Utah Employment Law Letter - June 2012: Tenth Circuit sticks fork in forklift operator’s FMLA claims

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In the following case, a former forklift operator in Kansas filed claims under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) against a manufacturing company after he was fired following an industrial accident. The U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, whose rulings apply to both Utah and Kansas employers, decided the employee wasn’t entitled to a trial on his claims, despite the fact that he was fired while on FMLA leave. Read on to find out why.

The accident

Robert Peterson worked as a material handler for Exide Technologies at its battery manufacturing and distributing plant in Salina, Kansas. In May 2007, he was using a forklift to transport pallets of batteries. The plant’s normal lights were turned off for maintenance, but the plant was lighted to some degree by fluorescent lights, skylights, and ambient light from the doors. Additionally, the forklift was equipped with headlights. Nevertheless, Peterson complained to his supervisor about the low lighting.

While Peterson was driving a forklift through the plant with a pallet of batteries, the pallet hit a pole, causing batteries to fall on the floor, break, and spill acid. Peterson hit his head on the forklift’s rack, resulting in injuries to his head, neck, and back. Exide placed him on FMLA leave for 10 days.

Peterson’s supervisor conducted an accident investigation and concluded that Peterson was “going rather fast.”

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