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FMLA charges filed by auto manufacturer worker reinstated


An auto manufacturer provided confusing instructions on how an employee should notify the company he was taking intermittent leave under the Family Medical Leave Act, a federal appeals court said Wednesday, in reinstating the worker’s FMLA charges.

Edward Render started working as an assembly line worker for Auburn Hills, Michigan-based auto manufacturer FCA US LLC, the U.S. business of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, in 2013. He was terminated in 2015 for attendance infractions, according to the ruling by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati in Edward Render v. FCA USA, LLC.

After Mr. Render filed a union grievance, he was reinstated under terms of a conditional reinstatement letter that said FCA could terminate him if he incurred two unexcused “tardies” or one unexcused absence during a one-year probationary period.

In October 2017, about six months after his reinstatement, Mr. Render applied for intermittent FMLA leave because of major recurrent depression and an anxiety disorder, which was conditionally approved.

However, letters from Sedgwick Claims Management Services Inc., FCA’s third-party leave administrator, gave conflicting instructions about how to call in to report he was using his intermittent FMLA leave days.

Mr. Render was terminated by the company for violating his conditional reinstatement letter in January 2018. He filed suit in U.S. District Court in Port Huron, Michigan, charging interference and retaliation under the FMLA.

The district court granted the company summary judgment dismissing the case, and was overturned by a three-judge appeals court panel.

An employee “cannot be faulted for failing to comply with company policy if the policy was unclear or the employee lacked notice of the policy,” the ruling said.

In this case, Sedgwick’s letter on how to report he was taking leave “was so confusing” that even a FCA human resources department employee “could not decipher what it was asking employees to do,” in terms of which phone numbers to call.  “Understandably, Render did not follow these confusing instructions to a tee,” it said. 

“Moreover, Render took other steps to ensure that he properly reported his FMLA days,” the ruling said, in reinstating his charges and remanding the case for further proceedings.

Attorneys in the case did not respond to requests for comment.

It was announced in August that, after pleading guilty in June to criminal conspiracy, FCA would pay nearly $300 million to resolve a multiyear Justice Department diesel emissions fraud probe.