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Employee’s Burden Low for Employer to Advise of FMLA Rights

Noemi Valdivia was secretary for Elk Grove High School for six years. She has claimed that her co-workers made derogatory comments about “Hispanic students and their families.” The frequency of these comments increased during the last year and a half of her employment. Ms. Valdivia complained about the comments to the administrators at school who she claimed did nothing in response. She continued to become more and more upset as the comments continued. She applied for and was transferred to another school within in the district. The associate principal at her new school referred to a Mexican family as “those people” and stated that “they” never pay their bills. Ms. Valdivia became very upset and started crying uncontrollably. She told the principal (whom she had known for several years) that she was overwhelmed and afraid, as well as unsure if she could still work. The principal essentially told her that she had to decide between continuing to work and resigning.

Ms Valdivia filed suit, alleging interference with her Family and Medical Leave Act rights as well as hostile work environment based on national origin. With regard to the FMLA claim, she asserted that the school district should have provided her notice that she had the right to take a leave and that it should have know that she was suffering from a medical condition that made her unable to perform her job.

“The employee’s duty is merely to place the employer on notice of a probable basis for FMLA leave,” according to the federal district court. An employee is not required to give direct notice because she or he might not even be aware of suffering from a serious medical condition. “Clear abnormalities in the employee’s behavior may constitute constructive notice of a serious health condition.” Ms. Valdivia’s uncontrollable crying on multiple occasions as well as her statement that she was unsure if she could continue working could have been sufficient notice to the principal as it was a dramatic departure from her normal state. Ms. Valdivia had pled sufficient facts for her case to go forward on both claims.