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FMLA Retaliation Claim Fails Where Employer Believed Claimant Was Abusing Leave

SHRM Online (05/24/12) W. Kevin Smith

The Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that where an employer had a good-faith belief that an employee out on leave pursuant to the Family and Medical Leave Act was engaged in disability fraud, the trial court properly dismissed the employee’s retaliation claim. The employee, who worked for the Cincinnati Bell Telephone Co., felt pain and numbness in his leg, and took an extended FMLA leave. While on leave, the employee received disability pay under a Cincinnati Bell policy.

After the employee was seen walking separately by several co-workers at a public event, Cincinnati Bell management initiated an investigation into his medical condition. The results of the investigation suggested that the employee’s claims of pain were inconsistent with his actions. Consequently, the employee was suspended and later discharged for overstating his pain level so as to avoid light-duty work, and thus obtain full disability benefits. In response, the employee sued Cincinnati Bell, asserting that his discharge was in retaliation for taking FMLA leave. The district court granted summary judgment to Cincinnati Bell.