If asked, most employers would probably agree that the Family and Medical Leave Act does not allow employers to retaliate against an employee for taking job protected medical leave. Last week, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a creative attempt by an employer to argue that very point. In Bryant v. Dollar General Corp., a jury concluded that the employer terminated the plaintiff because she took FMLA leave. On appeal, the employer contended that the plain language of the FMLA does not address such action, but rather only prohibits retaliation against an employee who opposes practices made illegal under the FMLA.
The Sixth Circuit had little trouble rejecting the employer’s claims. It cited FMLA regulations issued by the Department of Labor which clearly address retaliation for taking job protected leave. The court rejected Dollar General’s claims that such rules are beyond DOL’s regulatory authority. The Sixth Circuit also cited extensive legislative history demonstrating that Congress intended to make illegal retaliation against employees who exercise rights under the FMLA.
The court refused to accept a technical reading of the FMLA that would, in its opinion, result in removal of the law’s basic granting of leave rights to qualifying employees.