College Pays $54,000 To Settle DOJ ADA Lawsuit For Paramedic Program’s Termination of TA With MS

November 7, 2019

Lanier Technical College, a unit of the Technical College System of Georgia, will pay $53,000 in back pay and compensatory damages and revise its policies and procedures to settle a Justice Department lawsuit alleging the College violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by terminating along-time College employee based on her multiple sclerosis filed in the Northern District Of Georgia on November 4, 2019.  In addition to this disability discrimination allegation, the Justice Department complaint also alleges the removed the employee from the teaching schedule for an entire school semester, thus reducing her hours and pay to zero, due to her multiple sclerosis after the employee took three days of sick leave one summer.  The lawsuit and its settlement reminds academic health care and other public and private employers about the need to use appropriate care to avoid inappropriate discrimination against individuals  with disabilities in employment and other operations.

The College had employed the terminated employee as a part-time emergency medical technician (EMT) lab assistant for over three years before the events prompting the lawsuit took place.  The essential functions of her job involved assisting instructors in the classroom and in the lab, and perform “check offs” to authorize and certify that the students mastered particular technical competencies (e.g., properly taking blood pressure, starting a patient’s I.V., assessing a patient’s vital signs).  In addition to her employment with the College, the former employee also worked as a paramedic for an unrelated employer.  She continued to work as a full-time paramedic for nearly three years after the College terminated her employment as a part-time lab assistant.

Less than a year into her employment at the College, the former employee was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 2010.   Shortly after her diagnosis the former employee notified among others, notified the Director of the Lanier Paramedicine Technology (PMT) Department, Sam Stone, of her condition and Mr. Stone subsequently discussed her MS and treatment with her over the course of her employment with the College.  According to the Justice Department complaint, the former employee did not require any reasonable accommodations for her disability, remained qualified to perform the essential functions of the part-time lab assistant job, and did so successfully until College discharged her or otherwise altered her compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment.

In 2012, the former employee assisted with classes and labs taught by Instructor Andy Booth.  Instructor Booth managed the work schedule for all the part-time EMT lab assistants who assisted with his classes, including that of the former employee.  This included the ability to remove lab assistants from any shifts they requested.  Director Stone then completed a final review of the semester and approved the schedule and any changes to it.

During the summer of 2012, the former employee had to miss her assigned workdays on two or three occasions due to her MS and its treatment.  She also was on disability leave from her paramedic job for a period during that summer, returning to work full-time in early August.  Following these absences, Instructor Booth on August 30, 2012 sent an email to lab assistants, including the former employee requesting that lab assistants sign up for open shifts on the work schedule, as he was “still short on help.”  The schedule with available shifts was posted for September through December 2012.  The former employee signed up for seven or eight four-hour shifts over the course of the fall semester that same day and emailed Instructor Booth the evening of August 30 to inform him of this.  In her email, she indicated that she was no longer on disability leave from her other job.

Two weeks later, on September 12, 2012, the College removed the former employee from the work schedule for the entire fall semester schedule on the written instructions of Instructor Booth with the approval of Director Stone.   Instructor Booth’s September 12 email instructions to his assistant provided a link to the online work schedule for the lab assistants and stated:  “Any day you see [the former employee], just take her off.”  Director Stone was copied on this email.  That same day, Director Stone replied to Instructor Booth’s email, stating that he had reviewed all of the dates up to December and approved the schedule.  The College knew that, by removing the former employee from the schedule, it was terminating her employment with Lanier.

When the former employee realized that someone removed her from the schedule for the entire semester, she contacted Instructor Booth.  He told the former employee, by text message, that it was Director Stone’s decision and that Director Stone wanted to give the former employee “some time to heal.”  Instructor Booth also stated that Director Stone seemed upset about the former employee missing a few days in the summer due to her MS.  Instructor Booth then directed the former employee to speak to Director Stone.  He did not offer to reinstate her for any of the days she signed up for or for any future dates.

Thereafter, on September 26, 2012, the former employee contacted Director Stone by email.  After telling Director Stone i her email that Instructor Booth said Director Stone was managing the schedule and had wanted to give her “some time to heal,” she reassured him that she appreciated his concern but that she felt she was “OK.”  When Director Stone responded on September 23, he confirmed the correctness of Director Stone’s email and also confirmed that he was concerned with the former employee’s health. He offered to discuss these concerns further with her in private.  He did not offer to reinstate her for any of the days she signed up for or for any future dates.

