Employee Challenges Change in Duties After FMLA Leave

By Erin L. Winters October 4, 2017
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Employee Challenges Change in Duties After FMLA Leave

​A former Pennsylvania school district employee may proceed with his claim that the district interfered with his rights under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) by failing to place him in the same position after he returned from leave, according to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. Further, the court held that the former business manager may continue with his claim that the school district did not provide a reasonable accommodation for his heart condition under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

However, the court concluded that the district's budget cuts, which included the elimination of three positions, including the plaintiff's, did not constitute discrimination or retaliation.

The Mt. Lebanon School District employed Cleon Kordistos from 1999 to 2015. He held the job of assistant business manager for most of his employment. His duties were split between the finance and human resource departments, and his responsibilities included budgeting and accounting as well as benefits and leave administration.

Kordistos took FMLA leave in March 2014 after a heart attack. Once he returned, many of his responsibilities, which had been reassigned while he was out, remained with his colleagues. Kordistos' manager requested that he continue work on "special projects" related to his prior duties. Further, once Kordistos returned, he sought both a reduced work schedule and an ADA-compliant parking spot as accommodations for an ongoing heart condition.

The school district granted his request for the modified work schedule but was unable to provide the requested parking spot. Instead, the school district suggested that Kordistos' wife, who also worked at the district, transport him to and from work.

Nearly one year after Kordistos returned from FMLA leave, the district terminated his employment as part of budget cuts. Kordistos brought a lawsuit against the district alleging FMLA interference, discrimination and retaliation.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Coordinating Leaves of Absence]

The school district sought to end the lawsuit through a motion for summary judgment. However, in allowing Kordistos' FMLA interference claim to survive, the court pointed out that a question of fact existed as to whether the district placed Kordistos into a role with the same job title while reassigning "significant parts of his job duties" to others. The court highlighted that Kordistos' supervisor and colleagues testified that they could not remember if all of his duties were returned to him after his leave.

As to his ADA claims, Kordistos acknowledged that while carpooling with his wife allowed him to resume his job duties, the accommodation was not reasonable because he had to wait 45 minutes at the end of his workday for her to arrive. The court concluded that Kordistos could proceed with his claim because a dispute of fact existed as to whether the district's accommodation was reasonable.

Finally, the court concluded that the district's budget reductions were neither discriminatory nor retaliatory because the job cuts were part of the district's efforts to reduce personnel costs.

Kordistos v. Mt. Lebanon Sch. Dist., W.D. Pa., 16-615 (Aug. 21, 2017).

Professional Pointer: The FMLA requires employers to provide the same or an equivalent position to an employee after a protected leave ends. The Department of Labor has advised that an equivalent position is "virtually identical to the employee's former position in terms of pay, benefits and working conditions." Further, the position must involve the same or substantially similar duties.

Erin L. Winters is an attorney with Pacific Employment Law in San Francisco.

 

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