Employer and Supervisor Sued for FMLA Denial During Blackout Period

Employers are not the only ones who can be sued for violating an employee’s rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Decision makers like supervisors and HR representatives can also be sued. The most recent example of this is a former employee suing a supervisor for denying her FMLA leave.

In Baca v. State of New Mexico (D.N.M. 2011), employee Anita Baca was allegedly denied FMLA leave to care for her disabled adult son, Adam. The leave may not have been an issue except that Ms. Baca’s need for leave arose during a “blackout period” when all personal leave was prohibited.
Her supervisor, Mary Herrera, allegedly told her that she was “stubborn and hard-headed” for asking for time off during the blackout period. Herrera also allegedly told Baca that she should bring in a letter of resignation if she continued to insist on time off during that time period. Herrera went so far as to deny one of Baca’s leave requests because the doctor’s note Baca provided did not indicate that her son’s medical need was “immediate.”
Not surprisingly, the court denied the employer’s motion for summary judgment and is allowing Baca’s claim to go to trial. The court is also allowing an individual claim against Herrera, meaning she can be held personally liable for her role in any unlawful employment action.
Employers should carefully review all FMLA leave requests. Employees must be eligible and meet certain requirements. But, if the employee is eligible and those requirements are met, employers cannot deny FMLA leave based on the hardship the employee’s leave creates for the employer. Employers are expected to redistribute work among existing staff or to find an interim replacement in the employee’s absence.