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CA Supreme Court Rules Employee Who Worked While on Medical Leave Will Get Trial

Earlier this month the California Supreme Court ruled on 2 issues related to the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) and the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) regarding the termination of hospital employee Antonina Lonicki.

65905_hospital_corridor_1-1.jpgLonicki claimed she was suffering major depression and work related stress. On advice of her physician she requested medical leave and stopped coming to work. Lonicki’s request for medical leave was denied, but she was told she could take paid time off.
She was also told to return to work by a certain date or face termination.

Lonicki sought the opinion of a psychiatrist who documented her depression and recommended another 30 day medical leave. Her employer Sutter Health Central terminated her. She sued her former employer for violating the CFRA by firing her and by failing to follow CFRA procedures when questioning the validity of her sick leave.

Defendant (Sutter Health) moved for Summary Judgment. Sutter’s argument was that plaintiff was not entitled to medical leave under the CFRA because, in the period for which she sought medical leave, she had a part-time job at a different hospital (Kaiser) where her tasks were substantially similar to those she was hired to perform at defendant’s hospital in Roseville. Sutter further asserted that Lonicki’s part time job showed that she did not have a “serious health condition” as required for medical leave under CFRA and FMLA.

The Trial Court granted the Motion for Summary Judgment and upheld the termination. Lonicki appealed and the California Court of Appeal also upheld the termination and Summary Judgment. Lonicki appealed to the California Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court refused to hold that working in a comparable job was “conclusive” evidence no serious health condition justified leave. This Supreme Court opinion paves the way for a trial in which Lonicki’s termination and rights under FMLA and CFRA will be determined.