SteveK April 9th, 2013
In Lineberry v. Richards, a recent decision of a federal court in Michigan, an employee suffered the consequences of today’s world in which posting pictures of oneself on Facebook is done in an instant, and therefore, can be posted without much thought. By way of background, plaintiff was a Registered Nurse employed by Detroit Medical Center (“DMC”). In February 2011, DMC granted Plaintiff’s request for leave from work for three months pursuant to the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) after plaintiff experienced pain in her lower back and leg from performing her work duties. While on FMLA leave, plaintiff went on a pre-planned vacation to Mexico approved by her doctor who found that the trip was not as demanding as her job and that it would not hinder her recovery. While on vacation, plaintiff posted various pictures on Facebook showing herself riding in a motorboat, lying on her side while holding up two bottles of beer in one hand, holding her grandchildren while standing, making trips to Home Depot, etc. Plaintiff’s coworkers saw these pictures on Facebook as they had access to plaintiff’s Facebook page, and thereafter, complained to upper management believing this was a misuse of plaintiff’s FMLA leave. Through email, plaintiff’s supervisor then questioned plaintiff about her vacation to which plaintiff responded that she had to use a wheelchair in the airports because she could only stand for a short period of time. After being cleared to return to work, DMC brought plaintiff in for an investigative meeting in accordance with company policy when an employee could face termination because they perceived plaintiff to have misused her FMLA leave. At this meeting, plaintiff admitted she lied and that she had never used a wheelchair on vacation. Shortly thereafter, plaintiff was terminated for violating the company’s dishonesty policy. Subsequently, plaintiff sued DMC and certain management representatives, claiming interference with her FMLA rights and retaliation for taking FMLA leave. Unfortunately for plaintiff, the court disagreed and dismissed her complaint with prejudice upon granting defendants’ motion for summary judgment. The Court found that plaintiff’s termination was not based on her FMLA leave, but rather was based on plaintiff’s lying to her employer in violation of their policy against dishonesty. FMLA requires an employer to restore an employee to their position upon return from leave; however, if an employer can show a lawful reason, i.e., a reason unrelated to an employee’s exercise of FMLA rights, for not restoring an employee to their position upon return from leave, the employer’s actions will not be in violation of the FMLA. That is exactly what occurred here. The Court explained that the FMLA does not afford an employee greater rights than he/she would have if not on FMLA leave, and therefore, because DMC could terminate any employee for dishonesty whether or not on FMLA leave, plaintiff’s termination was not in violation of the FMLA. Alternatively, the Court held that DMC also prevailed under the “honest belief” doctrine, which applies where an employer honestly believes, based on particularized facts, that an employee lied and misused FMLA leave and disciplines/terminates such employee based on such belief. Here, the Court found that DMC honestly believed, based on plaintiff’s Facebook pictures along with her admission to lying about needing a wheelchair as it related to her FMLA restrictions, that plaintiff lied and misused her FMLA leave, and therefore, there was reasonable basis for DMC to terminate her employment. Let Ms. Lineberry’s termination serve as a warning to other Facebook users: be careful what you post.
DiFrancesco, Bateman, Coley, Yospin, Kunzman, Davis, Lehrer & Flaum PC (http://www.dbnjlawblog.com) is a full service law firm in New Jersey which provides a broad range of legal services, including the representation of parties in employment matters. For additional information about the matters in this bulletin or in the firm’s Employment Practice, please contact Richard P. Flaum, Esq.
The information contained in this blog is intended solely for informational purposes; it is a advertising publication of DiFrancesco, Bateman, Coley, Yospin, Kunzman, Davis, Lehrer & Flaum P.C.This publication is intended to alert recipients of developments in the law and is not intended to provide legal counsel, advice or opinion on any specific facts or circumstances. The contents are intended as general information only. You are urged to consult a member of this firm or your own attorney concerning your particular situation and any specific legal questions you might have.
- Employment Law
- Comments Off