Don't HR Alone #26 - FLMA Claim, and Employer Practices Liability ruling

Suspending employee upon return from FMLA leave, firing her after skipped meeting, did not show retaliation — FEDERAL NEWS

Though the timing of adverse actions taken against an administrative assistant was suspicious—as she was suspended for purported misconduct the day she returned from her FMLA leave and fired after she skipped her disciplinary meeting—she was unable to revive her FMLA retaliation claim. She may have disagreed with the decision, but there was no evidence that her supervisors harbored retaliatory animus against her, the Seventh Circuit ruled, in affirming summary judgment against her. The court declined to resolve the question of whether the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts was her "employer" under the FMLA.

The employee served as an administrative assistant to the chief judge of a state circuit court that covered six counties. The chief judge oversaw the administrative functions of the entire circuit, while the presiding judge of the county court where she worked supervised her day-to-day functions. She took two periods of unpaid FMLA leave during her tenure due to health issues, first from March to May 2011, and later from June to August 2012.

Suspended upon return from leave. The day after she returned from her second leave, the presiding judge gave her a disciplinary letter stating that she was being placed on paid leave pending a disciplinary meeting with the chief judge. The letter described several instances of misconduct, first stating that she engaged in insubordination and conduct "unbecoming a judicial employee" a year earlier when she changed the schedules for the court reporters, which had led to harsh criticism from one judge and controversy among the courthouse staff.