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The disappearing executive and his disappearing back trouble

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in Discrimination and Harassment,FMLA Guidelines,HR Management,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Performance Reviews

General Motors won summary judgment in a disability discrimination lawsuit after the company caught Christopher Peterson loading lumber into his car while he was on leave for back problems. Peterson had a long career with GM and had risen into the executive ranks.

Then he began having performance problems, including missing work and being difficult for his colleagues and bosses to contact.

In 2003, Peterson took a disability leave for back pain. Eventually he had back surgery. Bonus-level executives at GM do not participate in formal short-term disability plans, but receive full pay with the understanding they will return as soon as they can. They are also supposed to maintain contact, which Peterson allegedly failed to do.

Peterson returned a month later, but again was cited for poor performance and pulling frequent disappearing acts. In October 2003, Peterson took a three-month leave and, in July 2004, went on leave again. In November 2004, following examinations by GM’s in-house medical director, Peterson returned to work, at which time he asked whether he could use his vacation. In January, he entered his fourth disability leave.

GM hired Data Surveys Inc. to conduct surveillance on Peterson. In March 2005, Peterson was observed loading lumber into his car with his wife on a regular workday. GM fired him.

Peterson sued for FMLA violations and disability discrimination. The court found that since he had worked only 904 hours in the year preceding his last leave, he was not qualified for FMLA leave. In fact, since he was fully paid through all his absences, he had already received 12 weeks of paid leave. The court found for GM on all counts.

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