Employment-Sixth Circuit Rules That Failure To Follow Company Call-In Procedures Causes Plaintiff's FMLA Claims To Fail

November 14, 2012

Been gone for a while due to major flood, no power, etc. Let's get started again:

In Ritenour v. State of Tennessee Department of Human Services, No. 10-6366 (6th Cir. 2012), the plaintiff, Amy Ritenour ("Ritenour"), sued her employer, the State of Tennessee Department of Human Services ("TDHS"), for interference with her right to take leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (the "FMLA"), and for retaliatory termination in violation of the FMLA. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of TDHS, and Ritenour appealed.

In this case, due to the need to facilitate medical treatment for her eldest son , take her children to doctor's appointments, and look for new housing, Ritenour sought to take FMLA leave from work. TDHS did not grant the FMLA leave, or authorize any other type of leave. Nevertheless, Ritenour began to take absences from work. In particular, Ritenour did not report to work on September 22, 23, 24, or 25, and she also failed to call in her absence-as required by TDHS absenteeism policies- on (at least) those dates. As a result, Ritenour had been absent from work without approval for leave and without calling in for more than three consecutive days, which allowed TDHS to terminate her under its absenteeism policies. TDHS did terminate Ritenour, and this suit ensued.

In analyzing the case, the Court said that, even assuming Ritenour could establish a prima facie case of FMLA violations, the burden shifts to TDHS to present a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for Ritenour's termination. TDHS met its burden by introducing evidence that Ritenour's supervisors terminated her for her failure to comply with the absenteeism policies by failing to make contact with TDHS and call in her absences for four days in a row. Ritenour must then carry her burden of demonstrating that TDHS's proffered reason for her termination is pretextual. She failed to do that. As a result, her FMLA claims fail. As such, the Court affirmed the district court's decision.