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FMLA suit by allegedly abusive worker can stand

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A lawsuit filed by an allegedly belligerent employee who was fired shortly after he submitted paperwork for time off under Family Medical Leave Act should stand, a federal district court judge ruled.

James Hefti, a tool and die designer at Lake Geneva, Wisconsin-based Brunk Industries Inc., was the subject of numerous complaints by colleagues, who said he said he made inappropriate and offensive comments, according to last week’s ruling by the U.S. District Court in Milwaukee in James Hefti v. Brunk Industries Inc.

According to one employees’ complaint, for instance, Mr. Hefti “would tell co-workers what they were doing wrong using an unprofessional and degrading tone of voice, and instigate arguments with others as well.”

In March, 2013, Mr. Hefti requested FMLA leave because his son was suffering from various mental health issues and he needed to arrive at work late or leave early to transport him to and from school, according to the ruling.

Mr. Hefti’s supervisor, Rick Eisel, told him the company paid for his insurance and “thus expected him to be at work.” When Mr. Hefti told Mr. Eisel he had turned in his FMLA paperwork, Mr. Eisel “appeared frustrated and aggravated,” according to the ruling.

Mr. Hefti was terminated three days later, with the stated reason that his communications with co-workers “were unprofessional and generally inappropriate.”

Mr. Hefti filed suit, charging the company had interfered with his FMLA rights and fired him in retaliation for exercising them. The court refused Brunk’s motion to dismiss the case.

“If Hefti was really on the road to being fired, it seems odd that Eisel would be upset about Hefti taking time away from work,” said Judge Rudolph T. Randa in his ruling.

“On the contrary, it seems that Eisel would welcome the respite from a belligerent employee. Thus, the inference can be drawn that the stated reason for Hefti’s termination was a pretext for discrimination.”