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Timing of termination decision critical for employer’s court win

Most employers in New York understand the delicacy of terminating a worker who has taken or requested a leave under the Family Medical Leave Act. A recent case before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit highlights the importance of documenting nondiscriminatory reasons before firing someone approved for medical leave. The federal appeals court upheld the summary judgment granted to the employer by the lower court.

The case arose after the firing of a man from Ghana who held American citizenship. The man already had one written warning on his work record when car trouble made him late for work on Nov. 17, 2014. He asked an hourly worker under his supervision to leave work and give him a ride. After reaching the workplace, the man allowed the worker to enter the building through the supervisors’ entrance and did not adjust the person’s time card to reflect an absence of 46 minutes. On Nov. 19, management informed the man that he had violated company policies.

According to management, they planned to dismiss him the next day, but they never had the opportunity. The next day, the man received permission to take a medical leave directly from the company’s third-party administrator. Eventually, the company notified the man in writing that his job had been terminated as of Nov. 19, 2014. His subsequent lawsuit accused the employer of discriminating against him. The court found no evidence of discrimination and recognized that the firing decision occurred prior to the man’s request for leave.

When a person running a company encounters allegations of workplace discrimination, an attorney may help manage the employer’s response. An attorney may be able to identify documentation that illustrates the company’s adherence to employment law and refute the claims in the court.

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