Second Circuit recognizes individual liability under FMLA

In a recent decision, Graziadio v. Culinary Institute of Americathe Second Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that supervisors can be held individually liable for violations of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

Under the FMLA, only an employer may be held liable for violations of the statute. To decide who qualifies as an “employer,” the Second Circuit applied the economic realities test, which considers whether the defendant: (1) had the power to hire and fire the employees, (2) supervised and controlled employee work schedules or conditions of employment, (3) determined the rate and method of payment, and (4) maintained employment records.

Considering these factors in the Graziadio case, the Second Circuit reversed a District Court decision dismissing the plaintiff’s claim and concluded that the defendant, an individual supervisor, could be held liable for violations of the FMLA.  Although a different supervisor retained ultimate authority to discharge the plaintiff, the defendant was directed to “handle” the situation. The defendant also exercised control of work schedules when employees would return from leave or need reasonable accommodations. Even though there was no evidence that the defendant determined the method of pay, method of payment, or maintained employment records, the Court concluded that the evidence presented as to the first two factors was sufficient to avoid dismissal.

The First Circuit, which hears cases from Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Puerto Rico, has not yet decided the issue. But, considering that the Second Circuit is joining the Third, Fifth, and Eleventh Circuits in adopting individual liability, the First Circuit may agree when the issue arises. Given the complexity of the FMLA, the Second Circuit’s decision in Graziadio highlights the importance of ensuring that employers’ FMLA policies are thoroughly reviewed and up to date.

The experienced team of employment lawyers at Libby O’Brien Kingsley & Champion, LLC understands the FMLA, and has a successful track record of dealing with these issues.  Our extensive litigation background helps us shape strategies to avoid unnecessary employment litigation, and to be successful when litigation must be undertaken.

Tyler J. Smith

Tyler J. Smith

Tyler Smith joined Libby O’Brien Kingsley & Champion as an associate in 2012 and became a partner in 2018. He maintains a general litigation practice, with experience in criminal defense, employment law, appellate advocacy, defamation/slander, civil rights, undue influence, and other civil disputes. He is also experienced in representing professionals before professional licensing boards. In… Read more »