Enough evidence of medical leave retaliation?
Earlier this month, the Fourth District Court of Appeal decided whether an employee had enough evidence for her medical leave retaliation case to go to trial. In Bareno v. San Diego Community College Dist. (Jan. 13, 2017, No. D069381) ___Cal.App.4th___ [2017 Cal. App. LEXIS 23], Ms. Bareno claimed that her employer terminated her after she gave notice that she needed additional medical leave. Her employer contended that she voluntarily resigned because she was absent from work without excuse.
Ms. Bareno required medical treatment and requested medical leave with a medical certification. After the time for leave ended, Ms. Bareno attempted to e-mail her supervisor a recertification of her need for additional medical leave, but her employer claimed that it did not receive the request. After Ms. Bareno continued to be absent from work for an additional five consecutive days, her employer took the position that she had “voluntarily resigned.” After Ms. Bareno learned of this, she attempted to provide her employer with information regarding the medical necessity of the leave that she had taken. Her employer refused to reconsider its position.
Ms. Bareno filed suit alleging that she was retaliated against for taking medical leave in violation of the Moore-Brown-Roberti Family Rights Act, commonly referred to as the California Family Rights Act (CFRA). The trial court granted the College’s request to dismiss the case on grounds Ms. Bareno did not have sufficient evidence upon which a jury could possibly find in her favor (summary judgment).
On appeal, the Fourth District began by re-stating its viewed (shared by the First District Court of Appeal in Nazir v. United Airlines, Inc. (2009) 178 Cal.App.4th 243, 286) that employment cases with issues of intent should rarely be dismissed by summary judgment. The issues before the appellate court were whether Ms. Bareno had evidence that (1) she requested additional medical leave, (2) if there was such a request, it met the requirements of the CFRA, and (3) she was terminated because she requested additional medical leave.
The court of appeal determined that there was evidence that Ms. Bareno e-mailed a request for additional medical leave. While the College claimed it never received the e-mail, there was also evidence that Ms. Bareno continued to have communications with her employer showing that she was seeking additional medical leave. As a result, the facts were disputed regarding whether there was a request for additional medical leave.
The Fourth District also determined that there was evidence that the additional leave request met the standard because it included the date of the onset of Ms. Bareno’s condition and the time period for which she needed to be off work. This document was virtually identical to the initial medical leave request, which the College accepted as sufficient. And the College never requested more information about the additional leave request.
Finally, the appellate court noted that the College’s decision that Ms. Bareno “voluntarily resigned” was effectively a termination and took place virtually immediately after the request for additional medical leave. Such close proximity between a request for leave and a termination is strongly suggestive of retaliation. Furthermore, the Fourth District determined that there was evidence from which a jury could conclude that the College knew, or reasonably should have known, that Ms. Bareno had no intention of voluntarily resigning her position (or being absent without excuse) when she was absent during the five-day period.
The court of appeal concluded that the facts were sufficiently disputed such that the trial court erred by dismissing the case.