In a recent decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit outlined factors to be used when determining whether a supervisor at a public agency can be subject to individual liability under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which allows employees to take unpaid and job protected leave for up to 12 weeks per year.
The plaintiff in the case, Debra Haybarger, was a former employee of Lawrence County Adult Probation and Parole. She filed suit against the County of Lawrence, Lawrence County Probation, and her supervisor under the FMLA (along with the Americans with Dis abilities Act, Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, and the Rehabilitation Act) after she was terminated from her position as office manager following her supervisors recommendation that she be terminated.
Overruling the lower court, the Court of Appeals ruled that although a supervisor may not have ultimate authority over employment practices, they are not relieved from liability. The Court reasoned that the totality of circumstances must be examined when determining whether an individual supervisor can constitute an employer. In Haybargers case, while the Court concluded that even if the supervisor did not have final authority to fire Haybarger, the supervisor acted in the interest of the county, carried out his role as a supervisor, exercised control over her work, had authority to discipline her, and recommended that she be terminated. These factors were enough for the Court of Appeals to conclude that the supervisor is considered an employer and could be held individually liable under the FMLA thereby broadening the definition of an employer.
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