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FMLA lawsuit against Tyson Fresh Meats reinstated

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A U.S. appeals court has reinstated Family and Medical Leave Act claims filed by a former Tyson Fresh Meats Inc. employee in a case in which the employer gave shifting reasons for terminating the worker.

Delbert Eugene Hudson did not come to his job as a supervisor at Dakota Dunes, South Dakota-based Tyson Fresh Meats' Waterloo, Iowa production facility on Dec. 28, 2011 and asked a girlfriend, who also worked there, to tell his supervisor he was sick and would be out for a few days, according to last week's ruling by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis in Delbert E. Hudson v. Tyson Fresh Meats Inc.

He also texted his supervisor he would be out for few days, although the company's attendance policy said direct supervisors should be called directly, according to the ruling. However, Mr. Hudson claimed he had often notified his supervisor of an absence by text.

Mr. Hudson testified he also signed a “leave of absence application” and that someone other than him checked the non-FMLA box on the form.

Mr. Hudson said when he returned to work on Jan. 9, 2012, he was instructed not to go the floor or perform his duties. He was terminated the next day for allegedly failing to notify the company he was going to be absent from work.

Mr. Hudson sued the company in U.S. District Court in Waterloo, claiming Tyson interfered with his FMLA rights and discriminated against him for taking FMLA leave. The District Court granted Tyson's summary judgment motion to dismiss the case.

Mr. Hudson then appealed to the 8th Circuit.

“Hudson claims that Tyson denied his exercise of FMLA rights in two ways: misclassifying his leave as non-FMLA and failing to restore him to his position upon return from leave,” said the three-judge appellate panel in reinstating the case.

The court said there was evidence Mr. Hudson was discriminated against for taking FMLA leave.

Tyson shifted its explanation for why it terminated Mr. Hudson, says the ruling. Originally, Tyson claimed it fired him for failing to notify the company he was going to be absent, but it now claims it was because “he failed to notify the company in the correct manner.” It “is also disputed whether Tyson enforced its call-in policy,” said the ruling.

“Hudson has presented sufficient evidence to raise a genuine issue of fact that he adequately notified Tyson and was actually terminated based on his use of FMLA leave,” said the appeals panel.

On the issue of his reinstatement, the appeals court said while the District Court found Mr. Hudson was restored to his position when he returned to work on Jan. 9, he was not permitted to work and was recommended for termination that same day.

“There is a dispute of material fact whether Hudson was restored from leave before being terminated,” said the unanimous appeals panel in reinstating the case on both counts.