U.S. Eighth Circuit - The FindLaw 8th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

FMLA Plaintiff Fails to Convince 8th Cir. of a Violation

The Eighth Circuit's Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court ruling against Hasenwinkel, a registered nurse who sued her former employer on claimed violations of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

In affirming the lower court's decision, the circuit court found that not only did Hasenwinkel's employer comply with federal law, but that it gave her three times more time than was required under the FMLA.

Leave After You Take "Leave"

Bonnie Hasenwinkel was hired as a nurse in the summer of 2007 by Mosaic, a company that operates in-home care and nursing-care facilities for adults with mental disabilities. While employed with Mosaic, Hasenwinkel obtained FMLA leave on seven different occasions. The following is taken verbatim from the circuit court's opinion:

"Hasenwinkel took continuous periods of FMLA leave to have knee
surgery (March 4 to 17, 2010), treat depression (April 7 to 24, 2011), undergo a heart
procedure (July 27 to August 7, 2011, and October 4 to October 16, 2011), and
recover from neck surgery (November 23, 2011, to April 2, 2012). She also took
intermittent FMLA leave to attend physical therapy (June 18, 2009, to June 17, 2010)
and to care for her ailing father (January 10, 2011, to January 9, 2012)."

Hasenwinkel claims that in the Summer of 2011, she was asked to return to work after she requested FMLA leave in order to treat her chronic depression. In the coming years, her performance at work declined. When she left for neck surgery, she never returned to work. Even with an additional 12 weeks of FMLA leave given to her do to a serendipitous company restructuring of its FMLA policy, she was never well enough to return to her position. Mosaic fired her in 2012.

Plenty of Time

Under the FMLA, federal law requires that certain eligible employees (of which Hasenwinkel was one) are allowed 12 weeks of requested unpaid leave under certain circumstances, including the birth of a child, debilitating illness of a family member, or the development of a medical condition that would essentially make it impossible for the employee to return to work.

During this time, an employer may not retaliate or terminate the employee's position unless the employee exhausts her 12 weeks' time and still cannot return to work. At that point, termination is permissible under the Act.

In Hasenwinkel's case, the court found that Mosaic never denied her leave requests and that, in fact, Hasenwinkel was afforded approximately three times about the time she was entitled to under the Act. She was, in fact, able to use the additional twelve weeks she had stumbled into in 2012 recuperate. In that time, however, she did not recover sufficiently from her neck surgery. Thus, Mosaic's termination of her employ, coupled with her diminishing performance, was justified.

Watch the Theory

A basic sum total of the hours would have revealed that Hasenwinkel did not have a foot to stand on to bring a FMLA case against Mosaic. It demonstrates that even with leave requests generously being given out, employers must always be vigilant to respond to various employment suits.

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