Whether a supervisor mistreated the plaintiff after he returned from his second leave of absence, causing him to need a third leave, is irrelevant to his FMLA retaliation claim because “[e]xacerbation is not a valid theory of liability under the FMLA” according to the Seventh Circuit.  Breneisen, Jr. and Lineweaver v. Motorola, Inc. (7th Cir. Sept. 2, 2011). The cause of a medical condition is irrelevant to whether an employee is entitled to FMLA leave, the court added.

The employee had exhausted his FMLA leave and had been granted a second leave for five months. The plaintiff alleged that when he returned, hissupervisor’s mistreatment caused him  stress, high blood pressure and stomach reflux, requiring him to take a third leave from which he never returned, which led to his losing his job.

The court rejected plaintiff’s claim, holding that the FMLA does not recognize “an exacerbation theory,” and that if an employee cannot work due to a serious health condition after exhausting FMLA leave, the FMLA no longer applies, regardless of the cause of the infirmity.

The plaintiff’s argument seems to be an attempt to juxtapose the standard for an employee to receive workers compensation benefits, i.e., has suffered an illness or injury out of or in the course of employment, onto the FMLA. Because the medical condition causing the need for leave arose out of or in the course of my employment, the plaintiff’s argument would go, the plaintiff is entitled to even more than 12 weeks of FMLA leave if necessary. The court’s rejection of this argument removes the negligence concepts of “cause” and “exacerbation” from FMLA analysis, at least in determining the amount of FMLA to which an employee is entitled.