A sales associate of Pulte Homes Corporation, a national homebuilder, was fired for failing to meet sales quotas and for her sales not improving. The woman alleged that the genuine reason for her termination was in retaliation for exercising her FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act) rights – rights which she further alleged were violated by the company’s interference.
She began as a sales associate for Pulte Homes in 1999. In 2005, her father was diagnosed with leukemia. He lived alone, and the woman would sometimes take him to his doctor’s appointments. The associate’s mother lived with her, and though her mother didn’t require in-home care, the woman handled simple tasks for her, such as administering medication and paying bills. At some point, her mother was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease.
The employee was placed on a performance-improvement plan in 2007 for not meeting the monthly sales quotas. The following year was no better, and one of her supervisors attributed a meager attitude to her poor sales. The woman first informed a supervisor of her father’s condition near the end of 2008, stating that she might need days off for her father’s potential chemotherapy. In February 2009, another performance evaluation noted the same points as previously. The subsequent month, the associate received two customer complaints, both related to her behavior.
Around the same time, she first mentioned her mother’s health to a supervisor. In April, she was approved for time off to take her father to a doctor’s appointment. She told a supervisor later that her father now had stage III cancer. Because the woman had demonstrated little knowledge in a field-operations meeting and had made no sales in April, she was given a written warning and placed on another plan for improvement. She stated that she couldn’t work past normal hours due to her parents’ needs but did not indicate that she needed time off from work. She made no sales in either May or June and was fired.
She sued, claiming FMLA interference and retaliation. The district court ruled in Pulte Homes’ favor, finding that the plaintiff had not given sufficient notice of her intent to take FMLA leave. This negated the interference claim, and because she had not engaged in FMLA-protected activity, the retaliation claim was likewise dismissed.
On appeal, Pulte Homes argued that the former employee had not adhered to company policy regarding FMLA leave, which stated that a worker must notify HR. As such, she could have been terminated solely on policy violation. Proper notice is where the woman ultimately failed in her arguments. She had what was called a “casual conversation” with a supervisor and others about aging parents, and she said she was driving her mother to appointments on days off and didn’t want to work past normal hours. Regarding her father, the woman admitted that her intent for FMLA leave was “open-ended” – merely stating that she might need time off for perceived chemotherapy.
There was no evidence that the company denied or in any way interfered with the woman’s rights to FMLA benefits. The woman was granted a day off after the decision to fire her had already been made, which also refuted the retaliation claim as well. The grant of summary judgment favoring Pulte Homes was affirmed.Sales Associate Claims that Former Employers Interfered with Her Rights for Medical Leave by Harrison Barnes