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Federal Court Explains
What Constitutes FMLA Interference
Illinois federal district court, in Hall v. Board of Education of
the City of Chicago, has determined that an employer may have
interfered with a teacher's FMLA rights when it requested that she
provide a lesson plan and post grades while on FMLA leave. However,
the court found that the employer's request for a second medical
opinion before approving her leave request did not constitute FMLA
interference and that her subsequent termination was not illegal
Law. FMLA provides employees with two types of
causes of action against employers. First, its
"retaliation" provisions prohibit employers from
discharging or discriminating against employees for "opposing
any practice made unlawful" by the FMLA. Second, the
FMLA's "interference" provisions make it unlawful for any
employer to interfere with, restrain, or deny the exercise of,
or the attempt to exercise, any right provided by the FMLA.
of FMLA interfering with the exercise of an employee's FMLA right
include refusing to authorize FMLA leave and discouraging an employee
from using such leave. Nevertheless, FMLA allows an employer to
require that an employee provide a second medical opinion before
approving a request for FMLA leave.
Background. In Hall, the plaintiff was a writing
coach for the Chicago Public Schools. As part of her duties, she was
required to create a curriculum and writing program for her students
to follow. A newly-hired principal for the school became concerned
with the plaintiff's performance and reassigned her to a classroom
several years of receiving acceptable reviews, the plaintiff received
an unsatisfactory rating from the principal, and she was required to
go through a remediation plan. However, the plaintiff did not
cooperate with the remediation plan, which included classroom
observations by the principal. The principal continued to give the
plaintiff unsatisfactory performance ratings and explained that she
would seek the plaintiff's termination. The plaintiff was
subsequently suspended and ultimately fired.
the relevant period, the plaintiff took two FMLA leaves of absence.
When she requested FMLA leave for a third time, the employer
requested that the plaintiff provide a second medical opinion. The
plaintiff provided the second opinion and her FMLA leave was
retroactively approved. During this leave period, the principal
contacted the plaintiff multiple times to request that she provide
lesson plans and post student grades. The plaintiff also claimed that
the principal subjected her to unfair deadlines when she returned to
her termination, the plaintiff sued the employer, claiming that the
principal had interfered with her FMLA leave rights by contesting her
medical certification and requesting a second opinion, and by
contacting her to request that she complete work during her leave.
The plaintiff also claimed that the employer had suspended and fired
her in retaliation for her taking FMLA leave.
Court. In reviewing the matter,
the district court first dismissed the portion of the plaintiff's
FMLA interference claim related to the employer's request for a
second opinion because FMLA authorizes such requests. As to the
employer's contacts with the plaintiff during her third period of
FMLA leave, the district court found that the principal may have
"crossed the line into interference" by requesting that the
plaintiff perform work, including providing lesson plans and posting
district court next reviewed the plaintiff's FMLA retaliation claim
and determined that evidence provided by the employer confirmed that
it terminated her without any retaliatory motive. The district court
observed that the plaintiff had received unsatisfactory performance
reviews and had refused to participate in the remediation process.
Moreover, the district court noted that the principal had given
favorable reviews to other teachers who had taken FMLA leave.
Accordingly, the district court concluded that the employer took all
of the steps required under applicable law before terminating the plaintiff
and dismissed the plaintiff's FMLA retaliation claim.