Submitted by Keshia McCrary
In Haybarger v. Lawrence County Adult Prob. & Parole, 667 F.3d 408 (3d Cir. 2012), the Third Circuit unanimously held that a supervisor, both in the private and public sectors, may be held individually liable for violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), 29 U.S.C. § 2601, et seq. Haybarger was an office manager for the defendant, Lawrence County Adult Probation and Parole (“Lawrence County”), who missed work frequently due to problems associated with her Type II diabetes, heart disease, and kidneys. The Western District of Pennsylvania Court granted summary judgment against Haybarger in favor of Lawrence County holding that while the FMLA permitted liability against supervisors individually at public agencies, Haybarger failed to present sufficient evidence that her supervisor indeed exercised “sufficient control” over the terms and conditions of her employment.
Looking at the language of the statute, Department of Labor regulations, and cases interpreting the Fair Labor Standards Act for guidance, the Third Circuit, for the first time, recognized that supervisors may be held individually liable for FMLA violations. Based on the statutory language that defines an employer as “any person who acts, directly or indirectly, in the interest of an employer to any of the employees of such an employer,” an individual who exercises supervisory authority over a complaining individual and was responsible in whole or in part for the alleged violation may be liable even if he or she is not the ultimate decisionmaker. In an even broader reach, the Court noted there was no reason to distinguish between public agencies and private employers for purposes of individual liability under the FMLA.
The Third Circuit joins the Fifth and Eighth Circuits, and opposes the Sixth and Eleventh Circuits, by permitting individual liability against supervisors at public agencies. In this case, the Third Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment. Analyzing the “economic reality” of Haybarger’s employment situation, the Court held that a rational jury could find the individual supervisor exercised sufficient control over Haybarger’s employment so as to be liable for violations of the FMLA.