Company Responsible For Illegally Interfering with Plaintiff’s FMLA Leave, Although She Never Actually Requested It

On July 25, 2014, the United States District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina denied the Defendant’s motion to dismiss/strike the Plaintiff’s FMLA claims in the case Alexander v. Carolina Fire Control, Inc. Plaintiff Alexander worked for Defendant as a Project Manager for about six years before her young son was diagnosed with cancer in 2012. At that time she informed her employer that she would need to take leave from work on an intermittent basis in order to care for her son. She requested and received from the company’s Human Resources Department the paperwork she and her physician needed to apply for FMLA leave. however, before she could turn in her application materials, she alleges, the company’s owners called her into a meeting wherein they discouraged her from applying for leave. Instead, they told her, she would be allowed “to work a reduce number of hours” and to “work from a remote location by laptop so that she could provide care for her son without using FMLA.” In response to the owners’ requests, she decided not to submit the application for intermittent leave.

Plaintiff continued to work at Carolina Fire Control, Inc. from August 2012 to January 2013, working approximately 30 to 40 hours per week, while caring for her son. However, because she was working fewer hours, and outside the office, she was far less available than before to respond to supervisors’ communications. On January 9, 2013, with no prior warning, Defendant informed Alexander that she was terminated for insubordination.

In her complaint, Plaintiff argues that she had not been insubordinate, and that Defendant had failed to explain this charge or to give her any indication that there was a problem with her work.

The basis of Defendant’s argument in their motion is that the Plaintiff never applied for FMLA leave, and thus they did not interfere by denying her request. Plaintiff therefore could not possibly succeed in showing that she had been denied leave to which she was legally entitled. Also, since they voluntarily offered the Plaintiff various accommodations, including a number of hours away from work exceeding what she would have had with FMLA leave, any damages resulting from Plaintiff’s not taking leave could not be Defendant’s responsibility.

The Court disagreed with the Defendant’s reasoning; assuming Plaintiff was basically correct about the relevant facts, Judge Beaty concludes, the Defendant’s act of discouraging the Plaintiff from taking FMLA leave might well constitute an unlawful attempt “to interfere with, restrain, or deny the exercise of or the attempt to exercise, any right’ under the FMLA.” And the losses she suffered–emotional and financial losses due to her termination–arguably would not have happened had taken FMLA leave rather than accepting the alternative offered by her supervisors.

If you are an employee and you believe your rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act have been violated, please contact The Harman Firm, LLP.