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A retailer must face a Family Medical Leave Act lawsuit brought by an employee who claimed he was fired in retaliation for filing a workers compensation claim, a federal appeals court ruled Monday.
Craig Zuber worked at department store Boscov’s Inc. in Reading, Pennsylvania, in August 2014 when he was injured at work, according to the ruling in Craig Zuber v. Boscov’s. Mr. Zuber filed a workers comp claim and received work leave. He returned to work two days after the injury but requested an additional week of medical leave three days later. That request was granted, according to court documents.
Mr. Zuber returned to work as scheduled and was fired in September 2014. Mr. Zuber and Boscov’s signed a compromise and release agreement in April 2015, releasing the company from future claims related to the injury. In July 2015, Mr. Zuber sued Boscov’s saying the employer interfered with his FMLA rights by failing to notify him of his rights and not designating his leave as FMLA protected; retaliated against him for exercising his FMLA rights; and retaliated against him for filing a workers comp claim.
Boscov’s moved to dismiss Mr. Zuber’s complaint, saying he waived his FMLA and common law rights when he signed the compromise and release agreement. The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania dismissed Mr. Zuber’s complaint. Mr. Zuber filed a motion for reconsideration, which was denied. He then appealed to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia.
A three-judge panel of the appeals court Monday reversed the District Court’s order granting Boscov’s motion to dismiss and denying Mr. Zuber’s motion for reconsideration. The panel determined that the agreement signed between Mr. Zuber and Boscov’s covered only his right to future workers comp claims related to his work injury and not the FMLA or common law claims.
“Because of the C&R’s ordinary meaning and structure, we hold that the C&R is unambiguously a specific and limited release rather than a general release,” the panel said. “When Zuber signed the C&R, he merely released his right to bring a future workers compensation claim against Boscov’s. Consequently, it does not prohibit Zuber from bringing FMLA or Pennsylvania common law claims against Boscov's.”
The court remanded the case to the District Court for further proceedings.
“My client, Boscov’s, is disappointed with this ruling and is weighing its options as to what actions it will take,” said Alexander Ross, an attorney with Marlton, New Jersey-based law firm Rakoski & Ross P.C., which represented Boscov’s. “We respectfully disagree with the decision of the 3rd Circuit and believe the District Court judge made the correct ruling in his original decision and on the reconsideration motion to dismiss this case.”
A U.S. District Court erred in requiring a plaintiff in a Family Medical Leave Act case to provide direct evidence of retaliation, says a federal appeals court in vacating a jury verdict for his employer.