Tabares v. Gates Corp., No. 06-4140-SAC (D. Kan. 01/21/09).
Ruling: The U.S. District Court, District of Kansas denied cross-motions for summary judgment in an FMLA suit against a rubber company by a former employee.
What it means:
Summary judgment may not be granted in highly contested claims of Family and Medical Leave Act interference and retaliation unless arguments address all elements of the claims and present evidence that addresses the questions at issue.
A rubber company employee who applied for workers' compensation benefits and took FMLA leave after an on-the-job injury was discharged for misuse of FMLA leave. She complained that the company directly requested information from her personal physician without requesting her permission. She sued under the FMLA for interference and retaliation and under state law for workers' compensation retaliation. The District Court denied summary judgment to both parties. The court identified factual questions regarding whether the company honestly believed that the employee had engaged in fraud and misuse of leave. The court pointed out that employers are under no obligation to reinstate employees who misuse FMLA leave.
The court found a question of fact existed as to whether the employee would have been physically able to return to her original job at the conclusion of the FMLA leave period. Neither party provided a list of essential job functions. Moreover, some of the employee's medical documentation raised doubt as to whether she could actually return to her job.
The company sought to bar the employee from collecting emotional distress damages because she had entered into a settlement agreement of her claims under state workers' compensation law. However, because the agreement did not include matters beyond the scope of a typical workers' compensation claim, the employee was not precluded from seeking damages from emotional distress that did not directly flow from her physical injuries.
The employee also asserted a technical violation of a federal law, which prohibits employers from contacting an employee's physician to obtain additional medical records for an FMLA claim. However, she did not include the claim in her pretrial order, so the court refused to consider it.
March 19, 2009
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