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A housekeeping employee who injured her knee and was fired after not passing a fit for duty test may be entitled to medical leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday.
In 2016, Noorjahan Ramji seriously injured her knee while working for Hospital Housekeeping, which told her “nothing about her rights under the FMLA, instead handling the injury solely as a workers’ compensation claim,” according to documents in Noorjahan Ramji v. Hospital Housekeeping Systems LLC, filed the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.
After a few days off and a temporary light-duty assignment, Ms. Ramji received medical clearance to resume her regular-duty position. But before Hospital Housekeeping would allow her to do so, Ms. Ramji first had to pass an essential-functions test, which required her to complete certain physical tasks that the doctor who cleared her was not advised of, according to documents.
“Among other things, Ramji had to repeatedly engage in deep squats and bend to one knee. Though Ramji was able to perform several of these exercises, she began to experience pain in her injured knee before she finished all of them,” documents state. As a result, Ms. Ramji did not pass the test, so Hospital Housekeeping discharged her.
“At no point before Hospital Housekeeping fired Ms. Ramji did Hospital Housekeeping advise Ramji of her rights under the FMLA or give Ramji an opportunity to take twelve uninterrupted weeks of leave to rehabilitate her knee, even though the FMLA entitled her to that relief,” documents state.
Ms. Ramji filed suit for interference with her FMLA rights. At the district court, the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment, with Hospital Housekeeping seeking in part to avoid liability under the FMLA by pointing to its compliance with its workers compensation responsibilities.
The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Hospital Housekeeping, writing that Ms. Ramji’s doctor had cleared her for work with 0% impairment and that based “on these circumstances, the district court reasoned that Hospital Housekeeping could not have been expected to conclude she was entitled to any leave under the FMLA,” documents state.
The appeals court reversed and remanded for trial, writing that employers “are prohibited from interfering with, restraining, or denying an employee's efforts to exercise any FMLA right” and that “providing workers compensation benefits cannot absolve an employer of all obligations under the FMLA.”