HR Management & Compliance

Employee Suffering from IBS Allowed to Proceed with Retaliation Claim

By Mara Cherkasky
A former customer service representative who suffers from irritable bowel syndrome and claims she was harassed by her bosses and eventually fired for seeking leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act may move forward with her lawsuit, a federal court has ruled.

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania denied the University of Pennsylvania Health System’s motion for summary judgment in Carla Myles v. University of Pennsylvania Health System because the parties dispute the material facts of the case.

In her Aug. 16, 2010, lawsuit, Carla Myles complained that the University of Pennsylvania Health System had interfered with her rights under the FMLA and retaliated against her for exercising those rights in the following five ways:

  • requiring her to see a doctor of the hospital’s choosing;
  • continuously questioning her health problems;
  • preventing her from taking intermittent and block FMLA leave;
  • treating her in a hostile manner because she exercised her FMLA rights; and
  • terminating her because of her FMLA-qualifying absences or to prevent her from exercising her FMLA rights in the future.

Myles’s also alleged that the hospital had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by terminating her because of health problems.

The termination also violated her rights under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, Myles claimed.

Independent Medical Exam Sought

Myles was hired as a customer service representative by the University of Pennsylvania Health System in 2003 and was required to be available to take calls from customers 88 percent of the time she was at work. She was diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome in early 2004. Suffering from cramps, stomach aches and diarrhea, she began using intermittent FMLA leave in spring 2004 and received additional authorization for FMLA in 2007 to deal with depression and anxiety.

In February 2008, Myles’s employer asked her to undergo an independent medical examination to verify her need for FMLA leave. Two medical exams, several warning letters, and two approved requests for medical leave later — on March 10, 2009, one day before her extended FMLA leave for surgery was supposed to start — Myles received a termination letter citing lateness and unacceptable phone averages.

In allowing the suit to move forward, the court determined that Myles presented sufficient evidence to potentially prove to a jury that the absences her employer found objectionable were due to her illness and thus firing her was illegal.

Get more information on family leave and discrimination rules from SHRM and Thompson Publishing Group’s Family and Medical Leave Handbook.