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7th Circuit affirms ruling against fired employee

August 3, 2012

Carrier Corp. had an “honest suspicion” that one of its employees was abusing his leave under the Family Medical Leave Act, so the District Court was correct in granting summary judgment for Carrier in the fired employee’s lawsuit.

Carrier had excessive employee absenteeism at its Indianapolis plant, so it hired a private investigator to follow certain employees who were suspected of abusing the company’s leave policies. Daryl Scruggs was authorized to take intermittent leave under the FMLA to care for his mother, who is in a nursing home.

Scruggs was one of the employees suspected of abusing the leave policies, so the company set up surveillance of his house on a day he requested FMLA leave. The surveillance revealed he never left his home that day, so he was suspended by the company pending further investigation. Scruggs submitted several documents to try to support his argument that he left the house and had been with his mother, but Carrier believed the documents were suspicious and inconsistent. Carrier fired Scruggs for misusing his FMLA leave.

Scruggs filed a lawsuit for interference and retaliation under the FMLA. The District Court granted summary judgment for Carrier, which the 7th Circuit affirmed. In the Circuit Court, because an employee has “no greater right to reinstatement or to other benefits and conditions of employment than if the employee had been continuously employed,” an employer need only show that “it refused to reinstate the employee based on an ‘honest suspicion’” that the employee was abusing leave.  

When Carrier asked Scruggs about the day in question, he couldn’t recall what he did that day but said he didn’t misuse his leave. He later brought paperwork from the nursing home and doctor’s office, but these documents only raised further questions for Carrier, the opinion says. Taken together, this was enough for Carrier to have an honest suspicion that Scruggs misused his FMLA leave.

The 7th Circuit also found that Carrier did not retaliate against Scruggs for using his FMLA leave.

 

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