiscriminatory basis for the termination. There after Robinson will have the opportunity to show that such reason is not true or did not really motivate the employer, which is what employment lawyers call pretext. (Best Law Read: Employment Discrimination Question: What Is Pretext? ).

Do I have a claim for pregnancy discrimination if I’m fired after I have a miscarriage?

Best Pregnancy Discrimination Lawyer Answer: In addition to other protected classes (such as race, religion and national origin), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a federal law that makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee because of that employee’s gender/sex. To further clarify the laws, Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (“PDA”) amended Title VII to provide that “[t]he terms ‘because of sex’ or ‘on the basis of sex’ include, but are not limited to, because of or on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions …” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(k). The PDA further provides that “women affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions shall be treated the same for all employment-related purposes ….” Id.

Critical to the issue at hand, miscarriages are “related medical conditions” to pregnancy and thus, employees who have miscarriages are protected from discrimination, harassment and adverse employment actions just the same as women who carry babies full term.

Can an employer block FMLA or PDA claims by pointing to union grievance requirements?

Best Employment Lawyer Answer: No. Given that the employer will have difficultly avoiding a jury on the FMLA and pregnancy discrimination claims based on the elements of the claims themselves, Rainbow Beach sought to avoid the claims on a procedural issue.  Specifically, the employer argued because that the employee was represented for purposes of collective bargaining by a Union, which entered to a collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”), Robinson’s FMLA and pregnancy rights are preempted by the CBA. Further, it argues that because Robinson’s grievance was  dismissed for allegedly failing to cooperate with her union, all her civil claims became barred.

The Court rejected this argument and denied the employer’s motion to dismiss:

Tellingly, Rainbow Beach does not offer any authority to support its contention that the preemption doctrine applies to preempt a federal claim based on violation of the FMLA; nor does it address Robinson’s persuasive authority cited in support of her position. The major Supreme Court decisions interpreting and applying Section 301 preemption have done so with regard to state law claims. See Lingle v. Norge Div. of Magic Chef, Inc., 486 U.S. 399, 413 (1988) (“In sum, we hold that an application of state law is pre-empted by [Section 301 of the LMRA] only if such application requires the interpretation of a collective-bargaining agreement.”) …

In Gilmore v. Northwest Airlines, Inc., the … court held it “need not look to the CBA in order to resolve this claim—the sole issue is whether the absences were protected under the FMLA.” Id. The plaintiff’s right to be absent from work without reprisal due to a qualifying health condition “is a right that exists independent of the CBA.” Id. (citing 29 U.S.C. § 2612(a)(1)(D)). Accordingly, the claim was not preempted.

We reach the same result here. Robinson’s rights under the FMLA are defined by federal law and not by state law or the terms of an agreement. See Staunch v. Cont’l Airlines, Inc., 2007 WL 218729, at *5 (N.D. Ohio 2007), aff’d 511 F.3d 625 (6th Cir. 2008) (the plaintiff’s FMLA claim arose under a federal law that exists independent of the CBA; the plaintiff sought to enforce a federal statutory right, not a contractual right embodied in the CBA and therefore the court could resolve the claim through the statute and without any reference to the CBA). Robinson’s FMLA claims are not preempted by Section 301, and the Court has subject matter jurisdiction over the claims.

Id. at *3-4.

What should I do if I was fired while taking FMLA leave?

Best Employee’s Rights Law Firm Answer: If you were fired today while on FMLA or result of being pregnant, or due to a pregnancy related condition, you have legally enforceable rights and the experienced employment law attorneys at Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm are standing by to help you protect them. So, call the right attorney as quickly as possible to schedule a free and confidential consultation. (Read: What is the Spitz No Fee Guarantee?)

The FMLA and pregnancy discrimination laws are very complex complicated. Don’t try to figure it out on your own.  Our lawyers will be here to get you the FMLA and pregnancy employment law help that you are entitled to or fight to get you paid for being wrongfully fired.

Disclaimer:

This employment law website is an advertisement. The materials available at the top of this medical leave and pregnancy discrimination page and on this employment law website are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. If you still have questions about your specific FMLA or medical leave issues or pregnancy discrimination that you are facing at work, you should directly contact an employment law attorney. 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.