A federal appeals court has reinstated Family Medical Leave Act litigation brought by a worker who was fired for using Facebook Messenger to inform his employer that he was taking the leave.
Kasey Roberts was fired by his employer, Gestamp West Virginia LLC, an auto parts manufacturer that operated a facility in South Charleston, West Virginia, after he informed his supervisor via Facebook Messenger that he was taking FMLA leave due to a recurring infection from an emergency appendectomy, according to Monday’s ruling by the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, i Kasey A. Roberts v. Gestamp West Virginia.
After his dismissal, Mr. Roberts filed suit in US District Court in Charleston, West Virginia, alleging FMLA interference and retaliation and wrongful discharge under West Virginia law.
The district court gave Gestamp summary judgment in the case. It held that Roberts̵7; FMLA interference claim failed because he did not use the company call-in line required to request the leave, and no unusual circumstances justified his doing so.
In overturning that decision, a three-judge panel of the appeals court held that a jury should determine whether Facebook Messenger was an acceptable medium to notify Gestamp of his absence, as well as whether the content of his message satisfied his FMLA obligations.
Mr Roberts’ Facebook messages with his tutor “show that he routinely discussed his appendicitis and resulting hospital stays over that medium”, the judgment said.
“Furthermore, Gestamp acknowledged that Robert’s use of Facebook Messenger to notify (his supervisor) of his first surgery was acceptable because it was an emergency,” the ruling said.
There is conflicting evidence about whether Gestamp fired him after he was hospitalized and had given adequate notice of FMLA leave, the panel said, arguing that his FMLA interference claim should also go to a jury.
The panel upheld the lower court’s dismissal of Roberts’ retaliation allegations, ruling that he had offered no evidence that “improper animus” motivated the decision to fire him.
Plaintiff attorney Richard W. Walters, with Shaffer & Shaffer PLLC in Charleston, said the ruling “did not create new law,” but clarified the FMLA.
“This does not mean that employees have free rein to start using Facebook to start communicating their FMLA needs,” he said.
It was an example, “where the supervisor had communicated extensively via Facebook”, thereby establishing a practice of using the medium, which meant the employer could not say it could not be used.
Gestamp’s lawyer did not respond to a request for comment.
In July, a federal appeals court reinstated a disability discrimination claim filed by a call center employee who was terminated after requesting a reduced schedule under the FMLA.