Later that day, the former employee called Director Stone.  On the call, Director Stone expressed concern about legal and liability issues and whether the former employee was fit to work because of her MS.  He said that he, as the Department Director, had to be concerned about her health and medical issues, because a student could challenge a grade on the basis that her MS made her unfit to evaluate students.   Director Stone also referenced a couple days that the former employee missed work due to her MS during the summer, and stated that she was less reliable than other lab assistants were at that point.  He did not offer to reinstate her for any of the days she signed up for or for any future dates.

Approximately six months later, College removed the former employee from the payroll and changed her payroll status to “terminated.”

On September 26, 2012, the former employee filed a timely charge of discrimination with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), alleging that College terminated her because of her disability in violation of the ADA.  The Justice Department filed the lawsuit after the EEOC referred the former employee’s complaint to it.

Title I of the ADA prohibits covered entities including the College from discriminating against a qualified individual on the basis of disability in regard to job application procedures, the hiring, advancement, or discharge of employees, employee compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment.  42 U.S.C. § 12112(a); 29 C.F.R. § 1630.4.

The Justice Department complaint against the College charged that the College violated the ADA by discriminating against her on the basis of her disability by:

  • Removing her from the lab assistant work schedule for a semester and reducing her work hours and compensation to zero; and
  • Terminating her on the basis of her disability

As a consequence of these discriminatory actions, the complaint charged the former employee suffered lost earnings, benefits and job advancement opportunities, as well as substantial emotional distress, pain and suffering and other nonpecuniary losses.  The complaint asked the District Court to redress these injuries by:

  • Declaring the College in violation of the Title I of the ADA and its accompanying regulation;
  • Enjoining the College and its agents, employees, successors, and all persons in active concert or participation with it, from engaging in discriminatory employment policies and practices that violate Title I of the ADA;
  • Requiring the College to modify its policies, practices, and procedures as necessary to bring its employment practices into compliance with Title I of the ADA and its implementing   regulation;
  • Ordering the College to train its supervisors and human resource staff regarding the requirements of Title I of the ADA; and
  • Awarding the former employee back pay with interest; the value of any lost benefits with interest; and compensatory damages, including damages for emotional distress, for injuries suffered as a result of Defendant’s failure to comply with the requirements of the ADA;

Under the settlement agreement announced November 7, 2019 by the Justice Department, the College must pay the former employee $53,000 in back pay and compensatory damages, revise its policies and training staff on the ADA to ensure compliance with the ADA, train staff on the ADA, and report to the Justice Department on implementation of the settlement agreement.

Reaching this settlement allowed the College to eliminate its exposure to potentially much greater liability.  In addition to actual lost compensation and benefit damages, a loss at trial could have resulted in a jury award that also ordered the College to pay attorneys’ fees and other costs, interest and exemplary damages of up to $300,000.

For More Information

We hope this update is helpful. For more information about employment discrimination or other labor and employment, compensation, benefits or other related management and compliance concerns or developments, please contact the author Cynthia Marcotte Stamer via e-mail or via telephone at (214) 452 -8297.

Solutions Law Press, Inc. invites you receive future updates and join discussions about these and other human resources, health and other employee benefit and patient empowerment concerns by participating and contributing to the discussions in our Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update Compliance Update Group and registering for updates on our Solutions Law Press Website..

About the Author

Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: ERISA & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for 30+ years of management focused employment, health care, employee benefit and insurance, workforce and other management work, public policy leadership and advocacy, coaching, teachings, and publications including extensive work with businesses on compliance, risk management and defense.

Author of numerous highly regarding publications on disability and other discrimination and other employment, employee benefit, compensation, regulatory compliance and internal controls and other management concerns affecting health care, education, insurance, housing and other operations, Ms. Stamer’s clients include health care, insurance and financial services, educational and other employer and services organizations; employer, union, association, government and other insured and self-insured health and other employee benefit plan sponsors, benefit plans, fiduciaries, administrators, and other plan vendors;   domestic and international public and private health care, education and other community service and care organizations; managed care organizations; insurers, third-party administrative services organizations and other payer organizations; and other private and government organizations and their management leaders.  In addition to her legal and management operations work. Ms. Stamer’s experience includes 30 plus years’ of  legislative and regulatory policy advocacy and drafting, design, compliance and enforcement including testifying to the EBSA Advisory Council on Employee Welfare and Pension Benefit Plans in  on the effectiveness of employee benefit plan disclosures during 2017 hearings on on reducing the burdens and increasing the effectiveness of ERISA mandated disclosures  as well as advice, representation, advocacy and testimony to and before and other work with various foreign governments, Congress, state legislatures, and a multitude of federal, state and local agencies.

