Court Report: FMLA Claims Against HR Director May Proceed to Trial

By Jeffrey L. Rhodes Jun 1, 2016

A former Culinary Institute of America employee who was fired after taking leave to care for her two sons has triable Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) claims against the HR director who instigated her discharge, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled.

The employee, Cathleen Graziadio, worked at the institute as a payroll administrator from 2007 until September 2012. In June and July of 2012, she took time off, which she sought to have classified as FMLA leave. The organization’s HR director told Graziadio that her FMLA paperwork did not justify the absences and that she needed to provide updated information. The culinary school sent her additional forms but fired her a week later—before she could complete them.

Professional Pointer

An individual human resource manager who has control over the exercise of an employee’s FMLA rights should act prudently because he or she may be individually liable as an FMLA “employer.”

Graziadio sued the school and the HR director individually for interference with FMLA leave and for FMLA retaliation. The lower court dismissed the claims, but the 2nd Circuit reversed, finding that Graziadio was entitled to a trial.

The circuit court’s decision revolved around the FMLA’s definition of an “employer,” which includes “any person” who “acts, directly or indirectly, in the interest of an employer” toward an employee. In determining whether someone is an employer, the court looks at several factors, including if the individual had the power to hire and fire employees and supervised and controlled employee work schedules or conditions of employment.

A jury could find that the HR director qualified under the FMLA as an “employer” of Graziadio and therefore could be liable for violating Graziadio’s statutory rights, the court said.

Jeffrey L. Rhodes is an attorney with Doumar Martin PLLC in Arlington, Va.

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