A federal appeals court recently adopted the “cat’s paw” theory of liability in FMLA retaliation claims, which will help employees who believe they were unjustly fired for taking leave under the Family & Medical Leave Act.
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee, ruled that an employer can be held liable even if the decision-maker did not know of the employee’s protected FMLA status, but relied on information from a supervisor who did – a concept known as “cat’s paw” liability.
In the case of Marshall v. The Rawlings Co., the employee had taken FMLA leave to receive treatment for mental health issues. Upon returning from leave, she said she was harassed by her direct supervisor – a division vice president — because of her absence. Shortly after, she was demoted, then finally fired from her job.
Though a division president without knowledge of the employee’s FMLA leave made the ultimate decisions to demote and fire her, the recommendations of the division vice-president influenced those decisions. Under the theory of “cat’s paw” liability, the appeals court held that the employer could be found liable for FMLA retaliation.
FMLA retaliation is still a difficult case to make. But this decision is good news for employees because it makes it harder for an employer to claim ignorance when demoting or firing an FMLA-protected employee.
The FMLA was created to protect employees who are dealing with legitimate medical and family issues. It’s a complicated law, however, and while most employees aren’t experts in the FMLA, you can bet your human resources manager is. So if you think your rights under the FMLA are being violated, don’t go it alone. Contact one of the employment law litigators at Sommers Schwartz today.