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FMLA leave doesn't accrue hours for benefits

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed an Indiana District judge's decision that an employee on family medical leave doesn't accrue those hours for benefits and can be fired for violating attendance policies.

The decision comes in Michelle L. Bailey v. Pregis Innovative Packaging, Inc., No. 09-3539, which involves a Family and Medical Leave Act dispute out of the Northern District of Indiana's South Bend Division. U.S. Judge Philip Simon had granted summary judgment for the employer, which had used its "no-fault attendance policy" to fire Bailey for absenteeism during a 12-month period.

She claimed two absences in July 2006 were allowed through the FMLA and couldn't be used in the firing decision, but her employer disagreed that those absences were covered because she hadn't actually worked 1,250 hours the previous year in order to be eligible for FMLA time off. Bailey argued that her time off in the preceding year should have been credited and not counted toward the attendance policy.

"There is no basis for such a contortion of the statute - no hint in the statute or elsewhere that Congress envisaged and approved such a circumvention of the requirement than an applicant for FMLA leave have worked 1,250 hours in the preceding 12 months," 7th Circuit Judge Richard Posner wrote. "We can't find a case directly on point, but are supported in our conclusion by the refusal of courts including our own to interpret the statutory term 'service' in an expansive fashion that would dilute the 1,250-hour requirement."

The 7th Circuit also addressed another of Bailey's arguments: that Pregis Innovative Packaging retaliated against her for taking FMLA leave by not wiping clean some of her past absences at the end of a 12-month period. The issue was whether this counts as an "employment benefit" as defined by the FMLA. Weighing both a Department of Labor position on the issue and specific caselaw, the 7th Circuit decided that these absenteeism point removals should be considered an employment benefit.

However, Bailey doesn't get any benefit from this decision because the court has held that an employee can't accrue any employment benefits during any period of leave.

"An employee must not be penalized by being deprived, just because he is on family leave, of a benefit that he has earned (i.e., that has been accrued to him)," Judge Posner wrote. "But by the same token he cannot, when on family leave, accrue benefits that accrue only by working."

The defendant's no-fault attendance policy is a lawful way to determine whether an employee has, despite absences, a sufficiently strong commitment to working for that employer, the court found. Bailey didn't show that commitment in this case, and the District judge's decision is affirmed.

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  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

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