ILNews

Leave act specific to alcoholism treatment

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2008
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An Indiana man sued his former employer for firing him on grounds that he missed too much work, arguing that he was covered by the federal medical leave act because he was getting treatment for alcoholism.

But the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals determined today that the Family and Medical Leave Act doesn't protect workers from being dismissed. Because he missed three days of work just prior to being admitted for alcoholism treatment and that time combined with previous absences was enough for his employer to dismiss him, the court ruled.

The unanimous three-judge ruling in Richard L. Darst, as Trustee for the Bankruptcy Estate of Krzysztof Chalimoniuk v. Interstate Brands Corp. and Tonia Gordon, No. 04-2460, affirms the previous judgment from U.S. District Judge John D. Tinder in Indianapolis, who'd granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants.

A footnote in the opinion shows that during the course of the litigation, Chalimoniuk filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and his termination claim became part of the bankruptcy estate. Trustee Darst has continued to prosecute this on behalf of the estate.

Chalimoniuk had worked at the baked goods manufacturer for 15 years before being dismissed in 2000 for excessive absenteeism. The employer operated on a point system, with 24 or more resulting in discharge. When this case's set of facts began, Chalimoniuk had a cutoff of 32 points, and he'd accumulated 23 already.

His situation began July 29, 2000, when he relapsed and missed three days of work. During those three days, he called his doctor and set up his admission to a treatment facility where he stayed Aug. 4-10 of that year. He filled out employment paperwork for leave starting July 29 and ending Aug. 11, but the employer's human resources manager Gordon investigated that date and determined the prior three days didn't fall under the act.

At issue in the case was whether his three days of missed work prior to being hospitalized classified as "treatment" under the FMLA, which allows eligible employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave a year for various reasons, such as a "serious health condition" that the Department of Labor states can apply to substance abuse treatment.

"On the other hand, absence because of the employee's use of the substance, rather than for treatment, does not qualify for FMLA leave," Circuit Judge Ilana Diamond Rovner wrote, noting that Chalimoniuk provided no evidence that he was admitted to any facility for treatment on those three days. "Because he had exceeded the number of points allowable under IBC's absenteeism policy, the defendants were free to terminate his employment without running afoul of the FMLA."
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