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4th Circuit Sends FMLA Case Back For Trial

Published by on August 22, 2008

In an unpublished decision dated August 15, 2008, the U.S. Court of Appeals reversed the award of summary judgment to an employer in an FMLA case.  The decision in Krenzke v. Alexandria Motors Cars is here.  The case provides a good overview of the issue of what constitutes adequate notice by the employee of a need […]

In an unpublished decision dated August 15, 2008, the U.S. Court of Appeals reversed the award of summary judgment to an employer in an FMLA case.  The decision in Krenzke v. Alexandria Motors Cars is here.  The case provides a good overview of the issue of what constitutes adequate notice by the employee of a need for FMLA leave and also on what can satisfy the “continuing treatment” test for a “serious health condition.”

The plaintiff alleged that her former employer had violated her rights under the FMLA by refusing to allow her to take a medical leave of absence and constructively discharged her (i.e. she resigned when she was not given the leave).  The district court granted the employer’s motion for summary judgment and dismissed the case.  The plaintiff appealed, and the Court of Appeals reversed.

The Court of Appeals first considered the issue of notice under the FMLA.  The plaintiff had provided a doctor’s note in connection with her request for leave.  The district court concluded, however, that the plaintiff had not provided adequate notice to the employer that she was entitled to leave under the FMLA.  The Court of Appeals noted that “the employee need only inform her employer that she needs leave from work for a medical reason. . . .  If the employee provides sufficient notice, the burden then shifts to the employer to gather additional information and determine if the FMLA is actually implicated.”  In other words, “the employer has the duty to elicit the details required under the FMLA.”  Based on the plaintiff’s testimony that she had discussed her health condition with the employer and the doctor’s note, the Court found that the plaintiff had met her burden and the employer had not met its.

The Court next addressed the issue of whether the plaintiff had a “serious health condition” under the FMLA.  The employer argued that the plaintiff had not been involved in a continuing course of treatment.  The Court disagreed, noting that the plaintiff had demonstrated a “serious health condition” by showing that she missed three days of work (meeting the three days or more of incapacity prong) and that she was involved in “continuing treatment by a health care provider” (the second prong of the test).  The Court found it significant that the plaintiff’s ongoing symptoms continued to be a focus of her visits and noted that, under its prior decision in Miller v. AT&T, “a doctor’s visit in which a physical exam was conducted and blood was drawn constituted ‘treatment’ under 29 C.F.R. s 825.114(b), even though there was no diagnosis and no medication given to alleviate [the employee’s] symptoms.”

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