PHILADELPHIA – An EMS training director who claimed her employer interfered with her sabbatical granted under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) has now lost her case at both federal district and appellate court levels.
On May 24, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed a ruling from the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, which defeated the aforementioned allegations made by plaintiff Tracy A. Reagan.
Reagan first pursued legal action against Centre LifeLink Emergency Medical Services, Inc., where she held the position of Training Director until her termination on July 23, 2013. In her role, Reagan reported to LifeLink’s Executive Director Scott Rawson.
In November 2011, while still employed by LifeLink, Reagan created her own business called “Red Diamond Safety." Through her new company, Reagan offered CPR certification classes and others, which were also offered by her primary employer, LifeLink.
In May 2012, Red Diamond Safety became known to Rawson and he presented Reagan with a non-compete agreement to sign, in order for her to continue working as a training director – a first in her employment with LifeLink.
“Despite signing the non-compete agreement, Reagan admitted to using materials from LifeLink for services provided by Red Diamond. An employee at LifeLink assisted Reagan in obtaining at least 15 of LifeLink’s CPR certification cards to distribute to 3 participants of Red Diamond’s classes,” Restrepo said.
“Additionally, Reagan took possession of several of LifeLink’s mannequins in March 2012 after they were damaged in a flood. Rather than removing the mannequins from the office and destroying them, as required by LifeLink’s insurance policy, Reagan kept the mannequins in her home.”
On June 9, 2013, during a vacation Reagan took, she was injured in a bicycle accident. She was then placed on FMLA leave scheduled to run from June 12 to July 29, 2013, due to suffering a dislocated hip and head injuries in the accident.
“On July 3, 2013, while Reagan was on FMLA leave, Rawson became aware of Reagan’s intent to use the flood-damaged mannequins for Red Diamond services, in addition to other violations of the non-compete agreement,” Restrepo explained.
“Rawson then met with Rodney Beard, LifeLink’s general counsel, and Jeff Krauss, one of LifeLink’s human resources consultants, to discuss these revelations. On July 10, 2013, Beard sent a letter to Reagan requesting explanations within 10 days for these apparent violations.”
Reagan replied to Beard’s letter through email on July 21, 2013, one day after the deadline in which she was required to respond. Additionally, Reagan’s belated reply did not answer any of LifeLink’s questions, but only said she was in the process of hiring her own attorney.
From there, LifeLink responded on July 23, 2013, with Beard explaining Reagan’s email response was insufficient and not responsive to the requests made in the company’s message. That same day, Rawson sent Reagan a termination letter for her failure to adequately reply to the company email, six days before her FMLA leave was to expire.
This caused Reagan to sue in the District Court and allege LifeLink violated the FMLA when it terminated her in July 2013. However, that court found Reagan did not present a properly-supported FMLA violation claim and granted summary judgment for LifeLink.
Reagan then appealed to the Third Circuit, before judges D. Brooks Smith, Thomas M. Hardiman, and L. Felipe Restrepo. Restrepo wrote for the Court in this case, which upheld the District Court’s ruling in this action.
In order to properly establish an FMLA claim of interference, a plaintiff must establish:
(1) They were an eligible employee under the FMLA; (2) The defendant was an employer subject to the FMLA’s requirements; (3) The plaintiff was entitled to FMLA leave; (4) The plaintiff gave notice to the defendant of their intention to take FMLA leave; and (5) The plaintiff was denied benefits to which they were entitled under the FMLA.
“Here, there is a lack of evidence indicating that LifeLink’s decision to terminate Reagan for failing to respond to Beard’s inquiries – which raised concerns about Reagan’s apparent violations of the non-compete agreement and her dishonesty involving the mannequins – in a timely and meaningful way was unrelated to Reagan’s exercise of her rights under the FMLA,” Restrepo said.
“Therefore, the District Court was correct in concluding that Reagan was unable to show that LifeLink interfered with her rights under the FMLA and in granting summary judgment in LifeLink’s favor.”
Restrepo explained that while Reagan argued LifeLink placed an unreasonable performance expectation on here when it requested she respond to Beard’s letter within 10 days, given the medical restrictions established by her FMLA certificate – the plaintiff “must show that FMLA benefits were actually withheld” and “there is no right in the FMLA to be left alone.”
“Similarly, here the termination of Reagan’s employment due to Reagan’s failure to timely and meaningfully respond to LifeLink’s one-time, discrete inquiry which was unrelated to the exercise of her FMLA rights does not constitute FMLA interference. For the foregoing reasons, we affirm the District Court’s Order granting LifeLink’s summary judgment motion,” Restrepo stated.
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit case 17-3056
U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania case 4:15-cv-01390
From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at firstname.lastname@example.org