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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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  1. Thank you, John Smith, for pointing out a needed correction. The article has been revised.

  2. The "National institute for Justice" is an agency for the Dept of Justice. That is not the law firm you are talking about in this article. The "institute for justice" is a public interest law firm. http://ij.org/ thanks for interesting article however

  3. I would like to try to find a lawyer as soon possible I've had my money stolen off of my bank card driver pressed charges and I try to get the information they need it and a Social Security board is just give me a hold up a run around for no reason and now it think it might be too late cuz its been over a year I believe and I can't get the right information they need because they keep giving me the runaroundwhat should I do about that

  4. It is wonderful that Indiana DOC is making some truly admirable and positive changes. People with serious mental illness, intellectual disability or developmental disability will benefit from these changes. It will be much better if people can get some help and resources that promote their health and growth than if they suffer alone. If people experience positive growth or healing of their health issues, they may be less likely to do the things that caused them to come to prison in the first place. This will be of benefit for everyone. I am also so happy that Indiana DOC added correctional personnel and mental health staffing. These are tough issues to work with. There should be adequate staffing in prisons so correctional officers and other staff are able to do the kind of work they really want to do-helping people grow and change-rather than just trying to manage chaos. Correctional officers and other staff deserve this. It would be great to see increased mental health services and services for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities in the community so that fewer people will have to receive help and support in prisons. Community services would like be less expensive, inherently less demeaning and just a whole lot better for everyone.

  5. Can I get this form on line,if not where can I obtain one. I am eligible.

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