Can supervisors in Massachusetts be held individually liable for FMLA violations? Apparently so.

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  While the ruling in Eichenholz is not binding precedent in the First Circuit, the reasoning will likely be relied upon by plaintiffs in future actions and, unless the First Circuit Court of Appeals rules otherwise,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.

About Susan Mitchell

Susan is a paralegal in the Labor, Employment and Employee Benefits Group. She routinely handles a broad range of labor and employment issues, and specializes, in discrimination law. She actively participates in the defense of discrimination claims, conducting fact gathering, interviewing witnesses, and drafting Position Statements and related pleadings, such as affidavits and discovery. Susan also conducts discrimination and harassment prevention training for both public and private employers. She is on the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination’s list of approved trainers. Susan served for a number of years as president of the Central Massachusetts Paralegal Association. She sits on the Advisory Board for Paralegal Studies at Assumption College and formerly served on the Paralegal Advisory Committee for Bay Path College. She is also an associate member of the Worcester County Bar Association. Susan has been a presenter at the MCLE Paralegal Conference, discussing the employer's perspective in preparing an MCAD case. She is a Notary Public. Susan attended Pennsylvania State University.
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