January 22, 2019
Judge Marilyn Heffley of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania granted summary judgment in favor of Temple University Hospital (Temple). Plaintiff Nancy Hernandez, a former medical secretary at Temple, alleged that Temple interfered with her rights and retaliated against her under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) when Temple terminated her employment six weeks after she submitted a request for FMLA leave. Instead, Temple terminated Hernandez’s employment because she examined the medical records of a patient (a woman with whom Hernandez believed her husband was having an affair) without a legitimate reason in violation of HIPAA. Hernandez attempted to justify her conduct by claiming that the patient “probably” mistakenly called Temple and asked Hernandez to help her, thus necessitating Hernandez’s access to the patient’s medical records.
The court awarded summary judgment to Temple on Hernandez’s FMLA interference claim because Temple approved Hernandez’s requests for intermittent leave to care for her daughter “every single time,” and because Hernandez was not harmed by her supervisor’s request that she recertify her FMLA application one month earlier than required. The court also awarded summary judgment to Temple on Hernandez’s retaliation claim because she submitted her final FMLA request more than six weeks before the termination of her employment, and she did not provide evidence that Temple’s legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for Plaintiff’s termination was merely a pretext for discrimination.
The court explained, “An act of misconduct occurring between the dates of the protected activity and adverse employment action is the type of intervening event that can destroy what otherwise would be an inference of retaliation.” The court also reasoned that, among other things, aspects of Hernandez’s story were “simply untenable” and “patently unbelievable.”
The case is Hernandez v. Temple University Hospital, No. 17-4381 (E.D.Pa. Jan. 8, 2019).
Contact Jason Roberts or Cindy Morgan to discuss how this case impacts your policies or practices or how Rubin Fortunato can help you navigate the FMLA.