A FedEx courier injured her knee on the job. She required surgery and took time off under the Family Medical Leave Act. Shortly after she returned to work, she was fired for falsifying records. Was the firing justified or was it retaliation for taking FMLA leave?
Kimberly Laing was making a delivery for FedEx when she fell on uneven pavement and landed hard on her knees. Her right knee suffered significant damage and she needed surgery.
Before she had surgery, Laing’s supervisor became concerned about her job performance. The supervisor had found evidence that Laing may have been “gaining time” — making multiple stops to one address to delivery multiple packages rather than delivering them all at once to artificially pad per pay.
Laing had her surgery. By the time she came back to work, FedEx had finished its investigation, reaching the conclusion she had falsified records. She was placed on investigatory suspension with full pay.
About four weeks later, FedEx fired Laing. The official termination letter stated, “Our investigation found a demonstrated pattern of gaining time.”
FedEx’s policy stated it could fire an employee who engaged in “deliberate falsification of delivery records.” There’s no doubt Laing knew about the policy. One year before her knee injury, FedEx had terminated her for violating the same policy. The decision had been overturned during the company’s internal appeal process.
Laing filed a lawsuit alleging FedEx fired her in retaliation for taking FMLA leave. A trial court granted summary judgment to FedEx. The court noted FedEx provided “voluminous evidence through the reports of what it considers to be termination-worthy falsification of company records.” Laing then took her case to a federal appeals court.
Did FedEx make its case?
The appeals court said Laing met her burden of showing (1) she engaged in a protected activity, (2) FedEx took adverse action against her, and (3) there was link between the protected activity and the adverse action.
After Laing made her case, it was up to FedEx to show a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for firing her.
The court ruled FedEx successfully made its case.
The company had plenty of documentation to show it fired Laing for unacceptable conduct, in this case, for falsifying records. Her termination letter identified numerous instances in which Laing “gained time” or padded stops. FedEx’s conduct policy stated it had zero tolerance for such record falsification, and Laing knew about the company’s policy.
For those reasons, the federal appeals court threw out Laing’s lawsuit against FedEx. The court said it wasn’t a case of retaliation — FedEx justified the firing.
What do you think about the court’s decision? Let us know in the comments below.
(Laing v. Federal Express, U.S. Court of Appeals 4th Circuit, No. 11-2116, 1/9/13)