• Third Circuit Expands Family and Medical Leave Act Liability to Supervisors
  • April 16, 2012 | Authors: Manesh K. Rath; Jacquelyn L. Thompson
  • Law Firm: Keller and Heckman LLP - Washington Office
  • In a case of first impression, the Third Circuit recently held that both private employers and public agency supervisors can be personally liable under the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA").

    The case is Haybarger v. Lawrence County Adult Probation and Parole.

    Facts of the Case

    From 1998 to 2004, Debra Haybarger was an office manager for Lawrence County Adult Probation and Parole. William Mancino was Ms. Haybarger's supervisor.

    During her tenure at Lawrence County Probation, Ms. Haybarger missed work frequently due to complications with diabetes and other problems. Mr. Mancino often expressed dissatisfaction with Ms. Haybarger's frequent absences.

    On March 23, 2004, Mr. Mancino placed Ms. Haybarger on a six-month probation for conduct, work ethic, and behavior non-conducive to the Adult Probation Office.

    Approximately six months later, Mr. Mancino informed his supervisors that Ms. Haybarger's work had not improved and recommended her termination.

    Mr. Mancino, along with his two supervisors, informed Ms. Haybarger of her termination in October 2004.

    Ms. Haybarger sued Lawrence County Probation, the County of Lawrence, and Mr. Mancino, alleging violation of the FMLA and other federal and state statutes.

    What the Court Said

    The Western District of Pennsylvania dismissed Ms. Haybarger's claims against the County. Ms. Haybarger then settled her claims against Lawrence County Probation, leaving only the individual claim against Mr. Mancino.

    The court then granted Mr. Mancino's motion for summary judgment.

    Although the FMLA permits individual liability against supervisors of public agencies, the court found that Mr. Mancino lacked final authority to fire Ms. Haybarger. As such, he did not have sufficient control over her employment for liability to attach.

    On appeal, the Third Circuit first addressed whether supervisors are subject to liability under the FMLA.

    Under the FMLA, an employer includes "any person who acts, directly or indirectly, in the interest of an employer to any of the employees of such employer."

    The court noted the similarity in language between the FMLA and the Fair Labor Standards Act which allows for individual liability. The court also found no distinction between public agencies and private employers under the FMLA for purposes of imposing individual liability.

    In analyzing Mr. Mancino's control over Ms. Haybarger, the court looked to the "economic reality" of the employment situation.

    The court held that the economic reality was that Mr. Mancino exercised substantial authority over Ms. Haybarger's termination and thus, a rational jury could find that he qualified as her employer under the FMLA. The court thus reversed and remanded the case to the district court.

    What Employers Should Do

    The Third Circuit joined the Fifth and Eighth Circuits in permitting individual liability against supervisors.

    The Eleventh Circuits, in comparing the FMLA to Title VII, concluded that the FMLA does not allow individual liability. The Sixth Circuit concluded that individual liability cannot be found for public employers, but may be found for private employers.

    Employers should consider how the authority to hire and fire is delegated to supervisors.

    In addition, employers should review their allocation of authority and indemnity for agents that are given supervisory duties.