Donnelly v. Greenburgh Cent. School Dist. 691 F.3d 134 (2d Cir. 2012)

Facts: Former high school teacher sued school district (District court) claiming that he was denied tenure in retaliation for having taken leave protected by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). During plaintiff’s three probationary years of employment he had received excellent evaluation scores. However, after Plaintiff returned from medical leave his evaluations all included “excessive absences” which subsequently led to the District denying his tenure.

Procedural History: The District Court for the Southern District of New York granted summary judgment for the defendant. The district court determined that the Plaintiff failed to meet the statutory requirement of 1250 working hours in order to be protected under the FMLA. Plaintiff’s working hours were calculated by multiplying the number of workdays the Plaintiff was present at school (172) by the number of work hours in a day (7 hours and 25 minutes) provided by the current CBA. The court concluded that plaintiff fell three hours short (1247) of being covered under the FMLA.

Issues:
(1) Did Plaintiff fail to work the minimum required hours to be eligible for FMLA leave?
(2) Does the standard governing review of allegedly unlawful university tenure denials applicable to such denials in public high schools?
(3) Has Plaintiff adduced sufficient evidence of FMLA retaliation to survive summery judgment?

Standard of Review: All orders granting summary judgment are reviewed de novo. While “conclusory statements or mere allegation are not sufficient to defeat a summary judgment motion the court is required to resolve all ambiguities and draw all permissible factual inferences in favor of the party against whom summary judgment is sought.”

Discussion:
(1) To be eligible for FMLA leave, an employee must work at least 1250 hours of service during the previous 12-month period. However, in a case where the employer failed to maintain records of an employee’s working hours the burden falls on the employer to prove FMLA ineligibility. In this case the district court only referred to the current CBA agreement and concluded that Plaintiff was ineligible. The court also acknowledged that “all hours an employee has worked” must be counted regardless of the provision of an employment agreement. Therefore, when determining whether an employee met the hours of service required to be protected under the FMLA we must apply the legal standards under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which includes all hours devoted to activities that constitute an integral and indispensable part of the principal activity of the employment. The court therefore held that the lower court erred in granting summary judgment where Plaintiff asserts that he worked longer hours during the day.

(2) In a case involving denied tenure for an elementary or secondary school teacher the Plaintiff must establish that he was qualified for the position and that the adverse employment action occurred under circumstances giving rise to an inference of retaliatory intent. The heightened standards discussed in cases involving University tenure denials are not applicable in this case.

(3) Plaintiff has shown that he possesses the necessary educational and licensing credentials to serve as a teacher, and where the adverse employment action occurred under the circumstances giving rise to an inference of retaliatory intent, plaintiff will survive summery judgment.

Judgment: REVERSED AND REMANDED

Briefed By: Simcha Gitelis

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