In Newton v. Suntrust Bank, No. 6:05-cv-604-Orl-18JGG, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 37051 (M.D.Fla. June 7, 2006), the court awarded summary judgment to the Bank dismissing the employee’s FMLA retaliation claim. In that case, the employee provided a medical certification from her physician covering certain dates. The employer told the employee that the certification was not sufficient and that she needed to submit a new certification. The employee claimed that she contacted her physician’s office whereupon someone told her that could change the Form herself and that the doctor would sign off on the changes. The employee made the changes by using whiteout over the original dates. She then submitted the altered from to the Bank without the doctor’s initials indicating his approval of the changes. Suspecting that the medical Form had been altered, the Bank met with the employee to discuss the form. The employee stated that her doctor’s office had made the changes to the Form. Prior to the meeting, the Bank had contacted the doctor’s office and was told that the office had not made the changes. The Bank terminated the employee because she failed to be honest in her responses to the Banks questions regarding the Form. The employee alleged that the Bank terminated her for exercising her rights under the FMLA. Even though the court found that the employee had engaged in protected activity (use of FMLA leave), it nevertheless concluded that the Bank did not fire her for exercising those rights, but because she failed to be honest with her supervisors regarding the alteration of the medical Form. The court dismissed as “mere speculation” the employee’s belief that she was discriminated against because she had requested FMLA leave.
Comment: The case serves as reminder that the exercise of FMLA rights does not insulate employees from unrelated discipline.