Michael Broadway’s employer gave him 18 disciplinary warnings for absenteeism during a 3 ½ year period. According to the court in Broadway v. Sypris Technologies, Inc., the company either terminated or threatened to terminate Broadway three times, only to relent when Broadway produced doctor’s notes for his absences.
At about the time the company rescinded Broadway’s last termination, the company laid off a number of employees, including Broadway. A few weeks later, the company sought to recall him by leaving him a message and sending him a certified letter, which he did not pick up at the post office. When the company did not hear from Broadway, it terminated his employment.
Broadway claimed that his termination was in retaliation for taking FMLA leave, among other reasons. He pointed to his employer’s requiring him to produce medical documentation as a condition of not terminating him on one occasion, and by assessing an attendance point for an FMLA-covered absence. The court rejected Broadway’s FMLA claim, noting that he offered no evidence to cast doubt on his employer’s legitimate business reason for termination, i.e., Broadway’s failure to return from layoff.
This straightforward case demonstrates some basic FMLA principles in action. The first is that an employer may terminate an employee who has taken FMLA for legitimate business reasons unrelated to the FMLA leave. Second, an employee who has taken FMLA leave and is terminated for unrelated reasons is likely to be able to plead a retaliation complaint. Third, merely pleading that complaint is enough to get an employer to court, but not enough to prevail; a plaintiff must establish a “causal connection” between taking FMLA leave and the termination, which Broadway was unable to do. When assessing the risk of terminating an employee who has taken FMLA leave recently, an employer should review these three principles from Broadway.