Last month, the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, in Missouri, held that a reasonable jury could determine that Tyson Fresh Meats violated the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) when it fired Delbert Hudson. The Eighth Circuit reversed the trial court’s decision to dismiss the case.
In December 2011 and January 2012, Mr. Hudson had to take some time off from work at Tyson because of depression and back pain. Mr. Hudson’s co-worker/girlfriend initially notified his supervisor that he needed to miss work for medical reasons and Mr. Hudson also sent a text message to his supervisor. In the midst of his medical leave, Mr. Hudson brought Tyson a note from his doctor and filled out a medical leave form. When Mr. Hudson returned to work, after about two weeks of medical leave, Tyson fired him.
The FMLA requires an employer to restore an employee to his job or an equivalent job when he returns from FMLA-qualifying leave. In this case, the Eighth Circuit determined that Mr. Hudson qualified for FMLA leave and that a reasonable jury could find that Tyson violated the FMLA because it did not permit him to return to work when his FMLA leave ended.
The FMLA also prohibits discrimination against employees who use FMLA leave. The Eighth Circuit held that a reasonable jury could determine that Tyson fired Mr. Hudson because he took FMLA leave. Tyson claimed that it fired Mr. Hudson, not because he took FMLA leave but, because he did not comply with its procedure for notifying the company when he needed to miss work for medical reasons. Tyson also claimed that Mr. Hudson was a no-call/no-show on some of the days he missed for medical reasons. The Eighth Circuit held that a reasonable jury could find that these explanations were just a pretext, or cover-up, for discrimination. While Mr. Hudson did not call his supervisor when he needed to miss work, as the policy technically required, he did send his supervisor a text message and, according to Mr. Hudson, the supervisor had accepted this form of communication in the past. Furthermore, Tyson changed its story about the no-call/no-show rationale for termination. At first Tyson claimed that it fired him for being a no-call/no-show but then retracted that reason because it had to admit that it had retroactively granted Mr. Hudson the time off that he had requested for medical leave and, thus, he was not a no-show on those days.
Even though laws entitle employees to medical leave, many employers try to prevent their employees from exercising their rights to medical leave or punish them when they do exercise their rights to medical leave. The Maine Employee Rights Group has represented many Maine workers who have experienced discrimination similar to what Mr. Hudson experienced. If you’ve required leave from work due to a medical condition, or to care for a family member with a medical condition, and your employer has deprived you of your right to job-protected leave or discriminated against you for taking leave, contact an experienced employment lawyer to learn more about your rights.