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Ruling regarding causation for FMLA retaliation claims

Workers in New York who have pending claims under the Family and Medical Leave Act should be aware of the decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. The court ruled that in order to have retaliation claims under the FMLA proceed, employees only have to verify that exercising their FMLA rights was viewed negatively by an employer who also responded with an employment-related act of retaliation. The significance of the ruling is that the reduced burden of proof may result in a higher number of FMLA retaliation claims surviving the summary judgment phase of cases in the jurisdiction of the Second Circuit, which hears federal appellate cases in Vermont, Connecticut and New York.

The case at the center of the decision involved a plaintiff who had worked as a substance abuse counselor at a nonprofit drug treatment center. As an employee, she had a record of substandard job performance in addition to a history of using FMLA leave to receive treatment for anemia. When she was terminated by the company for poor performance, she filed a lawsuit claiming that her termination was retribution for her use of FMLA medical leave.

In addition to disputing the reason for the termination, the defendant also alleged that it was necessary for the plaintiff to demonstrate that her use of her FMLA rights was a 'but for" reason of her termination. The trial ended in favor of the employer, and the plaintiff appealed the ruling on the basis that the jury were counseled on the incorrect standard of causation.

Individuals who have been victims of wrongful termination or other forms of workplace discrimination because they exercised their federally protected employment rights may have legal recourse. An employment law attorney may pursue financial damages against the employer for lost wages.

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