Throughout her 30 plus year career, Ms. Stamer has continuously worked with these and other management clients to design, implement, document, administer and defend hiring, performance management, compensation, promotion, demotion, discipline, reduction in force and other workforce, employee benefit, insurance and risk management, health and safety, and other programs, products and solutions, and practices; establish and administer compliance and risk management policies; manage labor-management relations, comply with requirements, investigate and respond to government, accreditation and quality organizations, regulatory and contractual audits, private litigation and other federal and state reviews, investigations and enforcement actions; evaluate and influence legislative and regulatory reforms and other regulatory and public policy advocacy; prepare and present training and discipline;  handle workforce and related change management associated with mergers, acquisitions, reductions in force, re-engineering, and other change management; and a host of other workforce related concerns. Ms. Stamer’s experience in these matters includes supporting these organizations and their leaders on both a real-time, “on demand” basis with crisis preparedness, intervention and response as well as consulting and representing clients on ongoing compliance and risk management; plan and program design; vendor and employee credentialing, selection, contracting, performance management and other dealings; strategic planning; policy, program, product and services development and innovation; mergers, acquisitions, bankruptcy and other crisis and change management; management, and other opportunities and challenges arising in the course of workforce and other operations management to improve performance while managing workforce, compensation and benefits and other legal and operational liability and performance.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel and Past Chair of both the ABA Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and it’s RPTE Employee Benefits and Other  Compensation Group, Ms. Stamer also has leading edge experience in health benefit, health care, health, financial and other plan, program and process design, administration, documentation, contracting, risk management, compliance and related process and systems development, policy and operations; training; legislative and regulatory affairs, and other legal and operational concerns.

A former lead consultant to the Government of Bolivia on its Pension Privatization Project with extensive domestic and international public policy concerns in pensions, healthcare, workforce, immigration, tax, education and other areas, Ms. Stamer has been extensively involved in U.S. federal, state and local health care and other legislative and regulatory reform impacting these concerns throughout her career. Her public policy and regulatory affairs experience encompasses advising and representing domestic and multinational private sector health, insurance, employee benefit, employer, staffing and other outsourced service providers, and other clients in dealings with Congress, state legislatures, and federal, state and local regulators and government entities, as well as providing advice and input to U.S. and foreign government leaders on these and other policy concerns.

Author of leading works on a multitude of labor and employment, compensation and benefits, internal controls and compliance, and risk management matters and a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also shares her thought leadership, experience and advocacy on these and other related concerns by her service in the leadership of the Solutions Law Press, Inc. Coalition for Responsible Health Policy, its PROJECT COPE: Coalition on Patient Empowerment, and a broad range of other professional and civic organizations including North Texas Healthcare Compliance Association, a founding Board Member and past President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence, past Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; former Board President of the early childhood development intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children (now Warren Center For Children); current Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee, current Vice Chair of Policy for the Life Sciences Committee of the ABA International Section, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section, a current Defined Contribution Plan Committee Co-Chair, former Group Chair and Co-Chair of the ABA RPTE Section Employee Benefits Group, past Representative and chair of various committees of ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits; an ABA Health Law Coordinating Council representative, former Coordinator and a Vice-Chair of the Gulf Coast TEGE Council TE Division, past Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee, a former member of the Board of Directors of the Southwest Benefits Association and others.

For more information about Ms. Stamer or her work, services, experience and involvements, see here or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ provides human resources and employee benefit and other business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other coaching, tools and other resources, training and education on leadership, governance, human resources, employee benefits, data security and privacy, insurance, health care and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ resources here.

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information including your preferred e-mail by creating your profile here.  We also invite you to join the discussion of these and other human resources, health and other employee benefit and patient empowerment concerns by participating and contributing to the discussions in our Health Plan Compliance Group or COPE: Coalition On Patient Empowerment Groupon LinkedIn or Project COPE: Coalition on Patient Empowerment Facebook Page.

