Court Dismisses FMLA Challenge

October 17, 2008 ( - A federal judge has declared that the former manager at a Pennsylvania bank was not protected from firing in an embezzlement probe because he had requested Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave.

U.S. District Judge Lawrence F. Stengel of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania turned away claims by plaintiff Robert Edwards that bank officials were interfering with his rights to FMLA leave for knee-replacement surgery when they fired Edwards before the leave was to occur, the Legal Intelligencer reported. Edwards was discharged after an investigation into wrongdoing by the former head teller at the Harleysville National Bank.

Stengel asserted that workers such as Edwards “should not automatically be granted some greater degree of protection from termination simply because he happened to have requested FMLA leave.” Instead, Stengel said, the evidence in the case showed there was no true dispute that Edwards was fired as a result of the embezzlement.

According to court papers, the bank conducted an audit of the Slatington branch in June 2007 and, according to documents in the case, head teller Donna Wisneski confessed that she had embezzled about $570,000 from the branch over the course of more than six years.

The required monthly audits of the vault and Wisneski’s drawer had not been performed for several years, and the bank employees responsible for conducting the audits had been falsely reporting that the audits had been completed, the opinion said. Soon after the investigation was completed, the bank fired three workers — Edwards, Wisneski and John Nee, the assistant branch manager.

In his FMLA suit, Edwards claimed he was only fired because of the requested leave and that he did not supervise the tellers where the embezzlement occurred so he should not be held accountable for them.

Stengel said Edwards had failed to prove an ulterior motive for his being fired. “He was certainly not terminated for his prospective plan to take medical leave,” Stengel wrote.

The case is Edwards versus Harleysville National Bank, No. 08-1735.