On February 13, 2020, the 7th Circuit issued an opinion in which it explain the respective responsibilities of both employers and employees under the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"). Lutes v. United Trailers, Inc., et al., No. 19-1579 (7th Cir. Feb. 13, 2020). The plaintiff sued under the FMLA, alleging that the defendant failed to properly notify him of his FMLA rights, and terminated his employment in retaliation for attempting to exercise his FMLA rights. The district court granted summary judgment for the defendant. The 7th Circuit affirmed the district court's summary judgment as to the FMLA retaliation claim, but vacated the district court's judgment on the FMLA interference claim.
FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act)
On March 18, 2020, the President signed into law the Families First Coronavirus Response Act ("FFCRA"), which creates two new emergency paid leave requirements in response to the COVID-19 global pandemic. The Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act ("EPSLA") entitles certain employees to take up to two weeks of paid sick leave. The Emergency Family and Medical Leave Act ("EFMLEA") permits certain employees to take up to twelve weeks of expanded family and medical leave, ten of which are partially paid. On March 27, 2020, the President signed into law the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act ("CARES Act"), which amended certain provisions of the EPSLA and EFMLEA.
The FFCRA generally covers private employers with fewer than 500 employees and certain public agencies with one or more employees.
On March 18, 2020, the United States Senate passed the Omnibus Families First Coronavirus Response Act, that includes the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act ("EFMLEA") and the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act ("EPSLA"), with which employers must immediately familiarize themselves. The following is a summary of the key provisions of the EFMLEA and the EPSLA, which are expected to be signed into law by the President.
The Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act:
On November 12, 2019, the 7th Circuit affirmed a jury verdict in favor of a plaintiff-employee who sued the defendant-employer for violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"). Valdivia v. Township High School District 214, No. 19-1410 (7th Cir. 11/12/2019). The plaintiff claimed that the defendant interfered with her rights under the FMLA by failing to provide her with notice or information about her right to take job-protected leave. After a jury trial, a jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff and awarded her $12,000 in damages. The plaintiff informed her supervisor that she was considering leaving for medical reasons. She submitted a letter of resignation but shortly thereafter asked to rescind her resignation, which request was denied, resulting in the conclusion of her employment.
On November 20, 2018, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in a lawsuit in which the plaintiff alleged that her employer violated the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"). Riley v. City of Kokomo, Indiana Housing Authority, No. 17-1701 (7th Cir. 11/20/2018). The plaintiff worked for the Kokomo Housing Authority for eight years before the termination of her employment. During her employment, the plaintiff suffered from various disabilities, which required her to take leaves of absence. She alleged that the housing authority improperly denied her requests for medical leave and retaliated against her for those requests by disciplining and terminating her, in violation of the FMLA. She further alleged that the housing authority failed to provide her with reasonable accommodations for her disabilities and discriminated as well as retaliated against her in violation of the ADA. She also claimed that she was subjected to retaliation for engaging in protected activity in violation of Title VII.
On April 30, 2018, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of a defendant employer in a federal lawsuit in which the plaintiff alleged that the defendant retaliated against him for exercising his rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA") and the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"). Freelain v. Village of Oak Park et al., No. 16-4074 (7th Cir. 4/30/2018). The plaintiff, an Oak Park police officer, made an internal complaint of sexual harassment, alleging that another officer made unwelcome sexual advances toward him. After he reported the alleged sexual harassment, he began to experience migraine headaches and other medical conditions that he attributed to stress related to the alleged sexual harassment, for which he took time off work. He alleged that as a result of his medical condition and use of leave time, the defendant retaliated against him, in violation of the FMLA and ADA, by classifying his sick leave as unpaid, requiring him to undergo a psychological evaluation before returning to duty, and waiting three months before approving his request to engage in outside employment. The 7th Circuit held that the subject employment actions did not constitute protected activity and that therefore, the plaintiff's FMLA and ADA retaliation claims failed as a matter of law.
On April 24, 2018, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of a defendant employer in a Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA") interference lawsuit on the basis that the suit was time-barred under the FMLA's two-year statute of limitations. Sampra v. United States Department of Transportation, No. 17-2621 (7th Cir. 4/24/2018). The plaintiff sued her employer alleging that it unlawfully interfered with her rights under the FMLA by reassigning her to a different position after she returned from pregnancy leave. The district court granted summary judgment for the defendant on the merits, finding that the plaintiff was offered essentially the same position upon her return from FMLA pregnancy leave. The 7th Circuit affirmed, without reaching the merits, on the different ground that the plaintiff's FMLA lawsuit was time-barred because the plaintiff failed to file her complaint within the applicable two-year statute of limitations. The three-year statute of limitations did not apply because the plaintiff failed to provide evidence that the defendant willfully violated her rights under the FMLA.
On March 7, 2018, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of the defendant, employer in a lawsuit in which the plaintiff, former employee alleged that her former employer interfered with her right to take a leave of absence under the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), discriminated against her on the basis of her disabilities in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), failed to provide her with a reasonable accommodation for her disabilities, in violation of the ADA, and unlawfully retaliated against her for exercising her rights under the FMLA and ADA. Guzman v. Brown County, No. 16-3599 (7th Cir. 3/7/2018). The FMLA provides eligible employees who have serious health conditions with the right to take unpaid leave for up to 12 workweeks during each 12 month period. The FMLA also makes it unlawful for an employer to interfere with an employee's attempt to exercise his or her FMLA rights, or to retaliate against an employee for exercising his or her FMLA rights.
On December 27, 2017, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of the defendant in a lawsuit in which the plaintiff alleged that the defendant terminated his employment because of his race, national origin, disability, and exercise of his right to take leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"). Ennin v. CNH Industrial America, LLC, No. 17-2270 (7th Cir. 12/27/2017). The record indicated that the defendant terminated the plaintiff's employment before it had knowledge of his alleged disability or his FMLA leave; and there was no evidence that the defendant's proffered reasons for the termination were pretext for employment discrimination.
On October 2, 2017, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment on a former employee's sexual harassment, retaliation and FMLA claims. King v. Ford Motor Company, No. 16-3391 (7th Cir. 10/2/2017). The plaintiff, who was an assembly line worker, claimed that she was sexually harassed by a supervisor. She was discharged after missing several weeks of work for medical reasons that her former employer claims she failed to properly document. In her federal lawsuit, she filed claims for sexual harassment, FMLA interference, and retaliation based on her complaints of sexual harassment and for taking FMLA leave. Since she failed to file suit within 90 days of receipt of her notice of right-to-sue letter from the EEOC, her Title VII sexual harassment claim was time-barred. Her FMLA interference and retaliation claims failed too, for substantive reasons.