8th Circuit Says Bad Faith Efforts Highlight Need for FMLA

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of an employee who claimed her employer interfered with her rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The 8th Circuit said the case highlights the need for FMLA.

The court ruled in favor of Ena Wages over Stuart Management Corp. (StuartCo), a property management company running 30 apartment complexes. Wages claimed that StuartCo used bad-faith FMLA efforts.

Wages started as an employee at StuartCo on November 16, 2008. She was a caretaker with duties such as vacuuming, cleaning, mopping, washing windows, dusting and snow removal. Wages worked 30 hours per week at the complex. During this time she had a clean employee record. In the summer of 2009, Wages learned that she was pregnant. She previously had a life-threatening pregnancy, so her doctor considered her pregnancy high-risk.

Wages tried twice to contact StuartCo’s human resources department to ask about post-birth benefits and leave. Her call was never returned and the HR director denied receiving her call. In October 2009 she started experiencing abdominal pain. Her doctor told her not to vacuum or mop to avoid pregnancy risks. He then provided a note for StuartCo and sent it to them. By November 2, the doctor sent another note, stating that she could perform all of her job duties except snow removal.

In November she started to experience severe abdominal pain and missed work on the 9th, 10th and 12th. On November 12, her doctor limited her to working no more than 20 hours per week. The next day, Wages gave the doctor’s note to her supervisor, who emailed a copy to the human resources director.

When Wages arrived at work on Monday, November 16, her supervisor and the human resources director called her into a meeting and fired her stating they were unable to accommodate the work situations recommended by her physician.

Wages filed a lawsuit for FMLA violations, alleging that StuartCo not only interfered with her FMLA rights, but fired her after she requested those rights. A Federal district court in Minnesota ruled in favor of Wages in a summary judgment, and StuartCo appealed to the circuit court. For Wages to succeed on her entitlement she had to prove that she was an FMLA-eligible employee and that she provided adequate notice to StuartCo. An employee is qualified for FMLA benefits only if they have worked 12 months for an FMLA-covered employer. It was established that Wages qualified for the 12-month requirement by using three days of non-FMLA leave to “bridge the gap” and carry her to her eligibility date.

The 8th circuit rejected StuartCo’s appeal affirming the lower court’s decision, saying, StuartCo’s actions highlight the need for FMLA.

This case should serve as a reminder to all employers to act in good faith whenever dealing with FMLA or other human resource issues.


About John Garner

John Garner has over thirty five years of experience in employee benefits. He specializes in compliance, health care reform, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA), and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). He helps clients with life, health, and disability benefits, cost containment, flexible benefits, and claim consulting.

Subscribe to the Bolton Blog