Pregnant employee wins FMLA case


Employer told her to file for unemployment

Jami had worked for the city for a couple of years as an accounting assistant when she learned she was pregnant. She notified the city's mayor, clerk, HR department, and her supervisor. Two weeks later, the city demoted her to a less desirable position.

Although the city customarily gave training to employees who began a new position, Jami was denied training on her new job duties until after she returned from maternity leave.

About three months after being in the lesser position, Jami requested reassignment back to the accountant assistant position, and the city granted her request.

Employee told to file for unemployment

Fast forward another three months, when Jami was admitted to the hospital to have her labor induced. Jami told Kenneth, an HR representative, of her induction and asked about maternity leave. Kenneth told Jami to apply for unemployment rather than informing her about her leave rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

Jami later filed for unemployment and was told to include on her unemployment benefits application that she had been laid off from her position with the city.

Jami returned to work the next month, but her supervisor sent her home and told her to meet with the mayor before resuming her duties.

The next day, the mayor and Kenneth told Jami that they had cut her accounting position. They said she could either transfer or be rehired to the lower position she previously held, with significantly reduced hours. Otherwise, they would fire her.

Employee fired and sued

The city fired Jami, and she sued, claiming the city intentionally withheld information about her eligibility for protected leave and interfered with her FMLA rights.

The employer argued that Jami's FMLA interference claim failed because she didn't show that the city's failure to let her know of her eligibility for FMLA leave prejudiced her. It pointed out that Jami took leave, even though the city did not notify her of her FMLA eligibility.

Court sided with employee

In denying the employer's request to dismiss the case, the court found that the city failed to realize that telling Jami to file for unemployment benefits was different than telling her about her job protected FMLA leave.

These facts sufficiently alleged that the city's failure to let Jami know that she had a right to take pregnancy related FMLA leave prejudiced her.

Steele v. City of Attalla, Northern District of Alabama, 4:22-cv-343, September 28, 2023.

Key to Remember: Employers that tell employees to file for unemployment instead of informing employees of their FMLA eligibility and rights risk a violation and claim.

This article was written by Darlene M. Clabault, SHRM-CP, PHR, CLMS, of J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc. The content of these news items, in whole or in part, MAY NOT be copied into any other uses without consulting the originator of the content.


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