High Court Weighs Employer Leave Versus FMLA

June 26, 2001 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - The US Supreme Court has agreed to weigh in on an employer's obligations in balancing leave policies with the 12-week leave guaranteed by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

According to the government, the regulations issued by the DOL regarding the FMLA say unless the employer says up front that its leave policies satisfy the federal guarantee, the 12-week period doesn’t begin.

The case, Ragsdale v. Wolverine, involves Tracy Ragsdale, an Arkansas shoe factory worker with cancer, who claimed that her employer wrongly refused to grant her the FMLA guaranteed leave under the 1993 act.

Case History

Ragsdale, whose cancer is now in remission, had worked at Wolverine less than a year when she was diagnosed in 1996. She requested and was given an initial leave, plus several extensions. The company eventually fired her when she had exhausted the company’s seven-month maximum but was still unable to work.

She then asked the company to extend her leave by 12 weeks to give her more opportunity to recover and return to work — suing when Wolverine said she did not qualify for the Family and Medical Leave Act request.

Wolverine Worldwide prevailed in the lower courts, arguing that it had already provided Ragsdale a more generous leave package than that required by the law.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, ruling that the DOL’s regulation is invalid because it goes beyond the scope of the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Ragsdale then appealed to the Supreme Court.

What “Friends” Are For

The Justice Department filed a friend-of-the-court brief defending the Labor Department regulations. The DOJ noted thatemployer-granted leave may count against the Family and Medical Leave Act, which must be clearly established up front. The government further noted that the requirement imposed “no onerous burden on the employer.”

However, the Justice Department also noted that, while the issue is important, this is not the right case to decide it.