On June 15, 2015, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed a lower court’s decision dismissing FMLA interference and retaliation claims brought by an assistant school principal in Maryland. Adams v. Anne Arundel County Public Schools, No. 14-1608 (4th Cir. 6/15/15). In affirming a grant of summary judgment to the school system, the Fourth Circuit relied upon the fact that the principal was granted three medical leaves of absence that exceeded the amount of leave to which he was entitled under the FMLA.
The case arose when the principal was accused of assaulting a student. Shortly after the incident, he took FMLA leave for stress, anxiety, and high blood pressure. After taking three leaves due to medical problems, he was assigned to a different school based upon his doctor’s recommendation.
The principal argued that the school system interfered with his use of leave by requiring him to undergo a second medical examination. This claim was rejected by the court because the FMLA expressly permits employers to seek a second medical opinion to verify the need for leave.
The principal also argued that requiring him to attend a pre-disciplinary conference and issuing reprimands interfered with his rights under the FMLA. The Fourth Circuit found that the actions were warranted in connection with the investigation into the alleged student assault, and the fact he continued to take FMLA leave after the actions showed that he was not discouraged from exercising he FMLA rights.
Finally, the court found nothing improper about the transfer to a smaller school, where the principal continues to work. His doctor requested that he be transferred to a less stressful setting, that the resulting reduction in pay was mandated by the collective bargaining agreement.
So what is the lesson to employers here? Its pretty basic: if you follow the FMLA’s rules, you may get sued, but you are going to win. It the litigious world in which we operate, there is not much an employer can do to prevent the lawsuit, but there is a whole lot that can be done to make sure it goes away on summary judgment.