A Missouri worker was hired in June 2006 as a production line supervisor. A year later, she requested leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) for her own serious health condition. Her supervisor was not pleased. The boss was even less pleased when the worker asked for leave again in January 2008.
What happened. Saint-Gobain Containers, which makes glass beer bottles at its Peverly plant, hired “Moore” as a production supervisor. When she worked evenings or nights, Moore was responsible for the entire plant. Her first performance evaluation the following year rated her “fair”—2 on a scale of 1 to 5, with high marks for filling out reports well. But it appears that any negative reasons for her relatively low rating were neither included nor discussed with Moore: She later said no one had ever criticized her work.
She was on leave beginning with the July 4th weekend in 2007 and was expected to return August 27. But she did not appear and was fired September 10. She then provided updated paperwork for the leave and was reinstated when she returned on September 13. In late January of the following year, though, she told her supervisor she would need leave to help her husband through and following his as-yet-unscheduled surgery. She was called in 2 days later when not scheduled to work, to meet with HR, her boss, and a top manager. They fired her, alleging she had made three on-the-job mistakes.
She promptly sued for FMLA retaliation. In federal district court, she and other production supervisors testified that they had made mistakes or oversights similar to those for which Moore was accused and had not been fired, nor even disciplined. The court declared that Moore had proven retaliation and awarded her more than $400,000 in damages.
Saint-Gobain asked that the verdict be overturned, but the court refused, so the employer appealed to the 8th Circuit, which covers Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota.
What the court said. Appellate judges found it impossible to believe that a firing 2 days after requesting leave was anything other than retaliation, so they upheld the lower court’s ruling. Marez v. Saint-Gobain Containers, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit, No. 11-2354 (7/31/12).
Point to remember: This case got a lot of attention from employment law experts because of the big damages award. Note that judges and juries strongly disapprove of interfering with or retaliating for FMLA requests. Also note that it’s a bad decision to terminate someone for mistakes for which comparable others have not been disciplined. Judges and juries don’t like that, either.