The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York recently granted an employer’s motion for summary judgment dismissing wrongful termination claims. Cruz v. Wyckoff Heights Med. Ctr., No. 13 Civ. 8355 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 23, 2016). In Cruz, plaintiff used intermittent leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) for ulcerative colitis from 2004 to 2012. Plaintiff was disciplined for multiple reasons. First, he received disciplinary warnings for over-using sick days. Second, he failed to obtain necessary recertification documentation to extend his leave which led the employer to suspend him on multiple occasions. Third, plaintiff was disciplined four times for his behavior towards coworkers. Finally, he was implicated in misconduct involving two particular coworkers. Notwithstanding that disciplinary history, plaintiff brought suit alleging retaliation under the FMLA, Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), New York State Human Rights Law (“NYSHRL”) and New York City Human Rights Law (“NYCHRL”)
The claims were dismissed by the District Court, which reiterated that employers can mandate reasonable recertification requests under the FMLA. Following plaintiff’s failure to turn in employer-requested recertification paperwork, the employer properly denied the request. The District Court noted the record contained a plethora of evidence that the plaintiff’s requests for FMLA leave were repeatedly granted, and the denial of his FMLA leave in August 2012 was too remote from his discharge in November to establish an inference of retaliation. The employer provided an extensive disciplinary history with coworker complaints, which showed the employer’s reason for termination was not pretextual.
This case reminds employers that an employee’s failure to cooperate in the FMLA process can result in denial of leave and ultimately termination. In addition, employees are not free to engage in inappropriate behavior simply because they may otherwise be covered by the FMLA.