Mullendore v. City of Belding, Mich., et al., No. 16-2198 (BATCHELDER, Merritt, Clay).
The City Manager of Belding filed suit against the City and City Council members under the Family and Medical Leave Act after the Council voted to terminate her employment while she was out of work following a surgery. The district court granted summary judgment for the defendants, and the City Manager appealed. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, holding that the fact that an adverse employment action occurred while a plaintiff was on leave does not suffice to demonstrate that the action was based, in whole or in part, on the fact that the employee took FMLA-protected leave. The Court found that in this case the City Manager had not presented more than a “mere scintilla” of evidence—as required to overcome the defendants’ summary judgment motion—that the Council had terminated her because she was on FMLA leave.
The Court noted that there was a genuine dispute as to whether the City Manager notified the defendants that she would be taking FMLA-qualifying leave, but found this dispute irrelevant because the Council had a non-discriminatory reason for terminating the City Manager—political strife. The City Manager did not present any evidence beyond the timing of the termination to show that the termination was because of her leave, and the Court found that this was not enough to show that the Council’s reason was pretextual. The Court had no problem with the fact that the City Manager’s absence for medical reasons helped secure the requisite votes to terminate her because the Council could have done the same thing while she was on vacation or absent for any non-medical reason as well. “The problem with [the City Manager]’s theory of her case,” the Court reasoned, “is that it equates a termination in her absence with a termination because she was absent on FMLA-qualifying medical leave. The former is permissible, even when an employee is on medical leave; the latter is not permissible.”