Worst v. Glynn County School District (S.D. Ga. March 29, 2012) reminds employers that the best case scenario is to avoid connecting performance issues and leave. Worst, a third grade teacher, told her principal she would need leave for surgery beginning a month hence. Before Worst’s leave began, her principal spoke with her about her performance and told her that she would be placed on a performance development plan (PDP) when she returned from leave.
When Worst returned, the principal instituted the PDP, which Worst considered to be “intense scrutiny.” When her request to transfer to another school was denied, Worst resigned and brought FMLA interference and retaliation claims, including a constructive discharge claim.
The court granted summary judgment to the school district on all claims except the FMLA retaliation claim. The court held that implementing the PDP was an adverse action and that there were issues of fact concerning whether her behavior and performance were the real reasons for the PDP. These factual issues arose from both the “temporal proximity” between the onset of the PDP process and Worst’s leave, and the multiple instances where medical leave was discussed in conjunction with the PDP.
These instances, or “documented connections,” included: a letter from Worst’s principal stating “It is my hope that when you return to work after medical leave that you will be able to rectify the aforementioned concerns”; an email from the principal stating “[Worst] is having yet another surgery and will be out for 6 weeks….When she returns, I am going to put her on a PDP….”; a letter to Worst in response to her transfer request which notes that “[w]e sincerely hope that your health will improve, but missing 24.5 of the current 76 days of schools (sic), we are very concerned about the education of the … students.”
While the school still may prevail at trial, since these “documented connections” were one of the reasons summary judgment was denied, eschewing them is best to avoid the Worst case scenario.