Employment-Third Circuit Holds That Employee Has Established A Prima Facie Case of Interference and Retaliation Under The FMLA

In Budhun v. Reading Hospital and Medical Center, No. 11-4625 (3rd Cir. 2014), the plaintiff, Vanessa Budhun (“Budhun”), was appealing the district court’s summary judgment in favor of her employer, the Reading Hospital and Medical Center (“Reading”), on her Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) interference and retaliation claims.

In this case, in accordance with applicable law, Reading provides its employees with up to twelve weeks of job-protected FMLA leave during any rolling twelve-month period. Reading requires employees to submit a leave certification from a healthcare professional prior to approving any FMLA leave. It also requires employees to submit a “fitness-for-duty” certification in the form of a return to work form that confirms that the employee can work “without restriction” before returning. If an employee does not contact Reading’s human resources department at the end of his or her leave, Reading’s policy states that it will consider the employee to have voluntarily resigned.

After taking FMLA leave due to a broken finger, and failing to inform Reading human resources at the end of the leave, Reading terminated Budhun. This suit ensued. In analyzing the case, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals (the “Court”) noted that FMLA guarantees an employee the right to return to work, the right allegedly being interfered with. The Court said that, although we have never had occasion to address specifically what constitutes invocation of one’s right to return to work, Budhun has adduced enough evidence such that a reasonable jury could find that she did so here, and that Reading interfered with her rights when they did not let her return.. She submitted a “fitness-for-duty” certification, which clearly stated that she could return to work with “no restrictions.” Under the FMLA regulations, prior to permitting an employee to return to work, an employer, as Reading did here, may request that an employee provide such a certification. In it, an employee’s healthcare provider must merely certify that the employee is able to resume work. Budhum met these requirements, establishing a prima facie case of interference under the FMLA.

Next, the Court dealt with Budhun’s retaliation claim. Budhun argues that Reading retaliated against her for taking FMLA leave when it impermissibly replaced her with another employee after her FMLA-protected leave expired. Budhun’s claim is based on circumstantial evidence. Thus, to succeed on her claim, it is her burden to establish that (1) she invoked her right to FMLA-qualifying leave, (2) she suffered an adverse employment decision, and (3) the adverse action was causally related to her invocation of rights. The record indicates that that Budhun made out these elements, meeting element (2) by alleging that she was replaced her with another employee and meeting element (3) by alleging that Reading had decided to replace her prior to the end of her FMLA leave, and actually replaced her just two days after the leave ended. This at least established a prima facie case of retaliation under the FMLA.
As such, the Court overturned the district court’s grant of summary judgment, and remanded the case back to the district court.