By Darrell R. VanDeusen
Making sure an employee is actually FMLA eligible before telling her she can take FMLA leave seems self-evident. But employers sometimes don’t do that. If the employee relies on the assurance of FMLA leave, the employer should not later take adverse action against the employee for taking leave, even if it discovers the employee had not actually met the FMLA’s eligibility requirements. A Pennsylvania County recently lost its motion to dismiss when the court held it estopped from claiming an employee it fired was really not FMLA eligible, despite assurances from the County that she was. Medley v. Montgomery, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 99006 (E.D. Pa. July 17, 2012).
County officials led Amy Medley to believe that she qualified to take intermittent FMLA leave to care for her son, including providing her with FMLA forms that would convince a reasonable person of leave eligibility. But Medley had not worked the 1250 hours required to be FMLA eligible. The county then began to write Medley up for taking leave and eventually fired her for her leave use. She sued for violation of the FMLA. Invoking the doctrine of equitable estoppel, the court let Medley’s claim proceed.