Employee’s Facebook Posting Sinks Her FMLA Discrimination and Retaliation Claims

A Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) plaintiff’s leave was proven fraudulent through her Facebook postings, resulting in summary judgment for her employer, dismissing her complaint. The Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan concluded that the employer’s reason for her termination was legitimate and unrelated to her exercise of FMLA rights.

In Lineberry v. Richards, Plaintiff took a leave of absence based on excruciating pain she experienced in her lower back as certified by her physician. She applied for, and received approval from her employer to take, leave under the FMLA. During her leave, she went on vacation to Mexico. Plaintiff later posted on Facebook pictures of her vacation, including photographs showing her riding in a motorboat, lying on her side on a bed holding two bottles of beer in one hand, and holding her infant grandchildren, one in each arm, as she stood. She also posted details regarding certain activities she engaged in during her leave, including trips to Home Depot, watching her grandchildren and taking online classes. After Plaintiff’s co-workers revealed the Facebook postings to their employer, the employer questioned her in an investigation. The employer concluded that Plaintiff lied during the investigation about her use of a wheelchair while on leave.

Plaintiff sued her employer claiming its decision to terminate her employment interfered with her FMLA rights and retaliated against her for taking leave. On summary judgment, the Court reasoned that an employer’s interference with an employee’s FMLA rights does not violate the FMLA if it was motivated by a legitimate reason unrelated to the exercise of FMLA rights. In addition, the FMLA does not provide greater rights to an FMLA-eligible employee than to a non-FMLA-eligible employee. Here, Plaintiff was dishonest, and the employer terminated her employment after it uncovered the dishonesty. Accordingly, Plaintiff was not insulated from termination simply because she was on an FMLA-approved leave at the time.

This case is just another example of social media pervading the workplace and its utility in presenting the facts. It is noteworthy that the Court did not question the appropriateness of the disclosure of plaintiff’s Facebook postings to the employer by plaintiff’s co-workers, which led to plaintiff’s discharge. In a case where an employer is provided with social media postings – rather than surreptitiously obtaining them without authorized access – they may be used for employment decision-making.

For answers to questions regarding employer use of employee social media or the FMLA, please feel free to contact an attorney in the Gibbons Employment & Labor Law Department.

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