Ninth Circuit FMLA Ruling: Oregon Worker May Win Lawsuit Without Proving Employer’s Bad Motive.

Recently, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals resolved an important question in an Oregon case under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). In Diane Sanders v. City of Newport, the city refused to reinstate Ms. Sanders after her doctors said she was fit for duty following her medical leave. Later, the city fired her, claiming that they could not guarantee a workplace that would not trigger her medical reaction to chemical sensitivities. The question was, Who had the burden of proof? Must the employee prove that the employer had no good reason to keep her off work? Or is the burden of proof on the employer to prove a lawful reason to avoid reinstatement after medical leave?

Ms. Sanders alleged discrimination and interference with her rights under FMLA and under  Oregon’s Family Medical Leave Act.  The trial judge instructed the jury that the worker must prove that the employer, without reasonable cause, did not put her back to work.

The Ninth Circuit held that the employee did not have to prove what was in the mind of the employer. Instead, all the employee needed to prove was (1) she qualified for FMLA rights, (2) she was entitled to leave, (3) she followed the rules for reinstatement, and (4) the employer did not provide the FMLA rights. If the employer has a legally-sufficient reason to avoid reinstating the employee, then the EMPLOYER has the burden to prove its good reason.

Jeff Merrick, Merrick Mediation
Copyright, 2011