Supervisors Can Be Held Liable Under Family & Medical Leave Act

Last week, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals< (the federal appellate court that covers New Jersey) ruled that supervisors can be held personally liable under the Family & Medical Leave Act of 1993 ("FMLA"). Employees who are covered by the FMLA have the right to take up to a total of 12 weeks off per year for their own serious health condition; for a serious health condition of their spouse, parent or child; for childbirth, adoption, or foster care; or to bond with a new child.

In Haybarger v. Lawrence County Adult Probation and Parole, the Third Circuit ruled that individuals who have sufficient control over an employee can be held personally liable if they violate the employee’s rights under the FMLA. The Court indicated that relevant factors a court should consider when determining whether an employee can be held personally liable under the FMLA include whether the individual (1) had the power to hire and fire the employee, (2) supervised and controlled the employee’s work, (3) set the employee’s compensation, or (4) maintained employment records for the employee. In addition to these factors, courts must consider any evidence that is relevant to determine the “economic realities” of the relationship between the employer and the employee. The Third Circuit also rule that this test applies to both public and private employers.

The plaintiff in the case, Debora Haybarger, worked as an office manager for Lawrence County Adult Probation and Parole. She frequently needed to take time off because of medical conditions including Type II diabetes, heart disease, and kidney problems. Her supervisor, William Mancino, made it clear he was unhappy that she was taking so much time off from work. He eventually placed Ms. Mancino on probation for six-months before he convinced his boss, Judge Dominick Motto, to fire her.

The District Court dismissed Ms. Haybarger’s claims against Mr. Mancino. It primarily relied on the fact that Mr. Mancino did not have the ultimate authority to fire Ms. Haybarger. But, applying its new test, the Third Circuit concluded that there is enough evidence for a jury to conclude that Mr. Mancino can be held personally liable under the FMLA. Among other things, it noted that he supervised Ms. Haybarger’s work, prepared her performance reviews, disciplined her, and influenced Judge Motto’s decision to fire her. Accordingly, it reversed the District Court’s decision so a jury can decide whether Mr. Mancino can be held personally liable for violating Ms. Haybarger’s rights under the FMLA.

Our New York and New Jersey employment law attorneys can help if your employer denied you the right to take time off under the FMLA, retaliated against you for taking an FMLA leave, or otherwise violated your FMLA rights.

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