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Can individual employees be liable for FMLA violations? 4th Circuit may decide

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

Most employment laws don’t make individual employees liable for workplace violations they commit in the course of their employment. But that’s not the case with every violation.

For example, individual employees may be liable under the Fair Labor Standards Act for wage-and-hour violations.

However, according to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, it’s unclear whether the FMLA allows such personal and individual liability—a conundrum that may soon be tested.

Recent case: Spencer Jones sued his former employer, Everything Casual, alleging a long list of employment law violations. He apparently could not find an attorney to champion his case, so he decided to represent himself.

The trial court tossed out his case, reasoning that many of his claims were frivolous—in particular, his claims that some of his former supervisors were personally liable for the alleged damage they had caused him by practicing age and disability discrimination. Plus, he said they violated his right to take FMLA leave.

He appealed and the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated his lawsuit. It reasoned that it had never decided whether the FMLA allows personal liability, although it acknowledged that several other circuits have ruled that way. Because it was an open question, the case should not have been dismissed as frivolous. Jones will be able to pursue his claims against the individuals, and the case may end up before the 4th Circuit again for a definitive decision. (Jones v. Sternheimer, et al., No. 09-2242, 4th Cir., 2010)

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