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Federal Court Affirms Firing of Employee for Abusing FMLA Leave

In the 19 years that Peggy Snyder worked for DuPont, she took approximately 20 Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and short-term disability leaves of absence. In each instance, DuPont granted her requests, and she returned to similar positions. In 2016, Snyder had surgery on her left foot. DuPont approved three months of leave for her to recover. Medical certification showed that doctors instructed her not to bear weight on it for 10 weeks after the surgery. During her leave, several employees reported seeing Snyder walking around and taking advantage of the leave. DuPont hired an investigator to look into these claims. The investigator observed Snyder driving her car, walking around her yard and stairs, and lifting a small child off of the ground. At the same time, Snyder told DuPont she was in too much pain to come into work and sit down. While Snyder said her foot was “swollen” and “painful,” the investigator observed her getting a “manicure and pedicure,” and “mowing her lawn on a riding tractor for 90 minutes.” DuPont fired Snyder for giving the company inaccurate information and not following her own doctor’s orders. Snyder sued for FMLA retaliation.

Snyder successfully established to the federal district court that she requested FMLA leave and suffered “adverse employment decisions.” The two adverse decisions: DuPont’s decision to surveil her and the termination of her employment. Snyder tried to show that DuPont’s animus toward her leave was the reason for her termination. Snyder’s history of medical leaves with the company worked against her argument. Moreover, DuPont provided legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for her termination. She asserted these reasons were pretextual. She pointed to DuPont’s failure to follow its progressive discipline policy, but the court noted that the policy expressly allowed for immediate dismissal. DuPont’s regular communication with her doctors meant that the company did not need to check with her doctor before firing her. Evidence showing a human resources manager suggested she resign or apply for permanent disability occurred ten years before her discharge, and thus the court did not consider it evidence of animus. DuPont’s surveillance of her is considered a “per se adverse employment action.” However, the court again held Dupont had a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for surveilling her, given the reports of her conduct.