New job had lower ‘status’ and thus interfered with FMLA rights: Appeals court

Posted by Melissa Fleischer, Esq. on Sep 17th 2013

The details tug the heart strings: A worker who was held hostage at gunpoint at her part-time job suffered post-traumatic anxiety and depression that caused her to take FMLA leave from her full-time job. While she escaped the hostage scenario without physical injuries, the emotional trauma lasted for years.

To deal with it, she twice took FMLA leave from her job at a bank. During the second leave, which was three years after the hostage incident, bank execs decided to transfer her project manager position in Ohio to an office in Arizona. She was given a quantitative analyst position and reported to a former peer. Salary and benefits remained the same.

She said the new job was a lower-level position with fewer opportunities for advancement. A trial court dismissed, but an appeals court reversed and said she had a case: The new job required less training and fewer skills, and thus had less “status.”

Damaging to the company’s defense: A series of emails between bank execs which indicated the project manager position was being moved so that she would either accept the new position or resign.

Take home: HR needs to be in the loop when it comes to discussing what constitutes an “equivalent” position. As this case shows, it’s not just pay and benefits that need to be the same.

Cite: Crawford v. JP Morgan Chase, No. 12-3698, 6th Cir.

Webinar info: Curbing FMLA Abuse.