“Honest Suspicion” That Employee Was Abusing FMLA Leave Not Interference or Retaliation, 7th Circuit Says
The employer had set out to remedy an excessive employee absenteeism problem which had developed at one of its plants, and as part of its plan, it hired a private investigator to follow approximately 35 employees who were suspected of abusing the company’s leave policies. One of these employees had been authorized to take intermittent FMLA leave to care for his mother, who was in a nursing home. After surveillance revealed that he never left his home on a day he requested FMLA leave, the company suspended the employee pending further investigation. Although the employee later provided documentation from his mother’s nursing home and doctor’s office, this paperwork only raised further questions for the company, the Court observes--the documents “were facially inconsistent and conflicted with [the company’s] internal paperwork.” The company did not violate his FMLA rights because it honestly believed he was not using his leave for its intended purpose, the Court says. Furthermore, the retaliation claim fails because the employee’s request for FMLA leave was not denied, nor was he prohibited from returning to work after taking his approved FMLA leave, the Court says. It was not until after the company received a report from its investigator indicating that he had misused his FMLA leave that the company began taking steps to terminate him. “We cannot conclude from these facts that [the company] intentionally discriminated against [the complainant] for taking FMLA leave. If we were to hold otherwise, virtually any FMLA plaintiff fired for misusing his leave would be able to state a claim for retaliation,” the Court rules. Scruggs v. Carrier Corp.