Worker's entire service decides FMLA eligibility

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

In an issue of first impression, the majority of Indiana Supreme Court justices ruled an employee filling multiple positions with the same employer is eligible for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act if the employee's total service is sufficient to qualify, even if the service in either position alone doesn't qualify.

In Gary Community School Corporation v. Tom Powell, No. 45S03-0809-CV-482, the high court had to determine whether an employee's FMLA eligibility is determined by the employee's entire service to the employer or separately for each position. The trial court ruled Tom Powell was an eligible employee for purposes of both his teaching and coaching positions; the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed, holding the issue is controlled by the parties' treatment of the jobs as unified or separate.

Powell worked as a math teacher, night school teacher, and head football coach in the summer of 2001 when he had to take FMLA leave for seven weeks. When he returned to his job as math and night school teachers, he learned the Gary Community School Corp. fired him from his head football coaching job. He complained to the high school principal and spoke with a news reporter. He was denied the position in 2002 and 2003. That led to his action against GCSC alleging it violated FMLA by not restoring him as coach for the 2001 season and by retaliating against him for taking FMLA leave by rejecting his application in subsequent years to become the head coach.

The high court examined the language of the FMLA, committee reports accompanying the passage of the Act, and the Fair Labor Standards Act to conclude the 1,250-hour requirement applies to the employee's overall service to the employer, and that even though Powell had separate academic and athletic supervisors, GCSC is his employer for purposes of the FMLA, wrote Justice Boehm for the majority.

There was also sufficient evidence to support the jury's determination GCSC had retaliated against Powell. Powell demonstrated he was engaged in activity protected by the FMLA - taking leave and opposing the school corporation's FMLA violation by complaining to the newspaper. He also showed adverse employment action and a casual connection because before the article was published in the newspaper, a three-person committee recommended him for head coach in 2002, but afterwards, the athletic director didn't want to recommend Powell because he had spoken to the media. Finally, GCSC's proffered proper reasons for not rehiring Powell are pretextual.

The Supreme Court affirmed the propriety of front pay in the instant case, but did rule the front pay should be discounted to present value. It used the Indiana statutory rate of 8 percent because there is no clear authority regarding the discount rate applicable to an award of front pay under FMLA. The high court also affirmed the trial court's award of attorney fees to Powell.

Justice Brent Dickson dissented without a separate opinion, believing the Court of Appeals correctly decided the issues in the case.


Post a comment to this story

We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. I think the cops are doing a great job locking up criminals. The Murder rates in the inner cities are skyrocketing and you think that too any people are being incarcerated. Maybe we need to lock up more of them. We have the ACLU, BLM, NAACP, Civil right Division of the DOJ, the innocent Project etc. We have court system with an appeal process that can go on for years, with attorneys supplied by the government. I'm confused as to how that translates into the idea that the defendants are not being represented properly. Maybe the attorneys need to do more Pro-Bono work

  2. We do not have 10% of our population (which would mean about 32 million) incarcerated. It's closer to 2%.

  3. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  4. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  5. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.