Judge Greenlights FMLA Suit Against Sears

September 27, 2002 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - A lawsuit by a Sears Home Improvement Products employee against his employer for not granting leave to visit his dying father and for firing him when he left to help his depressed mother, is still alive.

US District Judge Donovan Frank in the US District Court for the District of Minnesota cleared the way for the lawsuit by plaintiff Robert Lincoln to move forward under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), according to Washington-based legal publisher BNA.

Frank rejected Sears’ argument that it wasn’t subject to the FMLA because it didn’t have enough workers but said he wanted more investigation by the lawyers about whether the Sears unit comes under FMLA dictates.

The court also refused to throw out Lincoln’s state law claims for intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, fraud, and negligent misrepresentation. Sears contended that these claims were preempted by the FMLA because they were based on the same events as the federal claim.

Case Background

The BNA reported that according to the court, Lincoln was promoted and transferred to the Sears Home Improvement Products office in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota from the company’s St. Louis office.

Lincoln contended that when he accepted the job as a project coordinator in July 1999, he was assured that he would be allowed to take leave to attend to his parents in St. Louis.

Lincoln alleged he first was denied leave by his supervisor in March 2000 when his father underwent triple bypass surgery and had one of his lungs removed. Lincoln again requested leave after his father went into a coma after the bypass surgery and was not expected to live.

After initially denying the request, Graham allowed him to take five days of leave. Later that spring when Lincoln’s father regained consciousness, Graham denied Lincoln’s request for leave.

Sequence of Events

After his father died in May 2000, Lincoln initially was given three days off to attend the funeral. He requested an additional week of leave, which was granted on the condition that he continue to manage the Brooklyn Park office while he was gone.

In June, he contacted the company’s human resources department to ask about leave to help his mother, who was experiencing depression. At that point, the human resources department told him he was eligible for FMLA leave. When Lincoln told his supervisor he would be taking two weeks of FMLA leave starting June 30, the supervisor became angry but then agreed to the leave, the court said.

On July 31, he received a letter from the company terminating him for job abandonment. The letter stated that because neither Graham nor the human resources department had heard from him since he took the leave, the company considered his employment terminated.

The case is 17 Lincoln v. Sears, Roebuck and Co., D. Minn., No. 02-840 (DWF/SRN), 9/17/02.