The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed a district court finding of summary judgment in the employer’s favor in Demyanovich v. Cadon Plating & Coatings et al., concluding that Cadon Plating may be a covered employer under the FMLA based on its relationship with an affiliated company and that its termination of an employee almost immediately after he requested FMLA leave may have violated both the FMLA and ADA.

Facts

Alan Demyanovich worked for Cadon Plating & Coatings for over 20 years as a helper, operator, and an area leader. In late 1998, Demyanovich experienced health problems.  His doctor diagnosed him with congestive heart failure. Demyanovich took 2-1/2 months of FMLA leave due in early 1999 and was cleared to return to work with two restrictions. Demyanovich was not to lift more than 50 lbs. and was not to work more than 40 hours per week.

Over the next 10 years, Demyanovich took FMLA leave several times for his heart and other medical reasons. In November of 2009, Demyanovich’s heart condition worsened, so he again requested FMLA leave. Demyanovich returned in mid-December with the same two restrictions. His physician also stated he was not to work overtime indefinitely. Around that same time, Demyanovich requested he be given lighter duty assignments, including switching to a sorting position, which would allow him to sit while working, or assigning him to a position at the end of the plant line, where he would not need to move as quickly. Cadon denied these requests and continued to schedule Demyanovich to work overtime.

Demyanovich went to his doctor again in February of 2010, during which time his doctor allegedly told him he should quit work and apply for social security disability benefits. In spite of that advice, Demyanovich returned to Cadon and requested FMLA leave. Al Ensign, Cadon’s Vice President, denied Demyanovich’s leave request, stating he believed Cadon did not have enough employees to be subject to the FMLA. Mr. Demyanovich also alleges Mr. Ensign informed him he no longer had enough points under Cadon’s attendance policy to take additional absences and called him a liability. Mr. Ensign terminated Mr. Demyanovich from employment in or around February 23 or 24th.

Demyanovich Files Suit

Demyanovich sued Cadon and Ensign in federal district court in December of 2010.  His amended complaint included allegations of  FMLA interference, FMLA retaliation, disability discrimination, and ADA retaliation.  Cadon moved for summary judgment, which the district court granted.

The district court provided the following reasoning:

  • Demyanovich was not an eligible employee under the Act, because he did not show he would have been able  to work after the end of his 12-week FMLA leave.
  • Cadon did not have to accommodate him by modifying his work schedule or permitting him to take leave;
  • Demyanovich could not work in any capacity; and
  • Demyanovich failed to create a genuine issue of fact as to his FMLA retaliation claim,
  • Demyanovich could not prove his ADA discrimination or retaliation claims because he was not a “qualified individual;” and
  • The evidence unquestionably showed that Demyanovich was incapable of performing any job.

The court did, however, recognize a question of material fact remained whether Cadon was a covered employer under the FMLA.

The Sixth Circuit Disagrees

Demyanovich appealed to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. The court ultimately reversed the district court’s ruling regarding the FMLA interference claim, FMLA retaliation, and the ADA claim.


Continue Reading You must watch the company you keep to ensure FMLA compliance!

The Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) requires an employer to restore an eligible employee who takes FMLA to the position the employee held when the FMLA leave commenced or to an equivalent position. Most cautious employers take this to mean that they cannot terminate an employee on the day he or she returns from FMLA leave; however, in Winterhalter v. Dykhuis Farms, Inc., Case No. 11-1743 (6th Cir. July 23, 2012), the Sixth Circuit allowed an employer to do just that under certain circumstances.
Continue Reading Sixth Circuit: FMLA Does Not Preclude Terminating an Employee the Day He Returns from Leave

The FMLA is a confusing topic for employers and human resource professionals. Many times, the mere mention of the letters "F" "M" "L" "A" out of an employee’s mouth are enough for the employer to grant the employee leave, no more questions asked.

This is why two recent Ohio federal district court opinions are helpful

As the Seventh Circuit in Righi v. SMC Corporation of America noted, it generally does not take much for an employee to preserve his rights under the FMLA; he must simply provide enough information "to place the employer on notice of a probable basis for FMLA leave."

When Robert Righi abruptly left a mandatory training seminar to care for his ill mother, however, he only sent an e-mail that said that he needed "the next couple days off" to arrange for his mother’s care and that he had vacation time available or "could apply for the family care act, which I do not want to do at this time." Mr. Righi’s manager attempted to call him on his cell phone several times over the next week or so to clarify his request for leave, but Mr. Righi had turned off his phone. His manager also left two messages with his roommate. It wasn’t until the ninth day after taking his leave that Mr. Righi called in. At that point, however, his manager called him into the office and fired him the next day.

When an employee fails to give his employer proper notice of the need for FMLA leave, the employer has no duty to provide it. Stated otherwise, an employee’s failure to comply with the FMLA’s notice requirements precludes a claim that the employer interfered with his rights under the FMLA because he failed to fulfill his obligations in order to be protected. While not sufficiently clear to trigger SMC’s obligation to provide written FMLA materials and certification forms to Righi, his email did trigger SMC’s obligation to make further inquiry as to whether he intended to designate his leave as FMLA. The Seventh Circuit held that SMC met that obligation by making multiple phone calls to him and that Righi’s failure to respond "doom[ed] his FMLA claim because he not only failed to designate his leave as FMLA, but he also failed to give SMC any indication as to when he would be returning to work." 


Continue Reading Seventh Circuit Upholds Denial of FMLA Leave To Employee Who Ignored Employer’s Telephone Calls

One of the underappreciated benefits for employers in the recent amendments to the FMLA regulations announced by the Department of Labor (DOL) effective January 2009 was clarification of an employee’s obligation to comply with the employer’s procedural requirements for requesting leave. This employee obligation was further strengthened this month.
Continue Reading DOL Issues Opinion Letter Requiring Employees Requesting FMLA Leave to Comply with Employer’s Usual and Customary Policies