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Emails May Become Part Of An FMLA Lawsuit Indicates Chicago Employment Lawyer Coffey

Jan 15, 2014

Chicago, IL (Law Firm Newswire) January 13, 2014 – It is illegal to interfere or retaliate against a worker that exercises their Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) rights.

Shaffer v. American Medical Association, 7th Cir., No. 10-2117, October 18, 2011, deals with emails as evidence in an action filed for interference and retaliation. The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a case dismissing a worker’s FMLA lawsuit, sending it back to the lower court.

“The jury had to decide if William Shaffer’s firing was due to him taking four to six weeks leave for knee replacement surgery,” explained Timothy Coffey, a Chicago employment lawyer and principal attorney for The Coffey Law Office, P. C., an employment litigation firm dedicated to representing employees in the workplace. One of the crucial pieces of evidence in the case was a supervisor’s e-mail that refers to Shaffer’s medical leave.

Shaffer began his work career with the American Medical Association (AMA) in 1999. He only worked a year for them, but was rehired, under a contract, in 2004. In 2005, he was offered full-time employment and subsequently became the Director of Leadership Communications, reporting to a supervisor.

Budget cuts at the AMA started in August 2008. One of the measures examined was to do away with job positions. Shaffer’s supervisor was asked to eliminate at least two positions, but declined to cut both employees, which meant Shaffer still had a job. In mid-November 2008, Schaffer told his supervisor he was scheduled for knee replacement surgery.

At the end of November, the supervisor emailed the individual that requested job cuts in his department, and stated that on reflection, he had decided Shaffer’s job should be eliminated and the other person’s kept instead. Shaffer was told in December that he was terminated effective January 2009. Shaffer filed a lawsuit.

“The lower court ended up granting summary judgment to the AMA, and dismissed Shaffer’s claims. He appealed to the 7th Circuit who found he was eligible for FMLA leave and that he had provided proper notice. There had been no mention of his job being cut before he gave notice. After he gave FMLA notice, he was terminated,” Coffey explained.

That fact, when combined with the supervisor’s email about changing his mind as to which job and individual should be terminated, convinced the Appeal’s Court that Shaffer was fired because he took his FMLA leave. The case was reversed. “The email was a crucial piece of evidence in this instance, as it allowed Shaffer’s lawyer to point out that the supervisor in question was clearly taking his leave into consideration when he decided to get rid of his position,” said Coffey.

The takeaway in this case is that all supervisory personnel need to be aware that a claim of interference in FMLA rights does not require proof of ‘intent’ to interfere. It only mandates that a plaintiff prove the employer denied them their rights under the auspices of the Act.

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