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Maternity Leave Cannot Protect You from Misconduct in the Workplace


One misconception that some employees have, unfortunately, is that taking maternity leave or being on FMLA leave will protect you from termination. The reality is that FMLA protections will not guarantee continued employment if you have engaged in some form of misconduct. A recent case filed by a human resources employee at a healthcare center who was terminated after returning from maternity leave demonstrates this concept clearly.

Bailey v. Oakwood Healthcare

A Sixth Circuit case out of Michigan shows that every time someone is terminated after returning from maternity leave does not necessarily result in a successful FMLA discrimination case. Michelle Bailey was an employee in Oakwood Healthcare’s human resources department. While she was out on maternity leave, pursuant to the FMLA, her immediate supervisor covered her responsibilities. But, in doing so, the supervisor discovered that her performance was quite deficient. Because of the deficiencies, her supervisor decided to review her qualifications and it was then that they discovered discrepancies in her last two applications and resumes.

Specifically, when the supervisor compared the application and resume Bailey submitted for her current position with the ones she used to apply for a different position two years prior, it became clear that she falsified her prior experience and qualifications in her last application.

Employee Assumed her Termination was Based on Her Maternity Leave

The FMLA, or Family and Medical Leave Act, protects employees from being terminated while on maternity leave. When Bailey was terminated from her position while she was on maternity leave, she assumed that it was because she took FMLA leave. It is true that if a termination is based solely on the fact that an employee is out on maternity leave, or because the employer is concerned that the employee will not be able to perform the same once she returns, that termination would constitute unlawful pregnancy discrimination and a violation of the FMLA. That is not necessarily the case in every situation. Instead, it depends on the reason for the termination and whether that reason can be established as legitimate.

The Real Reason for Bailey’s Termination is Upheld by the Courts

Unfortunately for Bailey, her employer was able to demonstrate to the court that her termination was based solely on her deficient performance and her falsified application. Ultimately, the trial court dismissed her claims and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. Bailey did not deny that her application and resume were inaccurate but suggested that the inaccuracies were mere “embellishments.”

What to do if You are Terminated While on Maternity Leave?

If you were terminated while on maternity leave, the best thing to do is consult with an employment discrimination attorney to determine whether you have a case. Only a consideration of the facts surrounding your termination can allow you to make an informed decision about filing a lawsuit. If the evidence shows that your termination was entirely unrelated to your pregnancy, then you likely do not have a claim. The employment discrimination attorneys at Michel | King Michel & Kingcan help you sort through the facts and determine whether you should bring a claim.

If you feel you have been the victim of discrimination or retaliation in the workplace, or if you have any other questions regarding your employment rights, please contact the experienced Birmingham employment law attorneys at Michel | King . You can contact us either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880. We are here to serve you!

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