Friday, December 30, 2011

Riddle me this

A pro se plaintiff by the name of Riddle beats a large management-side law firm in persuading the Court of Appeals that the trial court should not have dismissed her Family and Medical Leave Act claim.

The case is Riddle v. Citigroup, a summary order decided on December 5. The district court evidently overlooked Riddle's FMLA claim completely when it threw out the complaint. The Court of Appeals finds that the complaint states a claim under Rule 12. According to Riddle, "human resources personnel prevented her from obtaining medical leave and did not allow her to fill out medical-leave applicants, and that she was given notice of her termination in April 2007, immediately after she attempted to obtain leave." These allegations state a claim under the FMLA. It looks like a textbook case, really. But that that does not end the inquiry.

Defendant says that Riddle blew the two-year statute of limitations. Riddle says that her case is governed by the three-year statute of limitations, which requires that the employer "willfully" denied the plaintiff her FMLA rights. Willful means reckless disregard of the plaintiff's rights. The Court of Appeals (Straub, Livingston and Cabranes) says that the allegations plausibly suggest that Citigroup willfully mistreated Riddle. "As such, whether the conduct was 'willful' (and thus, whether the three-year statute of limitations applied) is an issue that should be decided on remand, either by the District Court on summary judgment if there is no genuine issue of material fact, or by a jury if Riddle introduced evidence sufficient to support a finding of willfulness or if the issue turns on questions of credibility."

Citigroup has another defense here. It says that Riddle signed a release in a separation agreement that prevents her from bringing this action. The Second Circuit cannot resolve this defense. Riddle says the release was procured through fraudulent inducement, and that she did not receive adequate consideration in exchange for the agreement. These issues are more appropriately resolved on remand. Let the district court worry about it.

No comments: