Recently, in the Federal Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, an FMLA case was heard in May of 2009. This case revolved around a female nurse practitioner who had sued her employer, the Church of Christ Home for the Aged. The lower district court had granted the employer summary judgment on Ms. Lafata’s Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) claims.
In February of 2000, Ms. Lafata began working as a licensed practical nurse for the defendant at its assisted living facility. In November of 2000, Ms. Lafata hurt her shoulder while at work lifting a patient. In April of 2002, Ms. Lafata was promoted and became the Health Services Coordinator at the assisted living facility. In February of 2003, Ms. Lafata fell in her driveway at home and fractured her foot. It was placed in a cast. She returned to work 2 weeks later in March of 2003. But, after a short period of time, Ms. Lafata realized that she could not perform her duties and accordingly, a few weeks later got a note from her doctor and requested FMLA leave and disability leave from her boss. But, Ms. Lafata only received the disability forms and not the FMLA forms. She subsequently collected disability payments while on leave for her foot injury.
Two months later, Ms. Lafata received a letter at home informing her that her employer had filled her position. She subsequently filed a complaint with the Department of Labor (DOL). The DOL determined that the employer failed to comply with applicable notice requirements under the FMLA. Thus, following this investigation, the employer gave Ms. Lafata twelve weeks of unpaid leave beginning July 28, 2003 to October 20, 2003. Ms. Lafata gave her employer a doctor’s note stating that she could return to work.
Prior to returning to work, Ms. Lafata spoke to her employer and the discussion of what she was going to do came up. The employer told Ms. Lafata that the only position available was that of a Restorative License Nurse. Ms. Lafata told her employer that she could not do that as it required lifting and was not an “equivalent position” to the one she held before which was Health Services Coordinator. Her employer told her that was what was being offered and to take it or leave it. Ms. Lafata ultimately did not return to work and filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC and after receiving a right to sue letter, filed her lawsuit. She hired a FMLA lawyer.
The below is a good video explaining FMLA. And if you watch this video, there are many other related videos that come up along with it that you can watch as well.
Continuing on with the case at hand, after the district court dismissed Ms. Lafata’s case, the appeals court reversed based on the following. The FMLA protects employees who have worked for the same employer for at least one full year and who have provided at least 1250 hours of service within that period. Eligible employees are entitled to a total of twelve work weeks of unpaid leave during any twelve month period because of a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the functions of the position of such employee. An eligible employee who takes leave pursuant to the FMLA shall be entitled, on return from such leave, to be restored by the employer to the position of employment held by the employee when the leave commenced, or to an equivalent position with equivalent employment benefits, pay, and other terms and conditions of employment. To qualify as an ‘equivalent position’ under the FMLA, the employee’s new position must be one that is virtually identical to the employee’s former position in terms of pay, benefits and working conditions, including privileges, perquisites and status. It must involve the same or substantially similar duties and responsibilities, which must entail substantially equivalent skill, effort, responsibility, and authority. (Lafata v. Church of Christ Home for the Aged, 325 Fed. App. 416, 2009 WL 1421104 (C.A.6 (Mich.)))
The appeals court held that the district court erred when it calculated that Ms. Lafata’s FMLA leave ended in June of 2003 and not October of 2003. In June of 2003, Ms. Lafata was still on her employer’s disability leave and not FMLA leave. It was not until later that the employer put Ms. Lafata on FMLA leave which ended in October of 2003. And thus, even though Ms. Lafata was out of work for more than 12 weeks, there is no rule precluding her employer from giving its employee more than 12 weeks of leave where only 12 are categorized as FMLA leave. Id. And thus, Ms. Lafata was entitled to return to either her prior position or an equivalent position. So, the appeals court remanded the case back to the district court to determine if the position offered as a Restorative License Nurse constituted an equivalent position within the meaning of the FMLA. Id.
If you have been the subject of a Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) discrimination, please call and speak to a Kentucky FMLA lawyer at the Law Offices of Andrew S. Alitowski at 888-ASK-ANDREW (275-2637) or contact us online. We are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
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