NOTICE: These statements and materials are for general informational and purposes only. They do not establish an attorney-client relationship, are not legal advice or an offer or commitment to provide legal advice, and do not serve as a substitute for legal advice. Readers are urged to engage competent legal counsel for consultation and representation in light of the specific facts and circumstances presented in their unique circumstance at any particular time. No comment or statement in this publication is to be construed as legal advice or an admission and its content is not tailored to any particular situation and does not necessarily address all relevant issues. Because the law is rapidly evolving and rapidly evolving rules makes it highly likely that subsequent developments could impact the currency and completeness of this discussion.otherwise notify any participant of any such change, limitation, or other condition that might affect the suitability of reliance upon these materials or information otherwise conveyed in connection with this program. Readers may not rely upon, are solely responsible for, and assume the risk and all liabilities resulting from their use of this publication.

Circular 230 Compliance. The following disclaimer is included to ensure that we comply with U.S. Treasury Department Regulations. Any statements contained herein are not intended or written by the writer to be used, and nothing contained herein can be used by you or any other person, for the purpose of (1) avoiding penalties that may be imposed under federal tax law, or (2) promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any tax-related transaction or matter addressed herein.

©2019 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ For information about republication or the topic of this article, please contact the author directly. All other rights reserved.


Use 3/26 Diabetes Alert Day Resources To Jumpstart Your Diabetes Management & Cost Containment Efforts

March 26, 2019

Employers, health plans and others concerned about managing the high medical, disability and other costs of Type 2 Diabetes should use today’s annual Diabetes Awareness Day observances and resources to beef up their efforts and tools.

With 1 in 3 adult Americans at risk for Type 2 diabetes, the Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”) and other public and private organizations partnering in The National Diabetes Prevention Program are urging all Americans, their health plans, state and local agencies and communities to protect themselves and join their fight to prevent or delay Type 2 diabetes.

Celebrated every year on the fourth Tuesday in March, Diabetes Alert Day promotes awareness of the prevalence and risks of undiagnosed or unmanaged Type 2 Diabetes to Americans, American taxpayers, health benefit programs and their communities.

  • More than 30 million people in the United States have diabetes and an additional 84 million adults—over a third—have prediabetes, and 90% of them don’t know they have it.
  • Diabetes is the 7th leading cause of death in the United States (and may be underreported).
  • Type 2 diabetes accounts for about 90% to 95% of all diagnosed cases of diabetes; type 1 diabetes accounts for about 5%.
  • In the last 20 years, the number of adults diagnosed with diabetes has more than tripled as the American population has aged and become more overweight or obese
  • Undiagnosed or unmanaged Type 2 diabetes threatens serious and disabling medical risks for afflicted individuals that also are financially costly for patients and their families, their health plans, taxpayers and communities.

Type 2 diabetes usually starts during adulthood; however, children, teens, and young adults increasingly also are developing it. Since Type 2 diabetes symptoms often develop over several years and can go on for a long time without being noticed it’s important individuals know the factors for Type 2 Diabetes and that people with these symptoms visit their doctor promptly.

Fortunately, Type 2 Diabetes and its costs often can be prevented or minimized through appropriate diagnosis and treatment. That’s why the CDC and its partners are urging all Americans, the employers, health plans, health care providers and communities to join the fight against Type 2 Diabetes.

To start with, the CDC and its partners ask every American to learn their risk for diabetes by taking the online Type 2 Diabetes Risk and promote use of CDC-recognized lifestyle change programs to individuals suffering or at risk for Type 2 diabetes.

The CDC and its partners also are asking American families, health care providers, employers and their health benefit programs, federal, local and state governments and communities to help identify and get people at risk or suffering from Type 2 diabetes involved in making appropriate lifestyle changes and other activities to help manage their Type 2 Diabetes and offers a multitude of free tools and resources to help promote Type 2 Diabetes Awareness and assist in its prevention and treatment.

Employers and their health plans and insurers should consider participating in Diabetes Alert Day and using some of the resources provided by CDC and other partners to beef up their Type 2 and other Diabetes prevention, screening and management efforts.  Appropriate use of these resources could help mitigate exposure to the high medical, disability, productivity and other costs that employers and their health plans generally incur when employees or their family members suffer from undiagnosed or unmanaged diabetes.  When utilizing these resources, however, employers and their health plan fiduciaries, insurers and administrators are reminded to use care to implement and administer these wellness and other programs in a manner that complies with the Americans With Disabilities Act (“ADA”), Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act, Internal Revenue Code and other federal and state requirements concerning the design and administration of wellness and disease management programs including recent updates in the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s regulations and enforcement positions under the ADA.

