SECOND CIRCUIT HOLDS THAT HR DIRECTOR MAY BE PERSONALLY LIABLE UNDER FMLA

Cathleen Graziadio worked a Payroll Administrator for the Culinary Institute of America.  Due to medical issues concerning two of her sons, Graziadio requested a ten day leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) and a temporary reduced work schedule for a short period of time.  She submitted paperwork, and asked her supervisor if there was any further medical documentation needed.  Her supervisor then contacted Human Resources Director, Shaynan Garrioch, regarding how she should respond.  Garrioch sent a letter to Graziadio stating that her FMLA paperwork did not justify her absences and that additional updated paperwork was required.  However, despite Graziadio’s request for clarification about what medical documentation was needed to classify her leave as FMLA leave and repeated requests to return to work, Garrioch did not explain how her paperwork was deficient and refused to let Graziadio return to work until a face-to-face meeting occurred.  This meeting never happened, and she was ultimately fired.

Thereafter, Graziadio filed suit against the Company alleging retaliation and interference with her FMLA rights and discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”).  She sought to hold the Company liable as well as her supervisor and Garrioch personally liable.  The lower court dismissed the FMLA claim against Garrioch because it did not find Garrioch to be an “employer” within the meaning of the statute since she did not have ultimate authority to terminate employees.  Graziadio appealed to the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

Yesterday, the Second Circuit ruled that a reasonable jury could, in fact, find that Garrioch was an “employer” who exercised sufficient control to be held personally liable under the FMLA.  In reaching this conclusion, the Second Circuit applied the economic-realities test, as used in other statutes such as the Fair Labor Standards Act, to evaluate who constitutes an “employer” under the FMLA.  As such, the Court used several factors under this test to determine Garrioch’s liability, including whether she had the power to hire and fire employees, supervise and control employee work schedules or conditions of employment, determine rate and method of payment and maintain employment records.  The Court held that the evidence presented showed that Garrioch “played an important role in the decision to fire Graziadio” and she also controlled her schedule and conditions of employment with respect to her return from FMLA leave.  Thus, the Court vacated the lower court’s dismissal of her FMLA claims against Garrioch, but sustained the dismissal of her ADA claim.  Graziadio’s claim against her supervisor was not challenged in the appeal.

Nathaniel Charney, Graziadio’s attorney, stated the Second Circuit’s adoption of this individual employer standard was a very good precedent that should benefit employees.

This firm will continue to monitor the developments in this case.

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