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State claim can’t piggyback on employee’s FMLA suit

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in Firing,FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

Employees who sue under the FMLA for alleged interference with the right to take covered leave can’t throw in an additional claim for wrongful termination under state common law.

That’s because North Carolina allows wrongful termination claims only in very limited circumstances, such as an employee’s refusal to engage in illegal activity.

Recent case: Tamara Belton claimed she was fired days after asking for 12 weeks of FMLA leave. She sued for interference with her federal FMLA leave rights, plus for wrongful discharge under North Carolina’s public policy exception to at-will employment.

The court allowed her FMLA claim to proceed but dismissed the second claim. It said extending protection to her situation would mean every claim of discrimination under federal law could be used as a state claim, too. It refused to open that floodgate. (Belton v. Dodson Brothers, No. 1:09-CV-106, MD NC, 2009)

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