Learn more about Type 2 Diabetes cost modeling, screening, prevention and other participant education resources in our companion article in the Project Cope: Coalition for Patient Empowerment Newsletter.  We also invite you to share your own best practices ideas and resources and join the discussions about these and other human resources, health and other employee benefit and patient empowerment concerns by participating and contributing to the discussions in our Health Plan Compliance Group or COPE: Coalition On Patient Empowerment Groupon LinkedIn or Project COPE: Coalition on Patient Empowerment Facebook Page.

About the Author

Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: ERISA & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for 30+ years of management focused employment, employee benefit and insurance, workforce and other management work, public policy leadership and advocacy, coaching, teachings, and publications.

Highly valued for her rare ability to find pragmatic client-centric solutions by combining her detailed legal and operational knowledge and experience with her talent for creative problem-solving, Ms. Stamer’s clients include employers and other workforce management organizations; employer, union, association, government and other insured and self-insured health and other employee benefit plan sponsors, benefit plans, fiduciaries, administrators, and other plan vendors;   domestic and international public and private health care, education and other community service and care organizations; managed care organizations; insurers, third-party administrative services organizations and other payer organizations;  and other private and government organizations and their management leaders.

Throughout her 30 plus year career, Ms. Stamer has continuously worked with these and other management clients to design, implement, document, administer and defend hiring, performance management, compensation, promotion, demotion, discipline, FMLA and other leave, reduction in force and other workforce, employee benefit, insurance and risk management, health and safety, and other programs, products and solutions, and practices; establish and administer compliance and risk management policies; comply with requirements, investigate and respond to government, accreditation and quality organizations, regulatory and contractual audits, private litigation and other federal and state reviews, investigations and enforcement actions; evaluate and influence legislative and regulatory reforms and other regulatory and public policy advocacy; prepare and present training and discipline;  handle workforce and related change management associated with mergers, acquisitions, reductions in force, re-engineering, and other change management; and a host of other workforce related concerns. Ms. Stamer’s experience in these matters includes supporting these organizations and their leaders on both a real-time, “on demand” basis with crisis preparedness, intervention and response as well as consulting and representing clients on ongoing compliance and risk management; plan and program design; vendor and employee credentialing, selection, contracting, performance management and other dealings; strategic planning; policy, program, product and services development and innovation; mergers, acquisitions, bankruptcy and other crisis and change management; management, and other opportunities and challenges arising in the course of workforce and other operations management to improve performance while managing workforce, compensation and benefits and other legal and operational liability and performance.

Past Chair of the ABA Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, heavily involved in health benefit, health care, health, financial and other information technology, data and related process and systems development, policy and operations throughout her career, and scribe of the ABA JCEB annual Office of Civil Rights agency meeting, Ms. Stamer also is widely recognized for her extensive work and leadership on leading edge health care and benefit policy and operational issues. She regularly helps employer and other health benefit plan sponsors and vendors, health industry, insurers, health IT, life sciences and other health and insurance industry clients design, document and enforce plans, practices, policies, systems and solutions; manage regulatory, contractual and other legal and operational compliance; vendors and suppliers; deal with Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, Medicare/Medicaid Advantage, ERISA, state insurance law and other private payer rules and requirements; contracting; licensing; terms of participation; medical billing, reimbursement, claims administration and coordination, and other provider-payer relations; reporting and disclosure, government investigations and enforcement, privacy and data security; and other compliance and enforcement; Form 990 and other nonprofit and tax-exemption; fundraising, investors, joint venture, and other business partners; quality and other performance measurement, management, discipline and reporting; physician and other workforce recruiting, performance management, peer review and other investigations and discipline, wage and hour, payroll, gain-sharing and other pay-for performance and other compensation, training, outsourcing and other human resources and workforce matters; audits, investigations, enforcement and defense; Civil Rights; privacy and data security; training; risk and change management; regulatory affairs and public policy; process, product and service improvement, development and innovation, and other legal and operational compliance and risk management, government and regulatory affairs and operations concerns.

A former lead consultant to the Government of Bolivia on its Pension Privatization Project with extensive domestic and international public policy concerns in pensions, healthcare, workforce, immigration, tax, education and other areas, Ms. Stamer has been extensively involved in U.S. federal, state and local health care and other legislative and regulatory reform impacting these concerns throughout her career. Her public policy and regulatory affairs experience encompasses advising and representing domestic and multinational private sector health, insurance, employee benefit, employer, staffing and other outsourced service providers, and other clients in dealings with Congress, state legislatures, and federal, state and local regulators and government entities, as well as providing advice and input to U.S. and foreign government leaders on these and other policy concerns.

