Court finds FMLA Pre-eligibility for Post-eligibility Maternity Leave

Kathryn Pereda was fired because her employer said she did not qualify for FMLA leave. She sued and the court found on her behalf. Appellate judges noted that neither they nor apparently any other circuit court had considered this issue. They had dodged the question in a ruling involving an employee who wanted leave before she was eligible. But believing that FMLA actually requires employees to give their employers as much notice as possible of their impending need for leave, they ruled for Perry on her interference claim and sent the retaliation claim back to the district court for reconsideration.

The intent of the law was to set up protection for pregnant women though employers continue to use it to instead fire them. Or worse, tell them they have to quit further aggravating their situation.

Brief Summary – Appellant Kathryn Pereda (“Pereda”) appealed the district court’s dismissal of  her complaint alleging violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (“FMLA”), 29 U.S.C. § 2601, et seq., by Appellee Brookdale Senior Living Communities, Inc. (“Brookdale”).  The district court held that because Pereda was not an “eligible employee” at the time she was terminated, she could not bring her claims under the FMLA.  The Eleventh Circuit reversed and remanded, holding Pereda stated sufficient facts to establish prima facie claims for both FMLA interference and retaliation.

Extended Summary – Pereda filed suit against her employer, Brookdale, alleging claims for interference (Count I) and retaliation (Count II) under the FMLA.  Her complaint asserted that Brookdale interfered with her FMLA rights by denying her benefits to which she was entitled, and by terminating her for attempting to exercise those rights.  Brookdale moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.  The district court dismissed Pereda’s complaint, reasoning that Brookdale could not have interfered with Pereda’s FMLA rights, because she was not entitled to FMLA leave at the time that she requested it.  The district court also held that since Pereda was not eligible for FMLA leave, she could not have engaged in protected activity; thus, Brookdale could not have retaliated against her.  Pereda appealed, presenting the Eleventh Circuit with an issue of first impression.

After examining the various elements of the FMLA regulatory scheme, the Eleventh Circuit reversed and remanded.  With respect to Pereda’s interference claim, the court held that it must construe Pereda as “eligible” for FMLA protection.  In so holding, the court noted that because the FMLA requires notice in advance of future leave, employees are protected from interference prior to the occurrence of a triggering event, such as the birth of a child; otherwise, “a loophole is created whereby an employer has total freedom to terminate an employee before she can ever become eligible.”  The court further held that Pereda alleged a valid cause of action for retaliation under the FMLA, because a pre-eligible discussion of post-eligible FMLA leave is protected activity.