The Sixth Circuit sends back for trial an ADA and Family and Medical Leave Act case, where the employee – returning from medical leave, but still experiencing health difficulties – was forced to work beyond his medical restrictions. He was allegedly told by a Vice President of the company, shortly before his termination, that (1) the employer was not covered by the FMLA, and (2) the employee was a “liability” to the company. The panel holds that there is sufficient evidence that the company, while employing fewer than the necessary fifty employees mandated by the FMLA, was an “integrated employer” with a larger affiliated company.
Demyanovich v. Cadon Plating & Coatings, No. 13-1015 (6th Cir. Mar. 28, 2014): The employee, who worked as a production line helper (later area leader), suffered from congestive heart failure (“CHF”). He took leaves in 1999, 2006 2008, and 2009 for this and other health matters. When he returned from the latest leave, it was under the medical restriction not to be assigned overtime. The plaintiff also requested lighter duty, such as sorting (which could be done sitting down). The Vice President (named Ensign) denied the accommodation requests and continued to assign Demyanovich to work overtime. When the employee sought addition al FMLA leave time on February 23, 2010, Ensign responded that “Cadon did not have enough employees to be subject to the Act,” and supposedly said that Demyanovich was a “liability.” Demyanovich was shortly thereafter terminated on the ground that he ran out of permissible absence “points.” He applied for Social Security disability benefits which he eventually received.
Demyanovich brought a claim for FMLA interference and retaliation, as well as disability discrimination. The district court dismissed the claims on summary judgment, but the Sixth Circuit reverses.
The panel holds first that Cadon may be a “covered employee” under the FMLA – despite having fewer than fifty employees – because it may be an “integrated employee” with a much-larger affiliated company, MNP. The panel finds enough commonality to support joint liability: that the two companies share common managers (including an executive vice president and the vice president of human resources), Ensign supposedly consulted with MNP’s HR VP in making the termination decision, they maintained the same registered business address, they share a line of business (automotive parts), half of Cadon’s business came from MNP, and Cadon routinely got HR support from MNP.
The panel also holds that there is a genuine issue of material fact regarding Demyanovich would have been able to return to work at the end of the leave period:
“Although there is ample evidence that Demyanovich might have had difficulty returning to work within twelve weeks of his February 23 request for FMLA leave, it is not indisputable that he would have been unable to do so. Dr. Mussani, Demyanovich’s primary physician, ‘advised [Demyanovich] to quit work’ and seek Social Security benefits, but he did not draft any documentation stating that Demyanovich was categorically unable to continue working. We may not draw the inference, adverse to Demyanovich, that because Dr. Mussani had always cleared Demyanovich to return to work after past examinations, his advice to quit on this occasion demonstrates that Demyanovich was no longer capable of working.” [Citations omitted.]
Indeed, despite his health setbacks, Demyanovich presented evidence that he could have returned to work with accommodations for his health: “a jury could also reasonably conclude that Demyanovich was capable of working at slower-paced positions by the end of the statutory leave period.”
While Cadon contended that Demyanovich was terminated because he dropped to a “zero-point attendance balance,” there was evidence casting doubt on that reason: ” Although Demyanovich’s termination letter states that his termination was effective February 24, after an addition al absence that would have left him with a negative point balance, Demyanovich has presented evidence from which a jury could conclude that he was actually fired on February 23″ (citation omitted). Further, although Cadon contended that Demyanovich was also fired because he “would have been unable to return to work at the end of his leave period,” the panel holds that Ensign could not have been motivated by that reason, because he did not have access to the information regarding the plaintiff’s medical limitations on the day of his termination (February 23).
On plaintiff’s FMLA retaliation claim, the panel reverses summary judgment on the ground that there was arguably direct evidence of a retaliatory motive for terminating Demyanovich: “Ensign referred to Demyanovich as a ‘liability’ immediately after Demyanovich requested FMLA leave.” In addition to the direct evidence, there was also a genuine dispute about whether Cadon’s reasons for firing Demyanovich were false.
Finally, on the plaintiff’s ADA discrimination claim, the panel reverses summary judgment, finding that there was sufficient evidence that Demyanovich was a “qualified individual,” that he could perform the “essential functions” of the line-operator job at the time he was terminated (indeed, Ensign admitted that Demyanovich was performing satisfactorily when he was fired), and that there was evidence that the reasons give for his termination were false and thus pretextual.