Waiver of FMLA Claims for Past Employer Conduct Permissible
In Paylor v. Hartford Fire Ins. Co., 6:11-cv-00059-PCF-TBS (11th Cir. April 8, 2014), the Eleventh Circuit enforced a severance agreement that waived an employee’s rights under the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) for past conduct of the employer. The plaintiff, Blanche Paylor, worked for Hartford as a disability analyst. Between January 2008 and September 2009, she used 390 hours of FMLA leave. In August or September 2009, Paylor requested additional FMLA leave which the Hartford acknowledged in a September 4, 2009, email. On September 11, 2009, the plaintiff attended a performance review wherein she received a warning and was advised of improvements she needed to make to keep her job. On September 16, Paylor attended a follow-up meeting with her supervisors during which she was given the option to accept a severance package in exchange for signing a Severance Agreement waiving any FMLA claims, or to agree to a performance improvement plan (“PIP”). On September 17, Paylor chose to sign the Severance Agreement.
Paylor subsequently sued Hartford alleging that Hartford interfered with her FMLA rights and retaliated against her for exercising those rights. Hartford moved for summary judgment arguing that Paylor waived her FMLA claims when she signed the Severance Agreement. In opposition, Paylor argued that the Severance Agreement was not valid primarily because it purported to waive prospective rights under the FMLA, in violation of 29 C.F.R. § 825.220(d). The district court awarded summary judgment to Hartford because it found that the waived rights were not “prospective” because the conduct she claimed was unlawful happened before she signed the Severance Agreement.
The Eleventh Circuit agreed. The Court found that the FMLA’s “prohibition of prospective waiver means only that an employee may not waive FMLA rights, in advance, for violations of the statute that have yet to occur.” Id. Here, the conduct that Paylor complained about “all happened before she signed the Severance Agreement. Paylor argues, specifically, that Hartford both interfered with and retaliated against her FMLA request when the company asked her to choose between the PIP and the Severance Agreement. That allegedly unlawful conduct all occurred, at the latest, on September 16, 2009. But Paylor signed the Severance Agreement on September 17, 2009, thereby wiping out any backward-looking claims she might have had against her employer.” Id. at 13.