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Court reinstates FMLA interference, retaliation charges

Court reinstates FMLA interference, retaliation charges

A federal appeals court has reinstated Family Medical Leave Act interference and retaliation charges filed by a former customer service representative at a furniture rental retailer because her hours were cut immediately after she returned from FMLA leave.

Rosana Jones was hired as a customer service representative at Atlanta-based Aaron’s Inc.’s Conyers, Georgia, store in March 2012, according to Friday’s ruling by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta in Rosana Jones v. Aaron’s Inc.

In June 2013, Ms. Jones suffered an injury to her back while not at work and was subsequently diagnosed with “quadratus lumborum myofascial pain,” where she complained of pain that radiated from her lower back to her right knee.

Ms. Jones took FMLA leave from June 2, 2013, to June 17, 2013. When she returned to work on June 18, 2013, her direct manager scheduled her to work 32 hours a week, rather than the 40 hours she had previously worked.

At the end of two weeks of working at the reduced scheduled, she complained to her regional manager, who restored her schedule to 40 hours per week.

Ms. Jones was terminated from her job on Nov. 1, 2013, for “inappropriate conduct /behavior” because of a difficult relationship with a new direct manager who had assumed the position in October.

She filed suit in U.S. District Court in Atlanta, charging she had been fired for her disability and in retaliation for exercising her rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and for interfering with her rights and retaliation under the FMLA.

The U.S. District Court granted Aaron’s summary judgment on all the charges. A unanimous three-judge appeals court panel affirmed dismissal of the ADA charges, but reinstated Ms. Jones’ FMLA charges.

The district court “misconstrued Jones’ FMLA retaliation claim as being premised on only her termination when it was based instead on her reduction in hours after her return from FMLA leave,” said the ruling.

“Jones was entitled under the FMLA to return to the same job (or an equivalent position offering the same pay and benefits) that she had before she took FMLA leave,” said the ruling. “Thus, when Aaron’s failed to restore Jones to a 40-hour work week, it cut her pay and interfered with her FMLA rights.

“Whether Aaron’s had a reason for this interference that was wholly unrelated to Jones’ FMLA leave is a question we leave for the district court to answer,” said the ruling, in remanding the case for further proceedings.

In April, a federal appeals court partially reversed a U.S. District Court’s grant of summary judgment in litigation filed against a former employee by a cruise sales vendor, in a complex case involving the FMLA and a charge of a breach of a noncompete covenant.





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