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Discussing Health Problem Triggers FMLA

January 18, 2008
James Sarnowski, former service manager for New Jersey limousine company Air Brook, was fired eight days after he told his supervisor that he might need a second coronary artery bypass surgery. He had already undergone a quintuple coronary artery bypass surgery in October 2002, for which he took six weeks of leave from work. In December 2002, Air Brook gave Sarnowski a written warning regarding his work performance. Citing performance problems, Air Brook fired Sarnowski in April of 2003—shortly after Sarnowski told his supervisor that he might need an additional six weeks of leave for another heart surgery.

    Sarnowski brought suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey alleging that Air Brook interfered with his FMLA rights, but that court dismissed his claims.

    The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the employer on Sarnowski's FMLA and state law claims under the state Law Against Disabilities. Immediately before his termination, Sarnowski made it clear to his employer that his health problems were continuing. This was sufficient to satisfy the notice requirement of the FMLA, the 3rd Circuit held, and thus Air Brook could not interfere with his FMLA rights.

    The 3rd Circuit also held that Sarnowski presented a genuine issue of material fact sufficient to survive summary judgment on his state Law Against Disabilities claim. Sarnowski v. Air Brook Ambulance Limousine Inc., 3d Cir. No. 06-2144 (12/12/07).

   IMPACT: Employers are advised that employees, to secure the protections of the law, need not specifically mention FMLA.

Workforce Management, January 14, 2008, p. 6 -- Subscribe Now!