7th Circuit affirms summary judgment for employer after employees abused FMLA leave

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A husband who was suspended from work along with his wife after they were accused of misusing FMLA leave has failed in his bid to convince the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals to reinstate his lawsuit against his employer.

Chief Judge Diane Sykes, writing for the unanimous appellate panel, upheld summary judgment for FCA US LLC in a Thursday opinion.

“(Michael) Juday’s retaliation claim fails for the same reason as his interference claim: the record evidence shows that FCA disciplined him based on an honest suspicion that he was abusing his FMLA leave — more specifically, he had violated the company’s rules against providing false or misleading information in connection with his FMLA leave,” Sykes wrote.

Michael Juday and his wife Becky both worked at FCA’s transmission plant in Kokomo. Throughout 2017, the couple was granted intermittent leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, with Michael requesting leave for anxiety, depression and back pain and Becky requesting leave for flare-ups of irritable bowel syndrome.

Both of their health care providers completed certifications detailing the reasons for FMLA leave and how often it would be required. Throughout the year, the Judays continued submitting requests with updated certifications.

But in December 2017, a supervisor at Sedgwick Claims Management Services Inc., which reviewed the certifications, emailed FCA’s FMLA administrator to flag a pattern of overlap in the Judays’ leave requests. The administrator found 21 common days of absence plus an additional 27 days of overlapping partial-leave requests.

When questioned, Michael said Becky’s IBS flare-ups would occasionally trigger his anxiety while Becky claimed the reverse. However, neither could explain why their leave requests overlapped so often.

After consulting with labor relations representatives and FCA counsel, the company determined the couple had provided false or misleading information regarding their FMLA leave in 2017. Both were suspended, and Michael returned to work after his suspension with the same position, supervisor and pay. He continues to take periodic FMLA leave.

About a year later, Michael sued FCA claiming the suspension violated his FMLA rights and was retaliation for taking leave. But the Indiana Southern District Court granted summary judgment to FCA, ruling that his suspension was based on an honest suspicion of abuse of FMLA leave.

Affirming the grant of summary judgment, the 7th Circuit held, “Because Juday presented no evidence suggesting that FCA’s suspicion of FMLA abuse was anything other than genuine, the judge properly entered judgment for FCA on the FMLA interference claim.”

Further, “Juday needed to produce evidence from which a reasonable jury could infer that FMLA abuse was not FCA’s real reason for imposing discipline and that the company was instead retaliating against him for exercising his statutory leave rights,” Sykes wrote. “He did not do so.”

The case is Michael Juday v. FCA US LLC, 21-1414.

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