By Pat Murphy
An employer may be liable for firing a pregnant employee after being informed that she planned on taking maternity leave after she became eligible under the Family and Medical Leave Act, the 11th Circuit has ruled in reversing a dismissal.
An employee becomes eligible for FMLA leave once she has worked for the employer for at least 1,250 hours in the past 12 months and has been employed for a total of at least 12 months.
In this case, the plaintiff was fired eleven months after beginning work at a nursing home operated by the defendant. She sued for interference and retaliation under the FMLA. According to the plaintiff, the defendant considered her a top employee until it learned that she was pregnant and had requested medical leave around the time when her child was expected to be born, which was after she would become eligible for FMLA leave.
The defendant argued that the FMLA does not protect a pre-eligibility request for post-eligibility leave.
The court disagreed.
“We hold that a pre-eligible request for post-eligible leave is protected activity because the FMLA aims to support both employees in the process of exercising their FMLA rights and employers in planning for the absence of employees on FMLA leave. Protecting both reflects that the FMLA should be executed ‘in a manner that accommodates the legitimate interest of employers,’ without abusing the interests of employees,” the court said.
U.S. Court of Appeals, 11th Circuit. Pereda v. Brookdale Senior Living Communities, No. 10-14723. Jan. 10, 2012. Lawyers USA No. 993-3485.