District Court Trend Favors Individual Liability for FMLA Violations

The U.S. District Court for the District of North Carolina recently joined a growing list of district courts holding that individual managers and supervisors may be held personally liable for violations of the FMLA. Buser v. Southern Food Service, Inc. 73 F. Supp. 2d 556 (D.N.C. 1999). Although there have not been any reported circuit court decisions on the issue yet, the majority of district courts that have considered the matter have determined that individual liability may be imposed. These courts have based their decisions on the fact that the definition of employer in the FMLA closely resembles the definition of employer in the Fair Labor Standards Act, a statute under which individual liability has long been accepted. See. e.g., Carpenter v. Refrigeration Sales Corp., 49 F.Supp.2d 1028, 1030 (N .D.Ohio 1999) ("Defendants do not dispute that supervisors and managers can be held individually liable under the FMLA under certain circumstances. Indeed, this is the majority view."); Meara v. Bennett, 27 F.Supp.2d 288, 291 (D.Mass.1998) ("Although the court has been unable to locate any Court of Appeals decisions addressing the issue of individual liability under the recently-enacted FMLA, the decisional law developing at the district court level favors individual liability."); Bryant v. Delbar Prods., Inc., 18 F.Supp.2d 799, 807 (M.D.Tenn.1998) ("[T]he majority of courts that have reached this issue have held that individual liability does exist under the FMLA."); Rupnow v. TRC, Inc., 999 F.Supp. 1047, 1048 (N.D.Ohio 1998) ("the weight of authority favors individual liability for a supervisor where the supervisor 'exercise[s] sufficient control over Plaintiff's ability to take protected leave.' ")

In Calculating FMLA Leave, Employers Are Bound By Their Written Forms and Policies

In calculating the 12 weeks of unpaid leave allowed to eligible employees, the FMLA permits employers to include other types of leave, like vacation and short-term disability. However, as the Fourth Circuit has made clear, the employer waives its right to do so where it fails to spell out its intention to do so in its written FMLA policies and leave forms. In this case, an employee sought 12 weeks of FMLA leave in addition to his 5 days of paid vacation. The employer refused, advising the employee that his vacation days would have to be included in the 12 weeks. The employee sued, arguing that the employer’s request for FMLA leave form did not state that vacation time must be included and, therefore, he argued, he was entitled to 12 weeks in addition to the 5 vacation days. The Fourth Circuit agreed. Although the form explained that leave for "medical" reasons would be designated as FMLA leave, it said nothing about vacation leave and therefore, in the Court’s view, a reasonable employee reviewing the form would not be put on notice that vacation days were to be designated as part of his 12 weeks of FMLA leave. Cline v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 144 F.3d 294 (4th Cir. 1998).