Third Circuit: Employer’s Good Faith Belief that FMLA Leave was Misused May Defeat Retaliation Claim


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January 30, 2017


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On January 30, 2017, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals stated that an employer’s good-faith belief that an employee has abused FMLA leave could potentially defeat an FMLA retaliation claim, even if the employer’s belief is ultimately incorrect.  This decision aligns with several other circuit courts that have previously found such a good-faith belief could be a non-discriminatory reason for terminating an employee.

In Capps v. Mondelez Global, LLC, employee Fredrick Capps was certified for intermittent leave after undergoing a hip replacement surgery.  Capps was recertified throughout his employment with Mondelez.  At one point during his employment, Capps was arrested and convicted for driving under the influence.  On the day he was released from jail, Capps informed employer Mondelez that he would be using his FMLA leave.  Mondelez later became aware of the DUI conviction and, after conducting an investigation, discovered that numerous days in which Capps took FMLA leave coincided with dates listed on his criminal court docket.  Mondelez terminated Capps’s employment for misuse of FMLA leave, based on the company’s dishonesty policy.  Capps sued, alleging FMLA interference, retaliation and failure to accommodate his disability.

The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the employer, and the Third Circuit court affirmed.  The Third Circuit pointed out that a FMLA retaliation claim requires the employee to demonstrate that the employer had retaliatory intent when taking adverse action against the employee.  There, Mondelez provided evidence that the company genuinely believed that Capps had misused and was dishonest about his FMLA leave, and such belief was a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason to terminate his employment.  Further, Mondelez had historically never denied Capps’s recurring requests for intermittent FMLA leave as an accommodation to his disability.  With no indication of discriminatory intent, the employer’s reasonable, albeit mistaken, belief that FMLA leave was abused was sufficient to defend the company from the FMLA retaliation claim.

Action Items

  1. Investigate and document any incidents where FMLA leave abuse is suspected.
  2. Consider consulting with legal counsel before taking any adverse actions against employees who you suspect may be abusing FMLA leave.

Disclaimer: This document is designed to provide general information and guidance concerning employment-related issues. It is presented with the understanding that ManagEase is not engaged in rendering any legal opinions. If a legal opinion is needed, please contact the services of your own legal adviser.

© 2017 ManagEase, Incorporated.

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