The U.S. Supreme Court won’t decide whether employers risk violating federal law if they discourage — but don’t outright deny — Family and Medical Leave Act leave, it said yesterday.
The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held in June in Ziccarelli v. Dart that such discouragement can amount to interference with a worker’s FMLA rights. A Cook County, Illinois, corrections officer who had previously taken FMLA leave sued his employer, alleging it ran afoul of a law when a leave manager said he would be disciplined if he took more time off. After the interaction, he opted for early retirement. The manager said the warning merely cautioned him against taking more time off than he had available.
The appeals court said it determined that Cook County had violated the law because the statute prohibits employers from interfering with an employee’s attempt to exercise FMLA rights. A violation occurs even if an employer merely discourages “an employee from exercising rights under the FMLA without actually denying an FMLA leave request,” the 7th Circuit said. An employee does have to show, however, that they were prejudiced by the employer’s actions.
In its petition, the employer asked the high court, specifically, “whether a plaintiff bringing a claim for FMLA interference must prove that he was denied any rights granted by the FMLA.” The court denied the request Tuesday, leaving the 7th Circuit’s ruling intact.