Injured USPS worker, called 'fraud' by manager, loses FMLA retaliation case
- A ruling by the First Circuit Court of Appeals has established that, in order to prove employer retaliation under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), a plaintiff must prove their supervisor had clear knowledge of the plaintiff's decision to take leave.
- Robert Chase, a U.S. postal worker, injured his shoulder during work hours and applied for workers’ compensation, reports the National Law Review, but his supervisor discouraged him from doing so. Chase also applied for and later took family medical leave, which in later testimony, the supervisor denied knowing.
- After exhausting his family medical leave, Chase remained out on medical leave until he was fired in 2011. Throughout Chase's leave, his supervisor called Chase's injury fake and mocked him, at one point stating that Chase was “the biggest fraud when it comes to injuries.” After his termination, Chase sued for retaliation under the Family Medical Leave Act. He claimed that his supervisor fired him because he went out on medical leave. But the supervisor claimed he didn’t know about Chase’s medical leave and hadn’t received documentation as proof.
The supervisor erred when he said he thought that employees used medical leave only after exhausting paid leave; he clearly needed training to better grasp employee leave policy.
But the court believed him when he testified acting retaliatory toward Chase's workers’ comp. claim, and not towards his decision to take medical leave.
USPS won the case, but it could have turned out in the plaintiff’s favor if the supervisor’s taunting had been aimed at the employee’s medical leave status. In a way, the supervisor’s ignorance of the law saved the defense.
This is no ringing endorsement, however. The supervisor's general behavior, including publicly outing an employee who had supposedly suffered a debilitating injury, would have been considered unprofessional and unethical by most organizations' standards.