Former Ford employee’s FMLA charges reinstated

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    Reprints

    FMLA

    A former Ford Motor Co. employee did not file his Family and Medical Leave Act charges against the company too late, said a federal appeals court Monday in reinstating the charges and overturning a lower court ruling.

    For the first year and a half Malik Weatherly worked as an assembly line worker at a Ford Motor Co. plant, the company excused him from working on days when he suffered from asthma complications, according to the ruling by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis in Malik Weatherly v. Ford Motor Co.

    But about a week after Weatherly submitted paperwork to Ford seeking intermittent leave under the FMLA, he was suspended for 30 days because, according to Ford, he had missed too much work. He was terminated less than a year later, after he missed work for asthma complications, the ruling said.

    A few months after Mr. Weatherly filed charges with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights and U.S. Equal Employment Commission, Ford rehired him, but for a more physically demanding position. 

    When Mr. Weatherly informed his supervisor his new duties aggravated his scoliosis, and arrived one day to work with doctor-recommended physical restrictions, Ford terminated him once again, and Mr. Weatherly filed additional charges with the state commission and EEOC.

    Mr. Weatherly filed suit against Ford in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Missouri, charging violations of the FMLA and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

    The U.S. District Court dismissed all the charges, holding in the case of the FMLA charges that Mr. Weatherly had filed them too late.

    A three-judge appeals court panel affirmed dismissal of the ADA charges, but reinstated the FMLA charge.

    The FMLA allows eligible employees to take up to two weeks of unpaid leave during a 12-month period to deal with a serious health condition, the ruling said.

    The statute of limitations for an FMLA claim is two years for ordinary violations, and three years for willful ones, and Mr. Weatherly did not file suit until about a month after the second anniversary of his suspension.

    The district court said he had filed these claims too late because he had not alleged willfulness.  “It may well be that Weatherly’s allegations of willfulness…do not plausibly assert that Ford committed willful FMLA violations,” the ruling said.

    “But we need not reach that question. The important thing is that Weatherly’s complaint does not plead him out of court by establishing that the alleged violations were not willful.

    “The complaint leaves ample ground from which proof of willfulness may grow; there may be evidence that Ford’s failure to establish and enforce certain policies or perform certain training was willful rather than negligent,” it said.

    At the pleading stage, “Weatherly has alleged all that the law requires,” the ruling said, in reinstating the FMLA charges, and remanding the case for further proceedings.

    An attorney for Mr. Weatherly, Joshua  P. Wunderlich, a senior associate with Cornerstone Law Firm in Kansas City, Missouri, said in a statement, “We are pleased with the Court’s decision, and look forward to the opportunity to continue working to vindicate our client’s rights at the District Court.”

    Ford’s attorney did not respond to request for comment.

    A federal appeals court earlier this month ruled that a housekeeping employee who injured her knee and was fired after not passing a fit for duty test may be entitled to medical leave under the FMLA.