FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF
MASSACHUSETTS [Hon. Douglas P. Woodlock, U.S. District Judge]
A. Jodoin, with whom Rodgers, Powers & Schwartz LLP, were
on brief, for appellant.
Christine J. Wichers, Assistant United States Attorney, with
whom Carmen M. Ortiz, United States Attorney, was on brief,
Conforto and Conforto Law Group, on brief for Massachusetts
Employment Lawyers Association as amicus curiae.
Pagliaro and Martin J. Newhouse on brief for New England
Legal Foundation and Associated Industries of Massachusetts
as amicus curiae.
Barron, Selya, and Stahl, Circuit Judges.
Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows an employee up to
twelve weeks of leave, in a twelvemonth period, for a serious
medical condition. 29 U.S.C. § 2612(a)(1)(D). Under the
FMLA, an employee's absence from work due to a personal
health concern, or that of a spouse, child, or parent, is
protected from interference and retaliation by his employer.
29 U.S.C. § 2615(a).
Robert Chase alleged that his employer, the United States
Postal Service (USPS), and supervisor Michael King,
terminated him from the Brookline, Massachusetts Post Office
in retaliation for taking FMLA leave. He brought interference
and retaliation claims under 29 U.S.C. § 2615, arguing
that King and USPS violated the FMLA by firing him while he
was out of work on protected leave.
a bench trial, the district court held that King and the USPS
did not violate the FMLA on the ground that King, as the USPS
decisionmaker, did not have the requisite knowledge of the
designation of Chase's medical leave necessary to hold
defendants liable under the FMLA. This appeal followed, and
Facts & Background
worked as a letter carrier at the USPS Brookline Post Office
for nearly fourteen years. During this time, Chase never
received a negative performance review nor was he subject to
any disciplinary action. King, manager of the Brookline Post
Office, supervised Chase from 2005 until his termination on
September 30, 2011.
Accident and Leave of Absence
accident leading to Chase's leave and allegedly
contributing to his termination occurred on July 21, 2010,
when an elderly woman fell asleep at the wheel of her car and
struck Chase's vehicle while he was parked during his
lunch break. Chase was taken to the hospital and diagnosed
with a serious shoulder injury including damage to his
rotator cuff. King personally went to the scene of the
accident to observe the severity of the accident and injury
and to prepare a report of the incident. King's report
noted Chase's shoulder injury.
his injury, Chase applied for workers' compensation,
despite being discouraged from doing so by King. This request
was approved. Chase also applied for and was granted FMLA
leave. USPS mailed a Designation/FMLA Approval Notice to
Chase and to King which stated that "[Chase's] FMLA
leave request is approved. All leave taken for this reason
will be designated as FMLA leave." Pursuant to USPS
policy, Chase opted for a continuation of pay and was fully
compensated for the first 45 days of his leave, after which
he received workers' compensation benefits amounting to
two-thirds of his salary, tax-free, plus health insurance.
Chase's concurrent FMLA leave lasted from July 21, 2010
to October 12, 2010, but he remained on medical leave until
September 30, 2011, when he was terminated.
Workplace Tensions Between King and Chase
several occasions, both before and during the course of these
events, King publicly mocked Chase and accused him of faking
injuries. In September of 2006, Chase had injured his knee
while on the job and subsequently missed a week of work. At
that time, in apparent response, King made an announcement
over the Brookline Post Office loudspeaker, "[w]ill Bob
Chase, the injury fraud specialist, please report to the
office." In August of 2010, a month after Chase's
motor vehicle accident at issue in this case, King posted a
job opening on the office bulletin board advertising a
position for an "injury compensation specialist."
King then made an announcement mocking Chase:
"[T]here's a job posted on the bulletin board for
an injury compensation specialist since you're the
biggest fraud when it comes to injuries." Brookline Post
Office employee Maria Constantino testified that she heard
King say that Chase was ...