Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), an employer may not harass an employee if he or she needs to take time off to care for a family member. In the case of Hernandez v. Temple University Hospital, the plaintiff claimed that her supervisor violated the FMLA by harassing her for taking frequent days off from work to take care for her daughter, who suffered from asthma. However, regardless of the perceived hostility that the plaintiff felt from her supervisor, all of her requested days off were approved. Ultimately, the plaintiff’s employment was terminated when it was discovered that she violated Temple’s HIPAA policy.
The plaintiff worked as a medical secretary in the hospital’s cardiology department from July 2008 until September 2016. Over the course of her employment, she made numerous requests for time off, including a request for two to three absences per month of up to four hours per episode. Each of these requests were approved. In July 2016, she submitted another request involving more frequent time off in order to take her daughter to multiple medical appointments. While the request for leave was granted, the plaintiff claimed that her supervisor told her that she had to recertify her eligibility for FMLA leave.
The plaintiff went on to say that her supervisor harassed her and questioned the seriousness of her daughter’s illness. She also testified that her supervisor was hostile towards her and increased her workload every time she returned to work after taking leave. The plaintiff argued that her supervisor’s actions violated the FMLA by interfering with her attempt to exercise her rights. In addition, she claimed that her supervisor’s hostility caused her to suffer from extreme stress every time she needed to request time off.
All Requests for Leave Granted
Considering the plaintiff was able to take all the time off that she needed in order to care for her daughter, the Court found that she was unable to prove that she was denied benefits that she was entitled to under the FMLA. In order for the claim to be viable, the plaintiff needed to show that her FMLA rights were withheld, or that her employment was jeopardized by taking leave. The court ruled that the plaintiff did not satisfy the fifth prong of the interference analysis. As a result, she failed to make a prima facie showing of interference.
Ultimately, the plaintiff was terminated because she looked at the medical records of an OB-GYN patient, which is a violation of Temple’s HIPAA policy. The investigation did not involve the plaintiff’s supervisor, who is the only other person to have allegedly been hostile toward the plaintiff. Computer records proved that the plaintiff had, in fact, reviewed the patient’s records, which resulted in her termination.