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Tenth Circuit Dismisses FMLA Retaliation Claim

By Robyn Hagan Cain | Last updated on

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a decision siding with aircraft manufacturer Hawker Beechcraft Corporation (HBC) this week, finding that a fired employee’s discrimination and retaliation claims lacked merit to proceed to trial.

The employee, Denice Twigg, was employed by HBC from April 2, 1997, to April 7, 2008, where she worked in HBC’s Technical Manual Distribution Center (TMDC) as a Media Production Specialist.

Cindy Ealey was Twigg's immediate supervisor. Ealey, in turn, was supervised by Kathy Sade, who was classified as a manager. Sade indirectly supervised Twigg. On multiple occasions in 2007, Twigg complained to Ealey that Sharon Schlegel, another supervisor, was treating Teresa Cole, an African American coworker, unfairly because of Cole's race. Twigg observed Schlegel demeaning Cole and "overheard conversations in regard to blacks are lazy."

In 2008, Twigg submitted a written request under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to HBC's HR department. She asked for leave beginning the next day, February 20, 2008, and continuing through April 17, 2008 to have surgery. Twigg claims that both Ealey and Sade approved her FMLA leave until April 18, 2008. HBC HR, on the other hand said Twigg's FMLA leave was only approved through April 1.

Twigg was fired when she did not report to work for three consecutive days, April 2-4, without notifying her supervisor.

Twigg filed an administrative complaint in the Department of Labor, and later sued HBC under the Civil Rights Act for retaliation based on her defense of her African American coworker, retaliation under the FMLA, and interference under the FMLA.

The district court granted summary judgment for HBC on all of Twigg's claims. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court decision.

An employee who believes that she has been retaliated against because of her efforts to vindicate the rights of a minority coworkers may bring an action against her employer, but the retaliation claim must establish that retaliation played a part in the employment decision in two ways.

Under the direct/mixed motives approach, the plaintiff may directly show that retaliatory animus played a motivating part in the employment decision. If the plaintiff cannot directly establish that retaliation played a motivating part in the employment decision, she may instead rely on the three-part framework established in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green. Twigg failed to satisfy either standard.

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals further noted that, under Bones v. Honeywell International, Inc., HBC carried its burden of proving that Twigg was dismissed for a reason sufficiently unrelated to her FMLA leave. Bones clearly states that an employer generally does not violate the FMLA if it terminates an employee for failing to comply with a policy requiring notice of absences, even if the absences that the employee failed to report were protected by the FMLA.

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