This case caught my eye because I love it when aggravated people come up with new and strikingly appropriate interpretations for acronyms – particularly in the employment law area. For example, instead of the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act, ADAAA can stand for “ADAAAGH!” or “Assume Disability, Always Attempt Accommodation!” As for the Family and Medical Leave Act – FMLA – I’ve heard it called the “Friday-Monday Leave Act,” which is sadly apropos for a law that is so frequently abused by bad employees. Along those lines, I was tickled by a recent reference to the “Fraudulent Medical Leave Act” in the case of Henson v. U.S. Foodservice, Inc.
In this case, a warehouse employee had requested and been granted FMLA leave on a number of different occasions, returning to work after each instance. In August 2010, the employee was loading a pallet. A supervisor noticed the load on the pallet was leaning precariously because the bottom of the pallet was crushed. The supervisor directed the employee to rebuild the pallet. Instead, the employee simply replaced the broken pallet with a new one, without the supervisor’s permission. The next day, the supervisor and the Director of Operations met with the employee and his Union shop steward to discuss the employee’s failure to follow the supervisor’s instruction. The employee was not remorseful, insisting that his way was better. He also admitted that he just wanted to get home. The employee was subsequently terminated for insubordination and lack of remorse.
The employee then sued his employer, claiming that the termination was in retaliation for his use of FMLA leave. In support of his claim, the employee testified that he heard the Director of Operations tell other employees that they were working more because of their “FMLA buddies” and encourage them to call workers on FMLA leave to tell them to return to work. The employee also said that he heard his supervisor refer to the FMLA as the “Fraudulent Medical Leave Act.” The federal district court, however, threw out the employee’s claim of FMLA retaliation, finding that the employer had a legitimate reason for termination.
The employee appealed the dismissal of his claim to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. However, that court also rejected his claim, finding that the managers’ statements were not directly related to the decision to terminate the employee. Thus, there was no evidence that the employee’s use of FMLA was linked to his termination. The court further noted that the employee had used FMLA leave numerous times before without any negative consequence. And the court found that, in any case, the employer had a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for terminating him – his insubordination and lack of remorse.
So in this case, FMLA – Fortunately, Managers Lawfully Acted!