Author of leading works on a multitude of labor and employment, compensation and benefits, internal controls and compliance, and risk management matters and a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also shares her thought leadership, experience and advocacy on these and other related concerns by her service in the leadership of the Solutions Law Press, Inc. Coalition for Responsible Health Policy, its PROJECT COPE: Coalition on Patient Empowerment, and a broad range of other professional and civic organizations including North Texas Healthcare Compliance Association, a founding Board Member and past President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence, past Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; former Board President of the early childhood development intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children (now Warren Center For Children); current Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee, current Vice Chair of Policy for the Life Sciences Committee of the ABA International Section, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section, a current Defined Contribution Plan Committee Co-Chair, former Group Chair and Co-Chair of the ABA RPTE Section Employee Benefits Group, past Representative and chair of various committees of ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits; an ABA Health Law Coordinating Council representative, former Coordinator and a Vice-Chair of the Gulf Coast TEGE Council TE Division, past Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee, a former member of the Board of Directors of the Southwest Benefits Association and others.

For more information about Ms. Stamer or her experience and involvements, see here or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ provides human resources and employee benefit and other business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other coaching, tools and other resources, training and education on leadership, governance, human resources, employee benefits, data security and privacy, insurance, health care and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ resources here such as the following:

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information including your preferred e-mail by creating your profile here.

NOTICE: These statements and materials are for general informational and purposes only. They do not establish an attorney-client relationship, are not legal advice or an offer or commitment to provide legal advice, and do not serve as a substitute for legal advice. Readers are urged to engage competent legal counsel for consultation and representation in light of the specific facts and circumstances presented in their unique circumstance at any particular time. No comment or statement in this publication is to be construed as legal advise or an admission. The author reserves the right to qualify or retract any of these statements at any time. Likewise, the content is not tailored to any particular situation and does not necessarily address all relevant issues. Because the law is rapidly evolving and rapidly evolving rules makes it highly likely that subsequent developments could impact the currency and completeness of this discussion. The presenter and the program sponsor disclaim, and have no responsibility to provide any update or otherwise notify any participant of any such change, limitation, or other condition that might affect the suitability of reliance upon these materials or information otherwise conveyed in connection with this program. Readers may not rely upon, are solely responsible for, and assume the risk and all liabilities resulting from their use of this publication.

Circular 230 Compliance. The following disclaimer is included to ensure that we comply with U.S. Treasury Department Regulations. Any statements contained herein are not intended or written by the writer to be used, and nothing contained herein can be used by you or any other person, for the purpose of (1) avoiding penalties that may be imposed under federal tax law, or (2) promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any tax-related transaction or matter addressed herein.

©2019 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ For information about republication or the topic of this article, please contact the author directly. All other rights reserved.


Employers Risk FMLA Violation By Delaying FMLA Notification, Designation While Employees Use Other Leave

March 19, 2019

A new U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) opinion letter says warns employers not to delay providing FMLA notice or designating a leave as FMLA-covered when coordinating FMLA protected leave with otherwise available paid or unpaid leave.

FMLA Opinion 2019-1-A states that a FMLA-covered employer must designate as FMLA protected and, absent extenuating circumstances, must provide notice of the designation of the leave as FMLA protected within five business days of the date the employer has enough information to determine an employee has experienced a FMLA qualifying event. The Opinion says this designation and notice must happen even if the employee would prefer that the employer delay the designation of the absence as a FMLA protected leave until the employee exhausts other available leave.

According to WHD, its FMLA regulations require employers to provide a written “designation notice” to an employee within five business days—absent extenuating circumstances—after the employer “has enough information to determine whether the leave is being taken for a FMLA-qualifying reason.”  Failure to provide timely notice requirement may constitute an interference with, restraint on, or denial of the exercise of an employee’s FMLA rights. 29 C.F.R. §§ 825.300(e), 825.301(e).  Consequently, the Opinion concludes that the employer is responsible in all circumstances for designating leave as FMLA-qualifying and giving notice of the designation to the employee within five days of learning if events triggering the FMLA eligibility. 29 C.F.R. § 825.300(d).

