In a recent U.S. District Court case, Eichenholz v. Brink’s Inc., et al., Case 16-cv-11786-LTS (D. Mass., May 2017), the court found that the plaintiff-employee’s supervisor could be held individually liable for alleged violations of the employee’s rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act.
Plaintiff-employee filed suit against his employer and his supervisor, alleging that they had violated his rights under the FMLA. The supervisor moved to dismiss the FMLA claim against him, arguing that only an “employer” can be held liable under the FMLA and, therefore, he could not be named as an individual defendant under the statute. The court rejected his argument.
The judge wrote that while the First Circuit Court of Appeals has not yet decided whether individuals may be held individually liable under the FMLA, it has held that individuals may be held individually liable under the Fair Labor Standards Act, whose definition of “employer” is “materially identical” to the FMLA’s. The judge stated, “[i]n large part because of this similarity, the majority of federal courts that have addressed the issue of private supervisor liability [under the FMLA] have concluded that such liability exists, a conclusion which this Court has implicitly adopted.” While the ruling in Eichenholz is not binding precedent in the First Circuit, the reasoning will likely be relied upon by plaintiffs in future actions and, unless the First Circuit Court of Appeals rules otherwise, other District Courts in the First Circuit.
By establishing individual liability under the FMLA, Eichenholz highlights the importance of effective training of supervisors, managers, and HR personnel in the handling of medical leaves subject to the FMLA.