Utah Employment Law Letter - February 2012: FMLA leave: ‘Holes’ in youth center’s defense earn jury trial on FMLA claims

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In Holes, a Newbery Medal-winning novel by Louis Sachar that was later made into a Disney movie, boys at a juvenile detention camp are forced to dig holes in the desert. Although they’re told they’re digging holes to build character, the real purpose is to find treasure that outlaw “Kissin’ Kate” Barlow was rumored to have buried there. Although the case below doesn’t have the type of mistreatment that occurred in Holes, it does involve allegations made by a former staff member of a youth resident center that he was unlawfully fired in violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). If his claims are proven at trial, he could end up finding treasure at the youth center’s expense.

Supervisor gives lead boot during ‘weak knee’ week

William Person worked for Horizon Health Corporation, which operates Copper Hills Youth Center, a residential treatment facility for teenagers with behavioral issues. He began as a mental health associate and was promoted to program lead, which required him to oversee a unit of resident boys and the unit’s staff.

During his time as program lead, Person repeatedly complained to his supervisor, Signe Evans, that his unit was short-staffed and about what he believed were inappropriate residents being placed there. Despite his complaints, Evans gave him a positive performance appraisal as late as March 2007, stating that he had “done an excellent job bringing an ineffective unit to a functioning unit,” was “very effective” at crisis management, and had “done well despite being short[-]staffed.”

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