FMLA Case Allowed to Proceed to Trial

On March 24, 2014, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana issued an Opinion and Order in Ransel v. CRST Lincoln Sales, Inc. denying in part CRST Lincoln Sales, Inc.’s Motion for Summary Judgment and allowing two of the employee’s four claims to proceed to trial.

Mr. Ransel is the Trustee for the bankruptcy estate of former CRST Lincoln Sales, Inc. employee John Kaufman. Mr. Kaufman was a driver for CRST Lincoln Sales, Inc. when he was involved in an on-the-job vehicle accident that caused him to sustain a back injury. Five days after the accident, Mr. Kaufman’s employment was terminated.

Earlier in the month, Mr. Kaufman had requested FMLA leave to care for his wife who suffered from a variety of conditions including COPD, Crohn’s disease, degenerative disk disease, and cancer. Mr. Kaufman alleged that this request for FMLA leave motivated CRST Lincoln Sales, Inc.’s decision to terminate his employment whereas CRST Lincoln Sales, Inc. claimed Mr. Kaufman’s accident was why he was fired.

In deciding the FMLA claim should be decided by a jury, the Court focused on several facts that called into question CRST Lincoln Sales, Inc.’s motivations with respect to Mr. Kaufman’s termination. In addition to the timing on the termination in relation to the leave request, there was evidence presented that other drivers involved in motor vehicle accidents had not been terminated by CRST Lincoln Sales, Inc. Because Mr. Kaufman’s accident had been deemed a “major preventable accident,” the Court focused solely on other employees with a “major preventable accident,” of which there was one identified. Although CRST Lincoln Sales, Inc. argued that individual’s “major preventable accident” had different circumstances that justified the differing treatment, the Court was not persuaded and noted the other employee had engaged in conduct of comparable seriousness that allowed for a comparison in how they were treated.

The Court also focused on a statement CRST Lincoln Sales, Inc. made to the Illinois Department of Employment Security that Mr. Kaufman was discharged “because he was absent.” This statement, along with the suspicious timing and differential treatment of another employee, raised enough doubts about CRST Lincoln Sales, Inc.’s motivation in terminating Mr. Kaufman’s employment to allow a jury to decide the case.

Although this blog entry is focused on the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) claim, it is worth mentioning that the Court also allowed the retaliatory discharge claim to proceed to trial along with the FMLA claim.