Telling an employee they are eligible to take leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) when they are not can cost an employer. In Medley v. Montgomery County, (E.D. Pa.) Anne Medley worked as a nursing assistant for the County of Montgomery, Pennsylvania when Medley needed a leave of absence to care for her son, who suffered from several health conditions, including Asperger’s Syndrome and anxiety disorder. When Medley asked the County about FMLA leave requirements, she was told and given documents that an employee was eligible for FMLA leave once they worked three continuous months of employment, and that she was eligible. At no time was Medley told she also needed to have worked at least 1250 hours during the previous 12 months. Medley filled out the FMLA forms which the County provided her, and they were approved. During her approved FMLA leave, Medley was written up for her absences. When she raised the issue with a County official in the Human Resource Department, Medley was told not to worry, because “nothing was going to be done to her.” The County official also persuaded Medley not to file a grievance. The next day, Medley was terminated for one of the absences that she believed was covered by her FMLA leave.
When Medley sued for FMLA interference and retaliation, the County argued that because she had not worked at least 1250 hours and actually was not eligible for FMLA leave, she could not be on FMLA and therefore there was no FMLA leave to interfere with. Under the FMLA, an employee is eligible for FMLA leave if the employee has worked for the employer at least 12 months, and at least 1250 hours within the previous calendar year.
The court held that since Medley was not actually eligible for FMLA leave, a claim for FMLA interference had no standing. However, the court also held that actual entitlement to FMLA leave was not an element of the claim of retaliation. To succeed on that claim Medley only had to prove that she took FMLA leave because the County led her to believe she was eligible for FMLA leave, and because she took the approved FMLA leave she was terminated. The court relied on a 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision which held that “[A]n employer who without intent to deceive makes a definite but erroneous representation to his employee that she is . . . entitled to leave under the FMLA, and has reason to believe that the employee will rely upon it, may be estopped to assert a defense of non-coverage” if the employee reasonably relied on the misrepresentation to her detriment.” Medley v. Montgomery County, (E.D. Pa.) No 2:12-cv-01995.
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