Reassignment of Job Duties Did Not Violate FMLA

By Erin L. Winters January 16, 2018
Reassignment of Job Duties Did Not Violate FMLA

Reassignment of minor job duties during an employee's medical leave without returning those duties to the worker after the leave ends does not violate the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York ruled.

The plaintiff, a State University of New York College at Potsdam (SUNY) employee since 1980, took leave from her position as a keyboard specialist II under the FMLA for depression, fibromyalgia and bipolar II disorder during most of 2011.

In her role, the plaintiff's duties included data entry, administrative services, compiling data for the university's annual report, writing e-mails and drafting fliers for students and faculty about upcoming events. While on leave, SUNY reassigned some of the plaintiff's data entry responsibilities for the annual report.

After returning, the plaintiff's supervisor asked whether the plaintiff's doctor "changed her medicine" and stated that "she thought that [the plaintiff] should have taken medical leave much sooner."  The plaintiff then received a negative performance review where the supervisor concluded that the plaintiff's leave "had a negative effect on office productivity." The plaintiff's boss initiated weekly meetings to review the plaintiff's workload and to plan how they "could work together" to help the plaintiff complete her tasks.

In early 2012, the plaintiff discovered a memorandum written by someone in her department prior to her medical leave that outlined her change in performance, and physical and mental health. She complained to human resources that she has been subjected to discrimination based on her disability and later initiated a lawsuit in federal court alleging that SUNY and her supervisor discriminated and retaliated against her in violation of state law and the FMLA.

The plaintiff maintained that upon returning from medical leave SUNY reduced her responsibilities, her supervisor exerted unwarranted and excessive scrutiny and the university no longer allowed her to perform essential functions of her role.

The court rejected all of the plaintiff's claims and found that her allegations did not constitute adverse employment actions under either state or federal law. The court highlighted the fact that the plaintiff both continued to be employed by SUNY and that she received raises annually until her retirement.

The court concluded that the memo regarding her health and behavior, even if considered a negative performance review, did not impact the terms or conditions of her employment. Further, the court concluded that the additional supervision did not alter her work experience in any way. Finally, the court explained that changes in job responsibilities that do not radically change the nature of work are not considered adverse employment actions.  

Marsh-Godreau v. State University of New York College at Potsdam, N.D.N.Y., No. 8:15-CV-437 (Nov. 28, 2017).

Professional Pointer: Federal and state laws protect employees from discrimination and retaliation for engaging in protected activity. In order to prevent claims of adverse employment actions, employers must train managers about how to lawfully engage with employees who have taken job-protected leave.

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


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