Individual HR employees can be held liable under the Family Medical Leave Act

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City recently heard Graziadio v. Culinary Institute of America, 2016 Lexis 4861(2nd Cir. 2016)  In Graziado, the employee’s 17 year old son was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes and required emergent care.  After leaving to care for her son, Ms. Graziado, the payroll administrator for the employer, requested FMLA.  Just eleven days after she returned to work from the leave associated with her diabetic son, her other son, a 12 year old, broke his leg and requried care.  She again had to request FMLA  The facts of the case, while interesting and chalk full of HR lessons, are less significant than the basis for the court’s holding. Graziado sued Garrioch along with the employer.  While there was clearly some nastiness reflected in communications between Graziado and Garrioch, director of Human Resources, that was not the stated basis for the court reversal of the summary judgment that had been granted Garrioch dismissing the Plaintiff employee’s claims.  The 2nd Circuit, using FLSA case law, determined there are three factors which a court is to consider: (1) whether Garrioch had the power to hire and fire; (2) whether she supervised employee work schedules and conditions of employment; (3) whether she determined the employee’s rate and method of payment; (4) and maintained employment records.  The court went on to state that none of the four factors standing alone is dispositive and the essential inquiry is whether the individual “controlled in whole or in part plaintiff’s rights under the FMLA.”

 

Garrioch argued that she did not have the authority to hire and fire, that rested with the VP of Administration. However, the VP and her deposition testimony indicated that it was a joint decision between the two to terminate Graziado.  The court also found that Garrioch exercised control over Graziado’s return from FMLA and the court found that was sufficient evidence of factor 2.  The court also found that the multiple email exchanges between Garrioch and Graziado related to her FMLA and requiring additional documentation certainly created a fact issue on the essential inquiry of whether Garrioch controlled Graziado’s rights under the FMLA.  Without getting into detail, it was clear Garricoh was controlling Graziado’s right to FMLA.  She went as far as instructing other HR employees, that she and only she, would communicate with Graziado regarding her FMLA leave.

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