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A Lawsuit Under the Family Medical Leave Acts Requires a 50 Employee Minimum

doc.pngA late April appeal decided whether or not a person can prolong fruitless efforts to show that an employer employed fifty people, in order to trigger claims under the Federal Family Leave Act or the New Jersey Family Leave Act. The court said no.

Plaintiff Y.M. started working as a receptionist at a franchise laser eye surgery practice in 2007. In January 2012, she told a coworker that she would be out a day due to her mother's poor health. Two weeks later, she submitted a letter to her employer requesting paid leave to attend to her mother for a period of nineteen days. However, she failed to disclose the reason for the request. The employer responded by granting her one week. On January 14th, her mother died and on about January 28, she called her employer to report the loss.

On February 1, Y.M. was terminated by email because of performance issues and because she took a leave of absence to "reconsider her time there." That same email also requested that she sign a separation agreement, giving her $3,293 in exchange for promising not to sue. She did not sign. Four months later, she sued under the federal and state Family Medical Leave Acts (FMLA/NJFMLA) and made numerous other allegations including violations of the Law Against Discrimination.

The court dismissed all claims except those alleging FMLA/NJFMLA and breach of contract counts. The trial judge ruled that the FMLA/NJFMLA did not apply to Y.M., because her former employee did not have at least 50 workers, either at her specific office or at the total of all of the offices.

The Appeals Court focused on two things. First, it rejected all Y.M.'s claims that more information was necessary to establish necessary facts about the number of employees. Second, it decided that the trial court was correct in ruling that the defendant eye practice franchise did not individually (as to her office) or in the aggregate amount to 50 employees. Simply put, in order to sue under these two "leave laws," you must be able to demonstrate that your employer employed at least 50 people in the preceding 20 calendar weeks prior to the incident(s) that are the basis of the claims. Evan Xavier Bakhet is a J.D. Candidate at Rutgers School of Law-Newark with a scheduled graduation date in 2017. He collaborated with me on this blog.

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