This will all make sense in a minute if you keep reading.
The plaintiff is dealt a tough hand.
As the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals put it in this decision I read last night, the plaintiff was “dealt a tough hand.” In less than a month, her father fell ill, and then she lost her job.
The plaintiff worked for the defendant, a video production and content creation company, for over a year. On May 2, 2018, the plaintiff learned that her father had been rushed to the hospital to undergo emergency brain surgery to remove a cancerous tumor. She requested time off to help care for him. The plaintiff received that time off, but the company never offered her FMLA leave.
Upon her return to work, she emailed her CEO. In that email, she noted that she had convinced her father’s doctors in Pennsylvania to transfer him to Florida. Once in Florida, her father would live with her if she could convert her two-car garage to a studio apartment. So she inquired if the company would allow a few of her co-workers to help her with the conversion, which the defendant could then pitch as a makeover show.
The plaintiff also verbally requested to be excused from work-related travel and staffed only to local shoots as she prepared her home for her father’s move to Florida. Again, it is undisputed that no one told the plaintiff that her father’s condition and her role as his caretaker might entitle her to FMLA benefits.
When the plaintiff was fired less than a month later, she claimed that the defendant had interfered with her FMLA rights.
But was it FMLA interference?
A plaintiff must satisfy three elements to recover on an “interference” claim under the FMLA. First, she must show that she was entitled to a benefit under the FMLA. Second, she must show that her employer denied her that benefit. And finally, she must demonstrate harm or prejudice resulting from the employer’s interference with her exercise (or attempted exercise) of an FMLA benefit.
That third “prejudice” element doomed her FMLA interference claim in connection with her May 2 leave to care for her father in Pennsylvania failed. That qualifies as an FMLA request. But even though the company was mum on her leave rights, she got the time off she needed anyway. No harm, no foul.
But how about the subsequent email in which she asked for ongoing flexibility to prepare her home for her father’s move to Florida? Was that also a request for FMLA leave?
The plaintiff didn’t request any leave. Therefore, the plaintiff’s email didn’t trigger the defendant’s obligation to notify her of her eligibility, rights, and responsibilities under the FMLA. No notice? No claim.
The FMLA sets a low bar for triggering rights under the FMLA. She doesn’t even need to use the letters “F-M-L-A” to request leave. Still, there must be some request to trigger an employer’s need to provide the employee with FMLA paperwork — unlike this case, where the court noted that “her message unambiguously discussed ongoing and future work with [the defendant]…So, if anything, [her] father’s medical needs, in her view, presented new work opportunities, not reasons for leave.”