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Court says misleading manual provides FMLA coverage

Court says misleading manual provides FMLA coverage

A Michigan county road commission employee was entitled to coverage under the federal Family Medical Leave Act, even though the commission was not obligated to provide the coverage, because of a misleading statement in its employee manual, says an appellate court.

Employers are obligated to provide FMLA leave if workers report to a site with 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius, according to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati's ruling Monday in Terry Tilley v. Kalamazoo County Road Commission; Kalamazoo County Road Commission Board of Commissioners.

The case involved Mr. Tilley, a worker for the road commission, who was terminated from his job after several disputes with his supervisor. At the time, Mr. Tilley was on FMLA leave.

Mr. Tilley, 59, sued the road commission, charging the commission had interfered with his right to FMLA-protected leave and retaliated against him for taking the leave. He also charged the commission with age discrimination. The U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids, Michigan, granted the road commission summary judgment dismissing the case on both counts.

The 6th Circuit agreed with the District Court that the commission did not have the required 50-employee/75-mile threshold that normally required it to provide FMLA coverage.

However, the commission's employee manual stated, “Employees covered under the Family and Medical Leave Act are full-time employees who have worked for the road commission and accumulated 1,250 work hours in the previous 12 months.”

“This is an unambiguous and unqualified statement that road commission employees, like Tilley, who have logged 1,250 hours in the year before seeking FMLA leave are covered by the FLMA and are eligible to apply for FMLA benefits,” said the unanimous three-judge appeals panel's ruling.

“The road commission could have qualified its statement concerning employee eligibility” by adding this statement only applied to employees who worked within 75 miles of a site in which it employed at least 50 employees, but did not do so, said the ruling.

“We are unwilling to conclude as a matter of law that Tilley was unreasonable in relying on the manual's statement that employees in his position were eligible to apply for FMLA benefits,” said the appellate panel, in overturning the lower court's ruling and remanding the case on this issue.

The appellate panel did agree with the lower court that Mr. Tilley had not established a pattern of age discrimination.

In July, a federal court refused to dismiss an FMLA violation claim by an employee of Chicago-based Boeing Co. who was terminated after she attempted to take FMLA leave for her migraines, stating there was evidence the company discriminated against her.

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