The Opinion also emphasizes that employers cannot delay the designation of a leave as FMLA protected and provision of notice while a FMLA-eligible employee uses otherwise available leave.  While acknowledging that the FMLA permits an employer to require, or to permit an employee to elect, to “substitute” accrued paid leave (e.g., paid vacation, paid sick leave, etc.) to cover any part of the unpaid FMLA entitlement period,the Opinion states that  “[t]he term substitute means that the paid leave provided by the employer … will run concurrently with the unpaid FMLA leave.” 29 C.F.R. § 825.207(a) (emphasis added).   While acknowledging that the FMLA allows employers to adopt leave policies more generous than those required by the FMLA. 29 U.S.C. § 2653; see 29 C.F.R. § 825.700, the Opinion also says an employer may not designate more than 12 weeks of leave—or more than 26 weeks of military caregiver leave—as FMLA-protected. See, e.g., Weidner v. Unity Health Plans Ins. Corp., 606 F. Supp. 2d 949, 956 (W.D. Wis. 2009) (citing cases for the principle that “a plaintiff cannot maintain a cause of action under the FMLA for an employer’s violation of its more-generous leave policy”).

Furthermore, the Opinion also openly rejects and disagrees with the Ninth Circuit’s holding in Escriba v. Foster Poultry Farms, Inc., 743 F.3d 1236, 1244 (9th Cir. 2014) that an employee may use non-FMLA leave for an FMLA-qualifying reason and decline to use FMLA leave in order to preserve FMLA leave for future use. Instead, the Opinion adopts the position that once an eligible employee communicates a need to take leave for an FMLA-qualifying reason, neither the employee nor the employer may decline FMLA protection for that leave. See 29 C.F.R. § 825.220(d) (“Employees cannot waive, nor may employers induce employees to waive, their prospective rights under FMLA.”); Strickland v. Water Works and Sewer Bd. of City of Birmingham, 239 F.3d 1199, 1204 (11th Cir. 2001) (noting that the employer may not “choose whether an employee’s FMLA-qualifying absence” is protected or unprotected by the FMLA).  Accordingly, the Opinion concludes that when an employer determines that leave is for an FMLA-qualifying reason, the qualifying leave is FMLA-protected and counts toward the employee’s FMLA leave entitlement.  Once the employer has enough information to make this determination, the employer must, absent extenuating circumstances, provide notice of the designation within five business days.  Therefore, the employer may not delay designating leave as FMLA-qualifying or providing notification, even if the employee would prefer that the employer delay the designation.

The Opinion also clarifies the WHD’s interpretation of the FMLA limits the protection of the FMLA to the statutory period set by the FMLA.   In this respect, the Opinion states, “An employer is also prohibited from designating more than 12 weeks of leave (or 26 weeks of military caregiver leave) as FMLA leave.”  Thus, while acknowledging that “[a]n employer must observe any employment benefit program or plan that provides greater family or medical leave rights to employees than the rights established by the FMLA.” under 29 C.F.R. § 825.700, the Opinion also states that “providing such additional leave outside of the FMLA cannot expand the employee’s 12-week (or 26-week) entitlement under the FMLA.” Therefore, the Opinion states that if an employee substitutes paid leave for unpaid FMLA leave, the employee’s paid leave counts toward his or her 12-week (or 26-week) FMLA entitlement and does not expand that entitlement.

As many employers currently coordinate and administer their FMLA and other leaves inconsistently with the positions stated in the Opinion, employers generally should consult with experienced legal counsel within the scope of attorney client privilege about the implications of the guidance set forth in the Opinion on their existing practices and about whether any corrective action or modifications are advisable in light of the Opinion to minimize potential exposure to FMLA liability.   In connection with this review, employers also generally will want to evaluate their other paid and unpaid military, medical, maternity/paternity, adoption and other absence and leave policies and associated employee benefit plans to confirm that these designs continue to operate as intended and that current coordination practices comport with existing guidance.

About the Author

Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: ERISA & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for 30+ years of management focused employment, employee benefit and insurance, workforce and other management work, public policy leadership and advocacy, coaching, teachings, and publications.

Highly valued for her rare ability to find pragmatic client-centric solutions by combining her detailed legal and operational knowledge and experience with her talent for creative problem-solving, Ms. Stamer’s clients include employers and other workforce management organizations; employer, union, association, government and other insured and self-insured health and other employee benefit plan sponsors, benefit plans, fiduciaries, administrators, and other plan vendors;   domestic and international public and private health care, education and other community service and care organizations; managed care organizations; insurers, third-party administrative services organizations and other payer organizations;  and other private and government organizations and their management leaders.

