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HANYC 3-24-16 Memo re HRD liability under FMLA CIA

On March 17, 2016, in Graziadio v. Culinary Institute of America, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that a Human Resources Director may constitute an “employer” under the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) such that individual liability could result for violations of an employee’s FMLA rights.

Graziadio v. Culinary Institute of America – Background

The plaintiff, a payroll administrator at the Culinary Institute of America (“CIA”), took several weeks off from work to care for her two sons, one who was hospitalized for previously undiagnosed diabetes and the other who broke his leg. Prior to returning to work, the plaintiff requested a temporary reduced work schedule in order to continue to provide her sons with care. At that time, the plaintiff provided a medical certification with respect to her son who was hospitalized and indicated that she would obtain additional documentation with respect to her other son if the CIA required. The plaintiff apparently made repeated requests to her supervisor — and when the matter was turned over to the Human Resources Department, to the Human Resources Director (“HRD”) – regarding whether she needed to provide any additional information to support her request for intermittent FMLA leave. Instead of directly responding to these inquiries, the HRD provided the plaintiff with an FMLA brochure. At some point during this time, the plaintiff provided a doctor’s note regarding her son’s medical care for his broken leg.

After repeated phone calls and emails to the HRD that spanned over a week regarding when she was able to return to work, the plaintiff was informed that her FMLA paperwork was deficient. A series of emails were then exchanged between the plaintiff and the HRD: the plaintiff made several requests for clarification of the deficiencies of her paperwork and ultimately requested to return to work on a full-time basis; and the HRD refused to allow the plaintiff to return to work until the two met in person. Additional emails were exchanged where the plaintiff offered her availability to meet in person but the meeting was never arranged. The plaintiff hired an attorney, at which point CIA’s counsel conveyed to the plaintiff’s attorney that the plaintiff could return to work by calling her supervisor but also reiterated that proper FMLA paperwork was required. Because the plaintiff’s attorney failed to respond within the time frame provided by the company, CIA terminated the plaintiff for job abandonment.

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