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Twice-fired Parks and Rec Worker’s FMLA Interference Claim Runs out of Gas

08 Feb, 2024 Chris Parker

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St. Petersburg, FL (WorkersCompensation.com) – An employer’s good faith efforts to respond to an FMLA request can go a long way toward defeating an FMLA interference claim.

A case involving a parks and recreation worker in Florida is a case in point. In Chavous v. City of St. Petersburg, No. 22-10228 (11th Cir. 01/31/24, unpublished), an equipment operator was injured in a car accident at work. He was then fired on July 26, 2018, for not showing up to work after the accident.

The operator later provided a doctor’s certification for an FMLA request. The certification stated that it could take one to four weeks for the operator to recover. The city promptly granted the leave retroactively and reinstated the operator.

The operator was told to return on August 8, when his leave was finished. He failed to report to work that day, or the next, or to report his absences. Nor did he request additional leave. So, the city fired him again on August 27.

The operator filed a lawsuit alleging FMLA interference.

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The court explained that, to establish an initial case of FMLA retaliation, an employee must show that he was denied a benefit to which he was entitled under the FMLA. The primary  benefits of the FMLA are:

(1) Entitlement to 12 weeks of leave during a 12-month period because of a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the functions of his position.

(2) The right to be restored to the same or an equivalent position after returning from leave.

Where an employee alleges he was fired because of exercising a right under the FMLA, the court stated, an employer may defend against the claim by showing that it would have fired the employee regardless of his request for FMLA leave.

July Firing

As for the July termination, the court pointed out that the city based its decision to fire the operator on the fact that he took 17 days of "unscheduled leave," after he was involved in a car accident. The city, however, reinstated him when his doctor finally submitted the certification that was required in order for the city to consider the leave request.

“What's more, it awarded him back pay from the date his FMLA leave ended, July 26, 2018, until Aug. 7, 2018, the day before he was supposed to return to work,” the court wrote. Because the city made him whole, he was not denied any benefit to which he was entitled under the FMLA. Thus, he could not state an interference claim based on the first termination.

August Firing

As to the second firing, the court pointed out that it occurred on Aug. 27, while the worker was no longer on FMLA leave. Even though his leave had ended on Aug. 8, he still had not returned to work. The court rejected the employee’s argument that his doctor told him that it might take him longer to recover, noting that the operator never asked for more leave. As a result, he was not denied any FMLA benefit.

The court affirmed the District Court’s dismissal of the case.

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