Court Reinstates FMLA Claim against Law Firm

July 1, 2010 ( – A federal appellate court has reinstated part of a lawsuit filed by a legal secretary against the Ballard Spahr LLP law firm which alleges the firm interfered with her right to take family leave. 

A National Law Journal news report said the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled that Vanessa McFadden could move forward with claims that the law firm had illegally infringed on her right to take time off as called for under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to care for an ill husband and to deal with her own physical ailments.  Even though the lower court originally threw out the FMLA allegations, the appellate court said McFadden was not required to show the law firm denied her leave, but only that her ability to exercise FMLA-granted rights was infringed upon. 

According to the National Law Journal report, the case stems from McFadden’s 2004 firing after working in the firm’s Washington office as a legal secretary since 1989. McFadden took a leave of absence from the firm in October 2002, when her husband was diagnosed with cancer.

McFadden began to have health problems of her own in April 2003. According to the D.C. Circuit’s opinion, she suffered from Graves’ disease, fibromyalgia, depression and other ailments.  

McFadden took additional leave, and when that ran out in May 2004, called Ballard Spahr human resources manager Margaret Riley-Jamison to find out about her job status. Riley-Jamison offered her a job doing word processing, but McFadden said she couldn’t do that job because she had difficulty typing and requested a transfer to a receptionist job that was being held open for another employee out on disability leave. The firm declined to make that transfer, and McFadden was subsequently fired, according to the news report.  

The appellate panel sent the case back to the lower court to hold further hearings on the FMLA issue.