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Prior work counts toward FLMA eligibility: Court


BOSTON--The 12 months of service an employee is required to work before becoming eligible for leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act does not necessarily have to be continuous, said a federal appellate court in overturning a lower court's decision.

Monday's unanimous decision in Kenneth Rucker vs. Lee Holding Co., dba Lee Auto Malls by a three-judge panel of the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston involved car salesman Kenneth Rucker, who had worked at Auburn, Maine-based Lee Auto Malls for five years.

He left the firm, then rejoined five years later. Seven months after rejoining, he took medical leave. About two months later, Mr. Rucker's employment was terminated, and he filed suit, claiming his termination violated the FMLA, according to the opinion.

A district court granted Lee's motion to dismiss, holding that Mr. Rucker could not combine his previous period of employment with the more recent period and that, therefore, he had not satisfied the FMLA's 12-month employment requirement.

The appellate court disagreed. "We hold that the FMLA is ambiguous as to whether previous periods of employment count toward the 12-month requirement, but regulations promulgated by the United States Department of Labor (DOL), as interpreted by the DOL, establish that previous periods of employment do count," said the decision, which noted also that the DOL reiterates this position in an amicus brief submitted in the case at the court's request.

The DOL's "interpretation of its regulation is reasonable, and that regulation, so interpreted, is a reasonable exercise of the DOL's exercise of the DOL's statutory authority," said the decision, which remanded the case back to the lower court for further proceedings.