Try to settle FMLA claims: Appeals court says you don’t need DOL’s prior approval

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,FMLA Guidelines

The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals has finally settled a key question: Can employers and employees settle FMLA disputes without having to get either court or Department of Labor (DOL) approval?

The court said yes, such cases can be settled between the parties without outside interference. That’s good news.

Recent case: Joann Whiting worked for Johns Hopkins Hospital as a financial services representative. She used up all her available FMLA leave for an illness, but still needed more time off. Hopkins offered her short-term disability leave, which she accepted.

But Hopkins replaced Whiting and officially terminated her shortly after she began that second leave.

She filed an EEOC complaint alleging disability discrimination, claiming her discharge violated the ADA, presumably because additional time off after her FMLA leave expired should have been a reasonable accommodation.

The EEOC mediated the claim, and Hopkins paid Whiting $4,500 to settle all employment-related claims. The EEOC signed off on the disability claim.

But then Whiting filed an FMLA-interference claim in court. Hopkins said she gave up that right when she signed the settlement agreement. Whiting claimed that employees are not allowed to settle FMLA claims without DOL approval.

The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s dismissal. It reasoned that the DOL’s FMLA regulations allow employees and employers to settle allegations of past FMLA violations without DOL approval. (Whiting v. Johns Hopkins Hospital, No. 1158, 4th Cir., 2011)

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