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No FMLA Violation Where Walgreens Fired Employee With Honest Belief That He Violated Company Policy

Michael Clark worked for Walgreens as the manager of its retail store in Dyersburg, Tennessee. He took a medical leave of absence from December 8, 2006 to January 2, 2007 for a heart condition. After his leave, Clark returned to the same position he held before his leave of absence. Some time later Clark contacted his District Secretary and requested an additional leave of absence.

Store managers have the responsibility to make sure employees complete computer-based learning modules called People Plus Learning or PPLs. These modules train employees how to operate the photo machine and basic management skills.

The District Manager, Scott McKillop, received an email in February 2007 from an hourly assistant manager who complained that Clark had completed some of her PPLs and had requested that she do her PPLs on her own time rather than work time. Several other assistant managers, when interviewed, leveled similar accusations against Clark in regard to PPLs.

On March 8, 2007, Clark was fired from Walgreens. The company alleged that he falsified training records and learning modules and directed hourly paid assistant managers to complete learning modules off the clock. Clark countered that he was being retaliated against for taking FMLA protected leave and requesting additional leave. He also claimed that McKillop confronted him with the allegations regarding the PPLs and told him that he should resign due to his health.

Plaintiff’s claim rested primarily on indirect evidence of retaliation. He could show that he engaged in protected activity in taking and requesting FMLA leave and he could show that an adverse employment action occurred within a close time to taking the leave. However, the issue in this case was whether there was a causal connection between the use of FMLA and plaintiff’s termination. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals held that “Walgreens harbored an ‘honest belief in its rationale when it reasonably relied on the particularized facts that were before it at the time the decision was made.'”

The court weighed the allegations of Clark that McKillop may have encouraged him to resign for health reasons. However, it found, “Walgreens’ alleged silence in response to Clark’s requests for additional FMLA leave, and District Manager McKillop’s statements about Clark’s health, do not overwhelm the great weight of evidence concerning Clark’s malfeasance as to PPLs.”

For these reasons the Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court in granting summary judgment to Walgreens in this case, which is reported at Clark v. Walgreen Co., 2011 U.S. App. LEXIS 10596 (6th Cir. 2011).

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