An Oregon employee was discharged right after asking for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and scheduling her surgery. In addition, she was one of five employees in comparable positions and the only one who was over the age of 40. She sued for both age discrimination and violation of her FMLA rights.
What happened. “Stevenson” was an executive administrative assistant for David Evans and Associates in its Portland office from late November 2005 to early February 2009. The firm is a nationwide provider of commercial architecture and engineering services.
She later testified in court that she provided satisfactory or better work throughout her tenure, as evidenced by consistently good performance reviews. She also noted that when she was terminated, she was the eldest of five executive administrative assistants, the other four of whom were retained. Finally, she alleged, she had requested FMLA leave for a serious illness, for which she was eligible under both federal and Oregon state laws. However, she said, she was terminated immediately after scheduling surgery for her condition.
Believing that both her age and her request for leave were factors in her discharge, she sued. In a federal district court, the judge first asked her to amend her case, which she did. But the judge then dismissed it anyway, based on Stevenson’s alleged failure to satisfy a particular Federal Rule of Civil Procedure. It says that a legal claim must be supported by “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader [plaintiff] is entitled to relief.” Furthermore, it must contain “more than labels and conclusions” or a “formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.”
But the judge concluded that Stevenson had still not met these requirements. She appealed to the 9th Circuit, which covers Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington.
What the court said. Appellate judges found the district judge’s rulings puzzling. They saw plausible claims of age discrimination and wrongful discharge for exercising her right to the FMLA. So the case went back to the district court, where either the judge or a jury will rule on it. Sheppard v. David Evans and Associates, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, No. 11-35164 (9/12/2012).
Point to remember: This federal rule, number 8(a)(2), does require that a claim be “plausible on its face,” but it does not require “detailed factual allegations.” Judges said the plaintiff’s 21/2-page complaint sufficed.