Philadelphia Employment Law News

Paralegal Sues Fragomen LLP Over FMLA, ADA and Extended Leave

Jacqueline Heenan worked for Philadelphia-based law firm Fragomen, Del Ray, Bernsen & Lowey LLP for less than a year before she got a troubling medical diagnosis. She needed leave from her employer due to open heart surgery, reports the Pennsylvania Record.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Family Medical Leave Act, temporary disabilities such as Heenan's surgery require the employer to make reasonable accomodations, like an extended leave of absence. If the employee has paid leave, they should be allowed to use that first, followed by as much unpaid leave as is necessary.

While the FMLA limits leave to 12 weeks, the ADA is much more vague and indefinite, with some opinions saying that leave for over a year is allowed. The only real restrictions are that the requested accommodation must be "reasonable" and that the accommodation must not provide an "undue hardship" upon the employer.

There is not much public information on this case yet, as it was only filed on April 27, 2012. However, from what we do know, Heenan was hired in early November 2009. She was diagnosed with a heart condition in the spring of 2010. Her employer allegedly agreed to a reasonable accommodation, but then reversed course and terminated her employment on April 22, 2010.

From just these facts, it seems like the law firm did fail to make a reasonable accommodation under both the FMLA and the ADA. However, all we have so far is Jacqueline Heenan's side of the story. It does seem strange that a law firm would be unwise enough to violate the ADA in such a seemingly blatant manner. A small law firm might be exempt from ADA requirements, if it employs less than fifteen people, but Fragomen LLP is a massive firm with 39 locations, here and abroad.

For our readers who are also employers, take heed of the leave requirements. If your employee has a disability necessitating leave, remember that they are allowed to take all accrued paid leave first, followed by some indeterminate period of unpaid leave. The FMLA caps the leave at 12 weeks, while the ADA simply says any time that is not an undue hardship to the employer.

Check with an attorney if you are unsure about possibly terminating an employee, as these lawsuits can become very expensive.

Related Resources: