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March 20, 2002
High Court Sides With Employers in FMLA Case
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Supreme Court handed a victory to employers on Tuesday, ruling 5-4 that a company should not be penalized for failing to notify workers that they are entitled to take up to 12 weeks unpaid medical or maternity leave each year under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

The ruling strikes down a Department of Labor regulation that allows penalties for not giving notification, according to the Boston Globe. Under the regulation, employers who do not issue written notice, known as a designation form, could be required to offer the worker an additional 12 weeks off.

The ruling stems from a lawsuit filed by Tracy Ragsdale, a shoe factory worker in Arkansas. In 1996, after working less than a year at Wolverine Worldwide Inc., she was diagnosed with cancer. Following an initial leave and several extensions, Wolverine fired her, on grounds that she had used up the company's seven-month maximum of leave but was still unable to work.

Ragsdale sued, claiming the company owed her more time off because it never notified her that she was using up time granted under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Wolverine countered that its leave policy was even more generous than the federal law requires.

In siding with Wolverine, the high court said: "Congress was well aware that the more generous employers, discouraged by technical rules and burdensome administrative requirements, might be pushed down to the act's minimum standard, yet the ... severe, across-the-board penalty is directed at such employers."

A dissenting opinion written by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said the notice helps employees "organize their health treatments or family obligations around the total amount of leave they will ultimately be provided." O'Connor was joined by Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and David H. Souter.

To view the Boston Globe article, click here.

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