Man Hit By Car Ineligible for FMLA Leave

On November 3, 2009, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its decision in Stimpson v. United Parcel Service, Sixth Cir. Case No. 08-2263, affirming an award of summary judgment to the employer.

Plaintiff Paul Stimpson, a part-time UPS employee, was hit by a car while riding a bicycle off-duty. Mr. Stimpson was treated at an emergency room, where he was noted to have contusions on his back, legs, and right ankle. He returned to the hospital a day later complaining of back pain.

Mr. Stimpson left a message with his employer that he was hit by a car while biking, but did not provide any other information. He claimed to have called his supervisor to report that he would not return to work until he recovered, which the supervisor denied.

When Mr. Stimpson did not respond to UPS’ letter threatening termination for failure to provide medical documentation substantiating his absence, he was fired. Mr. Stimpson filed suit alleging violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The trial court granted summary judgment to the employer, concluding that Mr. Stimpson was not eligible for FMLA leave, failed to give proper notice under the FMLA, and failed to demonstrate that he had a serious health condition under the FMLA.

While the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 decision, found the trial court’s summary judgment ruling improper on the issues of Mr. Stimpson’s eligibility and notice, it affirmed the ruling with respect to the issue of whether Mr. Stimpson had a serious health condition under FMLA. In making its decision, the Court noted medical records indicating only “mild to moderate” back pain. The Court concluded that none of the medical documentation suggested that Mr. Stimpson’s back pain significantly limited his movement or lifting ability.

While UPS was successful in this instance, employers should continue to thoughtfully and carefully address employees’ possible FMLA qualifying leave. The Stimpson majority did find that the plaintiff should have survived summary judgment with respect to his notice of FMLA qualifying leave. Additionally, the majority opinion emphasized that the Court was not ruling that a back injury can never constitute a serious health condition.

Author: Ryan Bonina

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