Throughout her 30 plus year career, Ms. Stamer has continuously worked with these and other management clients to design, implement, document, administer and defend hiring, performance management, compensation, promotion, demotion, discipline, FMLA and other leave, reduction in force and other workforce, employee benefit, insurance and risk management, health and safety, and other programs, products and solutions, and practices; establish and administer compliance and risk management policies; comply with requirements, investigate and respond to government, accreditation and quality organizations, regulatory and contractual audits, private litigation and other federal and state reviews, investigations and enforcement actions; evaluate and influence legislative and regulatory reforms and other regulatory and public policy advocacy; prepare and present training and discipline;  handle workforce and related change management associated with mergers, acquisitions, reductions in force, re-engineering, and other change management; and a host of other workforce related concerns. Ms. Stamer’s experience in these matters includes supporting these organizations and their leaders on both a real-time, “on demand” basis with crisis preparedness, intervention and response as well as consulting and representing clients on ongoing compliance and risk management; plan and program design; vendor and employee credentialing, selection, contracting, performance management and other dealings; strategic planning; policy, program, product and services development and innovation; mergers, acquisitions, bankruptcy and other crisis and change management; management, and other opportunities and challenges arising in the course of workforce and other operations management to improve performance while managing workforce, compensation and benefits and other legal and operational liability and performance.

Past Chair of the ABA Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, heavily involved in health benefit, health care, health, financial and other information technology, data and related process and systems development, policy and operations throughout her career, and scribe of the ABA JCEB annual Office of Civil Rights agency meeting, Ms. Stamer also is widely recognized for her extensive work and leadership on leading edge health care and benefit policy and operational issues. She regularly helps employer and other health benefit plan sponsors and vendors, health industry, insurers, health IT, life sciences and other health and insurance industry clients design, document and enforce plans, practices, policies, systems and solutions; manage regulatory, contractual and other legal and operational compliance; vendors and suppliers; deal with Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, Medicare/Medicaid Advantage, ERISA, state insurance law and other private payer rules and requirements; contracting; licensing; terms of participation; medical billing, reimbursement, claims administration and coordination, and other provider-payer relations; reporting and disclosure, government investigations and enforcement, privacy and data security; and other compliance and enforcement; Form 990 and other nonprofit and tax-exemption; fundraising, investors, joint venture, and other business partners; quality and other performance measurement, management, discipline and reporting; physician and other workforce recruiting, performance management, peer review and other investigations and discipline, wage and hour, payroll, gain-sharing and other pay-for performance and other compensation, training, outsourcing and other human resources and workforce matters; audits, investigations, enforcement and defense; Civil Rights; privacy and data security; training; risk and change management; regulatory affairs and public policy; process, product and service improvement, development and innovation, and other legal and operational compliance and risk management, government and regulatory affairs and operations concerns.

A former lead consultant to the Government of Bolivia on its Pension Privatization Project with extensive domestic and international public policy concerns in pensions, healthcare, workforce, immigration, tax, education and other areas, Ms. Stamer has been extensively involved in U.S. federal, state and local health care and other legislative and regulatory reform impacting these concerns throughout her career. Her public policy and regulatory affairs experience encompasses advising and representing domestic and multinational private sector health, insurance, employee benefit, employer, staffing and other outsourced service providers, and other clients in dealings with Congress, state legislatures, and federal, state and local regulators and government entities, as well as providing advice and input to U.S. and foreign government leaders on these and other policy concerns.

Author of leading works on a multitude of labor and employment, compensation and benefits, internal controls and compliance, and risk management matters and a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also shares her thought leadership, experience and advocacy on these and other related concerns by her service in the leadership of the Solutions Law Press, Inc. Coalition for Responsible Health Policy, its PROJECT COPE: Coalition on Patient Empowerment, and a broad range of other professional and civic organizations including North Texas Healthcare Compliance Association, a founding Board Member and past President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence, past Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; former Board President of the early childhood development intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children (now Warren Center For Children); current Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee, current Vice Chair of Policy for the Life Sciences Committee of the ABA International Section, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section, a current Defined Contribution Plan Committee Co-Chair, former Group Chair and Co-Chair of the ABA RPTE Section Employee Benefits Group, past Representative and chair of various committees of ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits; an ABA Health Law Coordinating Council representative, former Coordinator and a Vice-Chair of the Gulf Coast TEGE Council TE Division, past Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee, a former member of the Board of Directors of the Southwest Benefits Association and others.

For more information about Ms. Stamer or her experience and involvements, see here or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here.

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