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7th Circuit affirms firing for non-compliance with FMLA leave policy

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment dismissing a woman’s Family and Medical Leave Act claim against the company that fired her because she didn’t give proper notice for an extension of leave and failed to return to work as expected.

Letecia Brown sued Ford Motor Co. after she was fired for not reporting to work or explaining in writing or by phone why she didn’t come to work following an approved FMLA leave. Brown’s original FMLA leave expired Aug. 28 and she was to return to work the following day. Because she couldn’t get an appointment with a psychiatrist until the day she was to return to work, she didn’t go back to work as expected and failed to properly notify Ford within two days of learning Aug. 21 she had to extend her leave as required by policy.

Brown claimed to speak by phone with a nurse at the plant’s medical clinic on Aug. 30, telling the nurse that her doctor had extended her leave to Sept. 16. Ford had no record of this call and sent her certified mail notifying her that she had five days to return to work or explain why she was absent or else she would be fired. She didn’t pick up the mail and was fired Sept. 11.

She filed several suits against the company, but the only one at issue is her claim Ford interfered with her FMLA rights. The District Court originally denied summary judgment for Ford because it found the Aug. 30 phone call provided sufficient notice of Brown’s intent to extend her FMLA leave because it happened with two working days of the expiration of her original leave. But the court later reconsidered because the FMLA regulations require employees to give notice within one to two working days of learning about the need for leave, and granted judgment in favor of Ford dismissing the claim.

The undisputed facts show Brown learned of her need to extend her FMLA on Aug. 21 but failed to notify Ford, wrote Judge Diane Sykes in Letecia D. Brown v. Automotive Components Holdings, LLC and Ford Motor Co., No. 09-1641. The judges went on to confirm that Ford was well within its rights for FMLA purposes to fire Brown according to its standard leave procedures.

Brown raised three new arguments on appeal, which even if they weren’t waived, would fail, noted Judge Sykes. The court rejected her argument that she complied with FMLA regulations because she provided notice as soon as practicable because Brown didn’t show it was impractical for her to give notice on Aug. 21.

The court wasn’t persuaded by her other arguments either – that Ford’s 5-day quit notice was an explicit waiver of its right to rely on the one or two working days’ notice provision of the FMLA; that by not firing her on the day she failed to return to work, the company waived its right to rely on the FMLA provisions governing notice; and her phone call to the nurse was a request for new FMLA leave instead of an extension of her original leave.

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  2. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  3. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  4. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  5. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

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