Employment-Ninth Circuit Rules That FMLA Leave Is Not Available To An Individual Who Did Not Request The Leave While An Employee

In Walls v. Central Contra Costa Transit Authority, No. 10-15967 (9th Cir. 2011), the Plaintiff, Kerry Walls (“Walls”), was appealing the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendant, Central Contra Costa Transit Authority (“CCCTA”).

Walls is a former bus driver for CCCTA. He was terminated from employment with CCCTA on January 27, 2006. In anticipation of being rehired, on March 1, 2011, Walls requested a leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (the “FMLA”). Walls was reinstated to employment with CCCTA on March 2, 2006, pursuant to an agreement executed over the course of a grievance process between Walls, his union representative, and CCCTA (the “Last Chance Agreement” ). On March 3, 2006, Walls incurred an unexcused absence that violated the attendance requirements of the Last Chance Agreement. As a result, CCCTA again terminated Walls on March 6, 2006. After grieving his termination, Walls brought this suit, claiming among other things that his March 6 discharge violated the FMLA. The district court granted summary judgment against Walls on his FMLA claim. The question for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (the “Court”): did Walls have a viable FMLA claim?

In analyzing the case, the Court stated FMLA rights and benefits are contingent upon the existence of an employment relationship. Further, in order to establish an FMLA violation, the employee must demonstrate that the employer received sufficient notice of an employee’s intent to take FMLA leave. Walls did request FMLA leave on March 1, 2006. However, Walls was not reinstated to his position as a CCCTA employee until March 2, when he signed and executed the Last Chance Agreement. Therefore, he was not an employee when he requested the leave. The Last Chance Agreement did not retroactively make Walls an employee for FMLA purposes on March 1. Since Walls was not an employee of CCCTA when he made his request for FMLA leave, he cannot invoke FMLA protection on the basis of this request. As such, the Court concluded that Wall’s FMLA claim was not viable, and it affirmed the district court’s summary judgment against him on the FMLA claim.