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An Individual Supervisor at a Public Agency May be Held Personally Liable Under the FMLA

By on August 29, 2012 in FMLA with 0 Comments

A recent case in the Third Circuit (including New   Jersey) has addressed individual liability of supervisors of public agencies.  In Haybarger v. Lawrence County Adult Probation and Parole, 667 F.3d 408 (3d. Cir. 2012), the plaintiff, Debra Haybarger, worked as an office manager for the Lawrence County Probation and Parole Agency.  Haybarger alleged that her protected absences from work under the FMLA were held against her and lead to her termination.

Haybarger had Type II diabetes, heart disease, and kidney problems, which led to frequent medical appointments and some lost time from work.  She claimed that her supervisor, Mancino, wrote in his annual performance evaluations that she needed “to improve her overall health and cut down on the days she misses due to illness.” She also claimed he asked her why she breathed heavily and needed to see a doctor so often.

On March 23, 2004, Mancino placed Haybarger on a six-month probationary period which required weekly progress assessments.  He advised Haybarger, who had been with the Agency since 1988, that she demonstrated a “lack of leadership,” and “no clear understanding of the subordinate positions.”  Mancino consulted with his supervisor before sending out the discipline letter.

About six months later, Mancino informed his supervisor and Judge Motto that Haybarger’s job performance had not improved.  Mancino said he did not have authority to terminate Haybarger but he advised Judge Motto to dismiss her.  Mancino, his supervisor, and Judge Motto met with Haybarger on October 4, 2004, and advised her of her termination.

Among her various claims, Haybarger alleged that Mancino should be personally liable to her under the FMLA.  The District Court held that Mancino did not have sufficient control to fire plaintiff and was therefore not an employer.  It granted summary judgment to Mancino and dismissed plaintiff’s case against him.  The Third Circuit disagreed.  First, it said, “. . . we discern no reason to distinguish between public agencies and private employers under the FMLA insofar as individual liability is concerned.”

The Court went on to note that the Sixth and Eleventh Circuit Courts do not permit individual liability against supervisors at public agencies.  However, other Circuits do allow individual liability, and the Third Circuit agreed with the reasoning of the Fifth Circuit.  “Finally, we agree with the Fifth Circuit’s reasoning that the FMLA’s similarity to the FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act)  indicates that Congress intended for courts to treat the FMLA the same as the FLSA, rather than treating only specific provisions alike. . . . Because the FLSA explicitly provides that an employer includes ‘any person acting directly or indirectly in the interest of an employer in relation to an employee and includes a public agency’ we agree that the FMLA similarly permits individual liability against supervisors at public agencies.”

The next issue the Court considered was whether Mancino had sufficient authority over plaintiff to be considered her supervisor.  The Court said that Mancino admitted that he advised Judge Motto to terminate Haybarger and was present at the termination meeting.  He also wrote the termination letter.  Further, the Court said that Mancino exercised significant control over the conditions of her employment because he monitored her work and performed annual reviews as well as disciplining her.  Therefore, the Court held that Mancino was her supervisor for purposes of individual liability under the FMLA. The Court vacated the summary judgment order and allowed Haybarger to proceed with her case.

This case underscores the critical need for training of supervisors on FMLA issues in both public and private employers.  It is certainly not widely known among supervisors that there is potential for individual liability under the FMLA.  Better education on the FMLA promotes FMLA compliance and protects supervisors and employers from potentially significant law suits.

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About the Author

About the Author:

John H. Geaney, a shareholder and co-chair of Capehart Scatchard's Workers' Compensation department, began an email newsletter entitled Currents in Workers’ Compensation, ADA and FMLA in 2001 in order to keep clients and readers informed on leading developments in these three areas of law. Since that time he has written over 500 newsletter updates.

Mr. Geaney is the author of Geaney’s New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Manual for Practitioners, Adjusters & Employers. The manual is distributed by the New Jersey Institute for Continuing Legal Education (NJICLE). He also authored an ADA and FMLA manual as distributed by NJICLE. If you are interested in purchasing the manual, please contact NJICLE at 732-214-8500 or visit their website at www.njicle.com.

Mr. Geaney represents employers in the defense of workers’ compensation, ADA and FMLA matters. He is a Fellow of the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers of the American Bar Association and is certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a workers’ compensation law attorney. He is one of two firm representatives to the National Workers’ Compensation Defense Network. He has served on the Executive Committee of Capehart Scatchard for over ten (10) years.

A graduate of Holy Cross College summa cum laude, Mr. Geaney obtained his law degree from Boston College Law School. He has been named a “Super Lawyer” by his peers and Law and Politics. He serves as Vice President of the Friends of MEND, the fundraising arm of a local charitable organization devoted to promoting affordable housing.

Capehart Scatchard is a full service law firm with offices in Mt. Laurel and Trenton, New Jersey. The firm represents employers and businesses in a wide variety of areas, including workers’ compensation, civil litigation, labor, environmental, business, estates and governmental affairs.

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