Second Circuit Lightens the Burden for Plaintiffs Bringing FMLA Retaliation Claims


For the first time, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals has held that a "material adverse employment action" in the context of a Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) retaliation claim need not be all that "material." See Millea v. Metro-North R.R. Co., (2nd Cir. August 8, 2011).

Millea suffered from severe post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of combat as a Marine during the First Gulf War, which caused unpredictable panic attacks and exhaustion that could require time off from work on short notice. Millea began working for Metro-North in 2001. In 2005, he applied for and was granted intermittent FMLA leave for 2006.

In the summer of 2006, Millea and his supervisor (with whom he had a contentious relationship) got into a heated telephone conversation that triggered one of Millea's panic attacks. Millea immediately left work and saw his doctor. Because the encounter with the supervisor led to the attack, Millea did not inform the supervisor of his unforeseen FMLA leave. Instead, Millea informed the lead clerk and asked him to inform the supervisor, which he did. The next day, Millea called the lead clerk again to report that he would be taking another FMLA day and this information was again relayed to the supervisor.

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