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Fired worker’s FMLA lawsuit reinstated

Fired worker’s FMLA lawsuit reinstated

A federal appeals court has reinstated litigation filed by a former staffing agency employee who was terminated while on Family Medical Leave Act leave and allegedly replaced by a lower-salaried worker.

Sarah Rodriguez was an employee specialist/recruiter with Akima Infrastructure Services LLC, a unit of Herndon, Virginia-based Akima LLC, a staffing agency for federal agencies, according to court papers in Wednesday’s ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco in Sarah Rodriguez v. Akima Infrastructure Services LLC and Akima LLC.

In June 2015, Ms. Rodriguez requested a leave of absence, which was granted, because of her pregnancy. She was not yet eligible for FMLA leave because of her length of tenure, according to the court papers.

After giving birth to twins in August 2015 and becoming eligible, she informed Akima she planned to take FLMA leave beginning Oct. 7, 2015. She was terminated on Oct. 23, 2015, about one week before her FMLA leave was set to expire.

Ms. Rodriguez filed suit against her employer charging violation of the FMLA. The U.S. District Court in Oakland, California, granted Akima summary judgment dismissing the case, citing Akima’s restructuring during Ms. Rodriguez’s leave.

However, the litigation was reinstated by a unanimous three-judge appeals court panel.

“There is no dispute that while Rodriguez was on protected leave for her pregnancy, Akima suffered a substantial decline in its business that forced it to restructure. Akima argues that it eliminated Rodriguez’s position during this restructure.”

However, the ruling adds, “a genuine issue of fact remains as to whether Rodriguez was replaced” by a lower-paid employee.

Despite the differences in pay and job titles between Ms. Rodriguez and this employee, Ms. Rodriguez “contends that they essentially performed the same recruiting tasks, with one exception for her minimal participation in new-hire orientation,” said the ruling.

Her testimony “creates a sufficient, triable question of fact to survive summary judgment,” the ruling said, in reversing the lower court and remanding the case for further proceedings.

In September, a federal appeals court reinstated FMLA 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. 

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