Appellate court sided with employee’s (almost) 3-year-delayed FMLA claim


Ruling overturned lower court’s decision in causal termination case

Back in October 2018, Laffon had a medical emergency and needed some time off under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

Her leave lasted until November 15. Ten days after she returned to work, on November 26, her employer terminated her.

She sued, arguing that the employer retaliated against her because of her FMLA leave.

The catch — she didn’t bring the suit until almost three years later.

No link between leave and termination

In court, the employer argued that there was no causal link between Laffon taking FMLA leave and her termination. Although the court documents aren’t robust, they do reveal that the employer indicated that Laffon’s allegations didn’t show that her taking FMLA leave was a factor in the decision to terminate her. The documents showed only that the termination chronologically followed her leave.

The court agreed with the employer. It also agreed that Laffon failed to allege a willful violation of the FMLA, which would allow her to benefit from the FMLA’s three-year statute of limitations.

Laffon appealed the case to the Ninth Circuit.

Statute of limitations

Under the FMLA, employees have two years from the date of the last event constituting the alleged violation for which they can bring a claim.

Those two years are extended to three years if the employer’s actions were “willful.” This means that an employee must show that the employer either knew or showed reckless disregard for whether its conduct violated the FMLA.

Ruling overturned

Fast forward to August 2023, when the Ninth Circuit reversed the lower court’s decision. It indicated that, based on Laffon’s amended complaint and liberally construing the law, her allegations establish that her leave was causally connected to her termination and that the employer’s action (her termination) was willful.

Glymph v. CT Corporation Systems, No. 22-35735, Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, August 22, 2023.

Key to Remember:Terminating an employee soon after returning from FMLA leave is risky, unless there is a clear, well-documented, non-leave-related reason. Case documents did not show such a clear reason, which can also increase the risk of a willful finding. Employees have time to file claims, even years.

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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