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Federal judge refuses to dismiss FMLA lawsuit for fired woman

An interesting issue arose recently in a case involving the Family and Medical Leave Act and a worker from a Mid-Atlantic State. Many people throughout New York and Long Island may associate FMLA leave with childbirth or adoption issues. But, the law applies to a wide variety of other medical and family issues.

Generally, the FMLA allows workers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a year’s time to deal with a personal medical issue, or to care for a family member. Additional provisions apply to members of military families.

The protections of the FMLA generally apply to workers to allow the employee to get the necessary time off without having to fear about losing his or her job. But, the FMLA is not necessarily universal. To qualify for FMLA protection a worker must log 1250 hours on the clock in the 12 months preceding the leave, and the law applies to companies that have 50 or more employees within 75 miles of the worker’s location. That last prong was an issue in a recent FMLA lawsuit involving a worker at an airport in Pennsylvania.

In 2011, the woman’s fiancée was diagnosed with melanoma. The diagnosis was grim as doctors say the disease would be terminal. The couple married 11 days after learning of the terminal illness in August of that year. By October, the woman sought FMLA leave to spend time caring for her husband. The company gave her a statement in writing granting her the unpaid FMLA leave in October.

In February 2012, she had some unused leave remaining and sought to use more of the approved leave. She says that at that time, instead of allowing her to care for her dying husband with job protection, she was wrongfully terminated in February. Her husband passed away in June 2012.

The woman sued her former employer for wrongful termination in violation of the FMLA. The employer challenged her lawsuit on a legal argument, claiming that the airport is too small for the FMLA to apply. The company says that there are fewer than 50 employees within 75 miles of the airport and therefore the woman’s FMLA claim should fail. The company asked the judge to dismiss the lawsuit. The court refused to do so.

The ruling is not a final victory, but a win along the way. The court says that there are factual issues that preclude dismissal of the lawsuit. It appears that the written document granting leave under the FMLA factored into the court’s decision.

Source: The Patriot-News, "HIA company loses bid to have family leave suit dismissed," John Beauge, Aug. 30, 2013

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