HR Director May Be Individually Liable for FMLA Violations, 2nd Cir. Rules

Author: Michael Cardman, XpertHR Legal Editor

April 19, 2016

Managers who possess sufficient power to control employees may be held individually liable for violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), a federal appeals court ruled.

In Graziadio v. Culinary Inst. of America, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the economic realities test used to determine who is or is not an employer under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) should be applied in FMLA cases as well.

The Graziadio ruling follows a similar ruling from the 3rd Circuit, meaning that individual employees of private employers operating throughout much of the northeast - Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Vermont - may be held individually liable for FMLA violations. (Other circuits have examined the question of whether a public official may be sued as an individual under the FMLA, with mixed results.)

The Graziadio case involved an employee of the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) named Cathleen Graziadio, who was fired after taking what she claimed was FMLA-protected leave to care for her sons.

Graziadio sued not only the CIA as an organization but also the CIA's director of human resources, Shaynan Garrioch, as an individual. A district court dismissed the claim, finding among other things that Garrioch did not qualify as an employer.

On appeal, the 2nd Circuit considered four factors to determine whether Garrioch was an employer under the FLSA and thus potentially subject to liability:

  • Whether she had the power to hire and fire employees;
  • Whether she supervised and controlled employee work schedules or conditions of employment;
  • Whether she determined the rate and method of payment; and
  • Whether she maintained employment records.

Although there was no evidence that Garrioch either determined the rate and method of payment or maintained employment records, the 2nd Circuit found she "played an important role" in the decision to fire Graziadio and exercised control over Graziadio's schedule and conditions of employment. For this reason, the court concluded that a jury could find that Garrioch exercised sufficient control over Graziadio's employment to be subject to liability under the FMLA. It overturned the district court's ruling and sent the case back for further proceedings.