Pennsylvania County Lacks Basic Understanding of the FMLA, Terminates 911 Director For Taking Leave to Care for Her Elderly Parents

By: Loyd Willaford and Sarah Burke

In Raimondi v. Wyoming County, a former 911 Center director was terminated after she took FMLA leave to care for her mother and father. The County argued that the director was not entitled to FMLA because she had not specifically asked for it and her parents had not had a medical emergency. A United States District Court in Pennsylvania found the County liable under the FMLA and ruled in favor of the director.

Debra Raimondi was serving as the director of the Wyoming County 911 Center when her father fell and fractured his femur. Raimondi’s father was placed in a nursing home to recover from the injury, and her mother entered a nursing home because she could not care for herself alone. When Raimondi’s father called to ask if she would come look after her mother, she readily agreed and gave her supervisors 30 days’ notice of her upcoming leave. However, a few weeks after Raimondi arrived at her parents, a commissioner for the county informed Raimondi that she would not be restored to her position and that her employment would be terminated unless she chose to resign. Raimondi declined the offer to resign and she was terminated.

Raimondi sued the County and alleged she had been terminated for going on leave protected under the FMLA. Because the County’s actions were so blatant, Raimondi requested summary judgment in her favor. The County argued Raimondi was not entitled to FMLA leave because she never specifically asked for it. The district court had little sympathy toward the County in its decision:

when confronted with a request to travel out-of-state to provide comfort to her ill parents and assist with their transition from a nursing home back to their house, the [county] utterly failed to do anything other than bury their collective heads in the sand. Such inaction by an employer, even if derived from inadvertent indifference or a fundamental misunderstanding of the twenty-three year old FMLA, does not preclude an employee from asserting the FMLA’s protections.

The county also erroneously argued that Raimondi did not qualify for leave because her parents had not suffered a medical emergency. However, as the district court pointed out, FMLA leave is not limited to medical emergency situations. In light of the county’s clear violation of the FMLA, the district court found in favor of Raimondi.

This case is a rare example of a plaintiff prevailing on summary judgment, meaning a court determines as a matter of law that the plaintiff wins. In this case, the employer’s excuses for why it could deny FMLA leave and fire Raimondi were simply not credible. For example, an employer cannot have a policy requiring an employee to use donated leave prior to FMLA leave and then use the lack of request for donated leave to allege that that employee did not make a FMLA leave request. Importantly, there is no requirement that an employee fill out special paperwork to get leave, it is enough for the employee to put the employer on reasonable notice of the need for leave. Once this happens, it is the employer’s obligation to provide any paperwork it deems necessary to the employee. Here, there is no dispute that Raimondi told the employer she needed leave, and the employer did not tell her she needed to fill out forms to get the leave, so the argument about lack of notice failed.

 The Court also rejected the employer’s assertion that Raimondi’s family members did not have serious medical condition. This was because the employer provided no evidence to support this assertion. If an employer suspects that employee is misusing FMLA leave, it can request the employee supply more evidence of the qualifying medical condition, but it cannot deny the leave based on pure speculation. The employer did not request more information of Raimondi, so the Court rejected the employer’s argument about lack of serious medical condition.

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