Employment -Ninth Circuit Rules That Plaintiff’s Claim Of Interference With FMLA Rights Fails, Since She Declined FMLA Leave

In Escriba v. Foster Poultry Farms, Inc., Nos. 11-17608, 12-15320 (9th Cir. 2014), the plaintiff, Maria Escriba (“Escriba”), had worked in the Foster Poultry Farms, Inc. (“Foster Farms”) processing plant in Turlock, California for 18 years. She was terminated in 2007 for failing to comply with the company’s “three day no-show, no-call rule” after the end of a previously approved period of leave, which she took to care for her ailing father in Guatemala. Escriba subsequently filed suit under the Family and Medical Leave Act (the “FMLA”) and its California equivalent. She claimed that her termination was an unlawful interference with her FMLA right. The district court denied Escriba’s motion for summary judgment on the interference claim.The jury at the district court found in favor of Foster Farms on this claim, and Escriba appeals.

In analyzing the case, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal (the “Court”) indicated that an employee can affirmatively decline to use FMLA leave, even if the underlying reasons for seeking the leave would have invoked FMLA protection, and such decline would cause a claim of interference with FMLA rights to fail. The Court said, as to the district court’s denial of the summary judgment request, that whether the district court erred in entertaining Foster Farms’s contention that Escriba did not intend to take FMLA leave is the dispositive issue in this case. The Court found that the district court did not err in denying Escriba’s motion for summary judgment on the basis that Foster Farms’s cited evidence demonstrates that Escriba was given the option and prompted to exercise her right to take FMLA leave, but that she unequivocally refused to exercise that right, the refusal voiding the interference claim.

The Court further found that substantial evidence supports the jury’s verdict, so the verdict-based on a finding that Escriba declined FMLA leave- must be upheld. As such, since Escriba declined FMLA leave, the Court affirmed the holdings from the district court that Escriba’s interference claim fails.