The Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has held that claims brought under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) cannot be waived without the approval of a court or the Department of Labor (DOL).
The Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has held that claims brought under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) cannot be waived without the approval of a court or the Department of Labor (DOL). See Taylor v. Progress Energy, Inc. (July 20, 2005). In Taylor, the plaintiff claimed her former employer violated the FMLA by: (1) not fully informing her of her FMLA rights, (2) improperly denying her requests for medical leave, (3) terminating her employment because of her medical absences, and (4) terminating her employment because she complained about the company's violations of the FMLA. The trial court granted the company's motion for summary judgment, holding that the claim was barred by the release the plaintiff signed when she was discharged.
The Fourth Circuit, relying on a DOL regulation that states: "[e]mployees cannot waive, nor may employers induce employees to waive, their rights under [the] FMLA," reversed the trial court's order and remanded the case for further proceedings. The court held that the plain language of this regulation (29 CFR § 825.220(d)) prohibits both the prospective and retrospective waiver of any FMLA right unless the waiver has the approval of the DOL or a court. Thus, the release the plaintiff signed was not enforceable with regard to her FMLA claims.
The court, in accepting the parallel between the FMLA and the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), noted that the DOL recognized that Congress intended for the FMLA to provide employee protections similar to those provided by the FLSA. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that the rights guaranteed by the FLSA cannot be waived or settled without court or DOL approval. Thus, according to the Fourth Circuit, the DOL has acknowledged that Congress intended for the restrictions imposed on the settlement of claims under the FLSA to be duplicated in the FMLA's regulatory scheme.
In reaching this decision, the Fourth Circuit disagreed with the decision of the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Faris v. Williams WPC-1, Inc. (5th Cir. 2003), which holds that although § 825.220(d) prohibits the waiver of prospective FMLA claims, claims of retaliation under the FMLA can be waived.
Employers' Bottom Line:
This case is a reminder that certain claims, such as those brought under the FMLA and FLSA, cannot be settled without court or DOL approval and that a general release may not be sufficient to resolve all of an employee's potential claims against the employer in some jurisdictions. Nonetheless, settlements of FMLA claims may be desirable. If you have any questions regarding this case or any other labor or employment related issue, please contact the Ford & Harrison attorney with whom you usually work.