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Third Circuit Court Adopts “Honest Belief” Defense in FMLA Case

When an employer reasonably believes an employee may be misusing FMLA leave, evidence of why the employer came to that “honest belief” can serve as a defense to a retaliation claim under the FMLA. See Capps v. Mondelez Global, LLC, 847 F.3d 144, 152 (C.A.3 (Pa.) 2017).

In the above-mentioned case, the employer fired an employee after it believed he intentionally misused intermittent FMLA leave.  After enduring bilateral hip replacement in 2003, the employee developed arthritis that would cause severe pain, sometimes lasting for days or weeks at a time. This condition required the employee to request intermittent FMLA leave to cover any time he could not work and continued to be recertified for leave every six months. In early February of 2013, on a day the employee requested off due to his condition, he was arrested for DUI. After spending the night in jail the employee also requested leave the next day. The employee never reported this arrest to the employer and subsequently began requesting leave multiple times after that for his condition. About a year later, when a HR manager became aware of the employee’s DUI conviction, the employer investigated and noticed on certain days of requested leave the employee had corresponding court dates.

The employee ultimately was terminated for misusing FMLA leave and violating a company policy on dishonest acts. On appeal, the employee argued the employer was mistaken in their belief to fire him and instead it retaliated against him for taking intermittent FMLA leave. The Third Circuit affirmed the lower court’s decision to grant summary judgment on behalf of the employer, finding the employer had an “honest belief’ of the employee’s misuse of intermittent FMLA leave.

For more information, call our employment lawyers in Philadelphia at 215-574-0600 or contact us online. The legal team at Sidkoff, Pincus & Green represents clients in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.