Doctor Error Costs… Employer? Fired Employee Has Retaliation and Interference Claims

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio recently found that an employee who was fired after his doctor failed to timely submit documentation supporting his FMLA leave has triable retaliation and interference claims. 

Edwin Neumann (“Neumann”), a 23-year employee of Plastipak Packaging, Inc. (“Plastipak”), was ultimately scheduled for back surgery in August 2010.  Neumann informed the human resources department about his surgery and requested six to eight weeks of leave.  Plastipak approved Neumann’s leave and gave him the necessary FMLA paperwork.  There was miscommunication about when the paperwork was due.  However, Plastipak’s employee handbook stated that paperwork was due within 15 days of a leave of absence. 

On August 16, 2010, Neumann had back surgery and started what he thought was his FMLA leave.  The doctor’s office received the paperwork and completed the medical certification.  However, the office misdialed the fax number and Plastipak never received the paperwork.  On August 31, 2010, Plastipak fired Neumann via certified mail for violating the attendance policy because it never received his FMLA medical certification.  That same day, the doctor’s office re-faxed the medical certification along with the original failed fax which was sent on August 20, 2010.  According to Neumann, Plastipak never contacted him prior to termination about the missing paperwork.

The court denied Plastipak summary judgment claiming that Neumann had triable retaliation and interference claims.  The court stated that Plastipak was on notice of Neumann’s leave and received his FMLA paperwork on August 31, 2010.  The court stated that whether Neumann timely provided Plastipak with his FMLA paperwork and whether Plastipak made a reasonable effort to contact Neumann before his termination are in dispute.  The court found that the answers to these questions could allow a jury to find that Plastipak’s reason for termination was discriminatory.  The court further stated that the answer to the timeliness issue could allow a jury to find that Plastipak interfered with Neumann’s FMLA rights.  The court did find, however, that Neumann failed to state a disability discrimination claim because he could not show he was disabled under either the ADA or Ohio law.

This case highlights the importance of proper FMLA policies and procedures.  Employers must be certain to clearly establish and communicate deadlines for FMLA paperwork.  Furthermore, employers should ensure that employee handbooks are up to date and clear.  Employers concerned about their current employee handbooks or FMLA procedures should seek legal assistance.

For more information, please contact Michael Meyer at mmeyer@beneschlaw.com or (216) 363-4439.

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