Public Sector Supervisors Can Be Personally Liable for Violations of the FMLA

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A recent Third Circuit Court of Appeals decision has made clear that supervisors in public agencies may be subject to individual liability under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The court previously has held that public employers, private employers, and supervisors in the private sector may be liable for FMLA violations. Now, for the first time, in Haybarger v. Lawrence County Adult Probation and Parole, the court has extended FMLA liability to supervisors in the public sector.

The facts in Haybarger may seem eerily familiar to many of you. A public-sector employee took FMLA-covered absences for a number of different health issues. The supervisor, who served as the Director of the Probation and Parole Office, believed that the employee was under performing and that her attendance problems contributed to her poor performance. The supervisor wrote in the employee's performance evaluations that she needed to improve her overall health and cut down on the days that she missed due to illness (red flag!). The supervisor also formally disciplined the employee, placing her on probation for six months, which required weekly formal progress assessments and monthly meetings. While it is unclear who specifically made the ultimate decision to terminate the employee, she was terminated when her performance did not improve.

Not surprisingly, following her termination the employee brought suit raising a number of claims against the County, the Probation and Parole Office, and the supervisor. After many of the claims were dismissed, and a few were settled, all that remained for the court to decide was the FMLA claim against the supervisor. The supervisor argued that he was not liable under the FMLA.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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