8th Circuit Reverses Summary Judgment on FMLA Claims
The Eighth Circuit reversed summary judgment on an FMLA entitlement and discrimination claim. In Hudson v. Tyson Fresh Meats, Inc., the Court found that sufficient evidence of FMLA discrimination and interference existed to allow the matter to proceed to trial. ___ F.3d. ___, 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 8479 (8th Cir. May 28, 2015).
Plaintiff Delbert Hudson was fired after taking a short leave for back problems and depression. Hudson’s girlfriend, also an employee at Tyson, told Hudson’s supervisor that he would be absent for a few days, and Plaintiff texted his supervisor about being out. When he returned to work, Hudson was fired for failing to call in each day pursuant to company policy. Hudson sued for FMLA interference and discrimination.
The district court granted summary judgment on both claims, and the Court of Appeals reversed. First, the Court held that Tyson failed to restore Hudson to the same or similar position after his leave, as required by the FMLA. Tyson argued that it “returned Hudson to his normal job duties for a person Human Resources was investigating,” but the Court rejected that argument because Tyson failed to cite any authority to support its legal theory.
Next, the Court held that Hudson FMLA discrimination claim should go to trial. Specifically, the Court held that Tyson’s shifting reason for termination (first for failing to provide notice, then for not providing notice in the appropriate manner), and evidence suggesting Tyson did not consistently enforce the call-in policy could convince a jury that its alleged reason for termination was a pretext to discrimination.
The decision can be found here. The FMLA entitles employees to take legally-protected leave, and protects employees from discrimination and retaliation for excercising rights under the FMLA. In addition, many states (including Minnesota) have passed their own versions of leave laws that may afford even more protections than the FMLA. If you have questions about the FMLA, or any other employment law issue, contact Teske Katz Kitzer & Rochel.