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Indirect Link Between Worker's FMLA Leave, Firing Doesn't Support Interference Claim

Monday, July 28, 2014

By Jay-Anne Casuga  

July 25 — A Utah county benefits administrator fired while on medical leave can't proceed with a Family and Medical Leave Act interference claim because the county showed that the termination wasn't related to the exercise of her FMLA rights, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit ruled July 25.

Affirming summary judgment for Carbon County, the Tenth Circuit noted that the county's stated reasons for discharging Bridget Dalpiaz included her failure to timely complete and submit requested FMLA forms, as well as her alleged dishonesty regarding the extent of the injuries she sustained in a car accident and possible sick leave abuse.

Although these reasons are “connected in some way” to Dalpiaz's injury and use of FMLA leave, such an indirect causal link is insufficient to support an FMLA interference claim, the appeals court found.

Judge Monroe G. McKay wrote the opinion, joined by Judges Timothy M. Tymkovich and Scott Matheson.

Employee Fired During Leave

According to the court, Dalpiaz went on medical leave in April 2009 after she was injured in a car accident.

The next month, her supervisor asked her to complete FMLA paperwork as soon as possible, but Dalpiaz didn't submit the forms until July. She returned to work part time on July 13, working only two hours per day twice a week because of remaining physical restrictions.

During this time, Dalpiaz's supervisor received reports from county residents and other employees that Dalpiaz was seen playing football with her children, working in her yard and engaging in other physical activities. The supervisor instructed Dalpiaz to undergo an independent medical examination, but she didn't do so.

The county ultimately fired Dalpiaz in September 2009, citing various county policy violations, including failing to timely submit her FMLA forms and schedule the medical exam and allegedly abusing her sick leave.

Dalpiaz sued the county for FMLA interference in May 2010. The U.S. District Court for the District of Utah granted summary judgment to the county in March 2013.

Discharge Not Related to FMLA Use

The Tenth Circuit affirmed, finding that Dalpiaz's termination wasn't related to the exercise of her FMLA rights.

Although the termination reasons stated by the county were indirectly connected to Dalpiaz's FMLA use, the court explained that it previously has held that an “indirect causal link between dismissal and an FMLA leave is an inadequate basis for recovery.”

Although the termination reasons stated by the county were indirectly connected to Bridget Dalpiaz's FMLA use, the Tenth Circuit explained that it previously has held an “indirect causal link between dismissal and an FMLA leave is an inadequate basis for recovery.”

For example, in the present case, the county took issue with Dalpiaz's failure to comply with a supervisor's instruction to timely submit her FMLA paperwork and undergo a medical exam, the court said. The county didn't take issue with the fact that the paperwork and exam were connected to Dalpiaz's FMLA leave, the court said.

“Because the evidence indicates the county would have made the same adverse decision for the same type of conduct outside of the FMLA context, the county has met its burden of showing that Plaintiff's termination was not legally related to her request for FMLA leave,” the court said.

Dewsnup, King & Olsen represented Dalpiaz. Suitter Axland represented the county.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jay-Anne B. Casuga in Washington at jcasuga@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan J. McGolrick at smcgolrick@bna.com

Text of the opinion is available at http://www.bloomberglaw.com/public/document/ Dalpiaz_v_Carbon_County_Utah_et_al_Docket_ No_1304062_10th_Cir_Apr.

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