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Sixth Circuit Says Plaintiff Failed To Show Absences Qualified Under FMLA

 
 

HLD, v. 32, n. 6 (June 2004)

Sixth Circuit Says Plaintiff Failed To Show Absences Qualified Under FMLA

Plaintiff Lee Brenneman was employed by defendant MedCentral Health System from 1973 until he was terminated for attendance-related problems. Plaintiff was diagnosed with diabetes before he began working for defendant. While he was working for defendant, plaintiff sometimes had episodes of hypoglycemia. In the last few years of his employment, plaintiff's condition deteriorated due to his age and the diabetes, and he had many absences from his job because of his medical problems. Plaintiff was given verbal and written warnings for his unexcused absences, for which he never mentioned his diabetes. In April 2000, plaintiff had a meeting with his supervisors about his prior suspensions because of his unexcused absences, and he again failed to mention his diabetes. Plaintiff was terminated after his third attendance-related suspension within five years. Plaintiff mentioned his diabetes for the first time during his exit interview, but he was still terminated. Plaintiff sued defendant for discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The district court granted defendant's motion for summary judgment, and plaintiff appealed.

The Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment on the ground plaintiff failed to establish a prima facie case of discrimination. The appeals court first addressed the issue of plaintiff's claim of discrimination based on his disability. Under the ADA a plaintiff must first establish a prima facie case of discrimination based on a disability and then the burden shifts to the employer to give a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for the plaintiff's termination. If the employer provides a non-discriminatory reason for the termination the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to demonstrate the reason was a pretext for discrimination.

To establish a prima facie case of discrimination, a plaintiff must show among other things that, other than having a disability, he was otherwise qualified for the position with or without a reasonable accommodation. The appeals court agreed with the district court that plaintiff failed to establish he was qualified for the job with or without a reasonable accommodation because of his excessive absences. Defendant provided sufficient evidence that regular attendance was an essential function of the job, and that plaintiff's absences created a shortage that had to be filled by other employees. Thus, the appeals court held the district court had not erred in granting summary judgment to the defendant on plaintiff's discrimination claims.

The appeals court then turned to the issue of plaintiff's claim that defendant terminated him for FMLA-qualified absences. Under FMLA a worker may take up to twelve weeks of leave in a twelve month period for a "serious medical condition." To qualify for FMLA leave an employee must request leave for a serious health condition and the request must adequately inform the employer that the employee has a serious medical condition that renders the employee unable to do his job. Plaintiff argued some of his FMLA-qualified absences were improperly counted under defendant's "no-fault" leave policy that led to his termination. Plaintiff contended that his last absence on March 31, 2000 that triggered his termination, in which he informed defendant he "wasn't well and wouldn't be in," qualified as FMLA-protected medical leave.

The appeals court determined plaintiff had failed to mention his diabetes when he notified his employer of his absence and when he met with his supervisors about his absences. The appeals court determined that, even if the plaintiff had a valid medical reason for being absent, he failed to inform his employer in a reasonable time about the reason for his absence. Rejecting plaintiff's argument that he was never informed by defendant that diabetes is a FMLA-related medical condition, the appeals court held plaintiff failed to give defendant the required notice that his absence was FMLA-qualified. The appeals court determined that for other absences plaintiff failed to provide the requested medical certification that his absence was due to his diabetes. Accordingly, the appeals court held plaintiff failed to prove he had given defendant proper notice under FMLA for his absences.

Brenneman v. MedCentral Health Sys., No. 02-3623, 2004 WL 904114 (6th Cir. April 26, 2004).

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