The Family and Medical Leave Act prohibits employers from interfering with or retaliating against an employee who requests FMLA leave. Last week, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals (which includes North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia), rejected an appeal of a panel decision dismissing an FMLA retaliation action filed by workers suspected of filing fraudulent medical claims.
In Adkins v. CSX Transportation, Inc., the plaintiffs were a group of employees who were notified that they would be furloughed in the near future. After the employees requested medical leave just before the furloughs (which would have given them better benefit coverage), CSX terminated them based on its conclusion that the medical claims were fraudulent. They sued, claiming that the employer had retaliated against them for requesting FMLA leave.
Both the federal district court and Fourth Circuit panel dismissed these claims. The plaintiffs sought review by the full Fourth Circuit, claiming that the earlier rulings allow employers to avoid granting FMLA leave by terminating workers who request it. The earlier opinions noted that CSX had ample evidence to support its fraud suspicions, even if they may not have proved to be correct. The full Fourth Circuit declined to rehear the case, affirming the earlier panel decision.
In order to prove FMLA retaliation, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the employer’s actions were motivated by the request for medical leave. If the employer can show that it based its decision on other reasonable business criteria, this will defeat the retaliation claim even in circumstances where the company’s understanding turned out to be incorrect.
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