September 21, 2010

Family medical leave

Family medical leave
Dintino v Doubletree Hotels Corp., USDC EPa, 4 WH Cases2d 413

The Dintino case illustrates that under the Family Medical Leave Act [FMLA], the employer has the duty of determining whether or not an employee wishes to "charge" his or her absence from work to the 12-week FMLA period allowed employees each year.

Also, it is the responsibility of the employer to advise the individual, in writing, that it will count a particular absence against the individual's available FMLA leave.

According to U.S. District Court Judge John Fullam, the Doubletree Hotels Corporation failed in both duties in connection with Audrey Dintino's maternity. As a result, Judge Fullam found that the Company violated the FMLA because:

(1) it neglected to advise Dintino of her rights under the Americans With Disabilities Act and

(2) it terminated her when she did not return to work when her maternity leave ended.

Dintino had told Doubletree of her pregnancy and of her plans to take a three-month maternity leave commencing in July 1994. She actually left work on June 21, 1994 at the request of her physician when medical complications arose.

Doubletree claimed that her 12-week FMLA leave commenced on June 21, while Dintino contended that her "medical complications" triggered a "separate unpaid medical leave" under Doubletree's personnel policy and therefore her FMLA leave did not commenced until the expiration of that leave.

When Doubletree told Dintino that she had "abandoned her job" when she failed to work in October as scheduled, Dintino sued claiming the Company had violated her FMLA rights.

The Court agreed. It said that Doubletree had to give Dintino a written notice that the leave she was taking commencing in June was being charged as FMLA leave in order for it to be counted against her available annual FMLA leave. Doubletree's failure to do so was fatal to its claim that Dintino's June-October absence was part of her FMLA leave.

The Court pointed out that the employee is not required to identify the absence as being FMLA leave. According to the ruling, under federal Department of Labor regulations, "where there is ambiguity in the employee's request for leave the burden is on the employer to determine whether the leave is FMLA-qualifying" or not.

Finding that Dintino's FMLA leave commenced October 1994, the Court ruled that Doubletree's terminating her the following November "constituted an interference of [Dintino's] exercise of her FMLA rights." Why? Because, said the Court, Doubletree's failure to determine the type of leave Dintino intended to take from June 21, 1994 through October 7, 1994, coupled with its own leave policy, which the policy handbook distinguished from FMLA absences, supported its conclusion that the Company did not treat Dintino's June-October absence as FMLA leave.
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