The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that and employer who fired an employee with a back condition three weeks after he returned from medical leave is not liable for retaliation under the Family and Medical Leave Act due to its “honest belief” that the employee committed disability fraud while on leave. Seeger v. Cincinnati Bell Tel. Co. (6th Cir. 2012).
Tom Seeger worked as a network technician for Cincinnati Bell Telephone Co. In 2007, CBT placed Seeger on FMLA leave due to two herniated lumbar discs. Seeger provided medical certification of this and told CBT that he experienced “excruciating pain,” an inability to sit, stand, or walk for long periods of time, and that his doctor would not clear him for restricted (light duty) work.
While on leave, Seeger attended Oktoberfest for about ninety minutes. He admittedly walked a total of 10 blocks to and from the festival and consumed one or two beers. While there, Seeger had separate chance encounters with several co-workers. Although some believed Seeger had no difficulty walking, at least one observed that he seemed to be in pain. One of these co-workers later reported this meeting to CBT.
Approximately two months after his leave began, Seeger resumed full-time work. Around this same time, CBT began an investigation into Seeger’s attendance at Oktoberfest. CBT reviewed Seeger’s medical records, disability file, and employment history. Based on perceived inconsistencies with Seeger’s reported medical condition and his behavior at Oktoberfest, CBT met with Seeger.
Seeger defended his appearance at Oktoberfest and his inability to perform any light duty assignments. Based on its investigation, CBT concluded Seeger had “over reported” his symptoms to avoid part time light-duty work as required by CBT’s paid-leave policy and terminated Seeger’s employment.