An automaker issued confusing instructions about how an employee should inform the company that he was taking intermittent leave under the Family Medical Leave Act, a federal appeals court said Wednesday, in recovering the employee’s FMLA charges.
Edward Render started working in 2013 as an assembly line worker for the Auburn Hills, Michigan-based automaker FCA US LLC, the American company of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. Cincinnati Circuit Court of Appeals Edward Render v FCA USA, LLC.
After Mr. Render complained to the union, he was reinstated under a conditional redeployment letter that said FCA could fire him if he was twice unexcusedly late or was absent once during a year’s probationary period.
In October 2017, approximately six months after his reassignment, Mr. Render applied for intermittent FMLA leave for major recurrent depression and an anxiety disorder, which was conditionally approved.
However, letters from Sedgwick Claims Management Services Inc., FCA’s third-party leave administrator, gave conflicting instructions on how to call to report using his recurring FMLA leave days.
Mr. Render was fired from the company in January 2018 for violating his conditional reassignment letter. He filed suit in U.S. District Court in Port Huron, Michigan, alleging interference and retaliation under the FMLA.
The district court granted the company’s summary judgment dismissing the case, and it was overturned by a three-judge panel of appeals.
An employee “cannot be blamed for non-compliance with company policy if the policy was unclear or the employee was unaware of the policy,” the ruling said.
In this case, Sedgwick’s letter on how to report taking a leave of absence was “so confusing” that even an employee in FCA’s human resources department “couldn’t decipher what it was asking employees to do,” in terms of what phone numbers they had to call. “It’s understandable that Render didn’t follow these confusing instructions to the letter,” it said.
“In addition, Render has taken other steps to ensure that he reported his FMLA days correctly,” the ruling said, in reinstating his charges and referring the case back for further proceedings.
Lawyers in the case have not responded to requests for comment.
In August, it was announced that after being found guilty of criminal conspiracy in June, FCA would pay nearly $300 million to resolve a multi-year investigation into Justice Department diesel emissions fraud.