A car salesman who had recently returned to a dealership after a
five-year break in his employment was still entitled to relief under
the Family and Medical Leave Act, the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of
Appeals has found in a case of first impression.
The defendant car dealership argued that the salesman had only
been back to work for seven months when he went out on medical
leave, and thus he did not satisfy the statutory requirement of
being employed by the same employer for at least 12 months.
But the 1st Circuit disagreed and reversed a lower court
Judge Sandra L. Lynch, writing for the court, ruled that the
salesman was an "eligible employee" under the statute and concluded
that his time spent away from the dealership did not prevent him
from including earlier periods of employment to meet the 12-month
Lynch added: "We hold that the (law) itself is ambiguous as to
whether previous periods of employment count toward the 12-month
requirement, but regulations promulgated by the United States
Department of Labor establish that previous periods of employment do
The 17-page decision is Rucker v. Lee Holding Company, Lawyers
Weekly No. 01-391-06.
Allan K. Townsend of Maine represented the plaintiff salesman,
and Elizabeth J. Ernst, also of Maine, was counsel for the defendant
From 1994 to 1999, plaintiff Kenneth Rucker worked as a car
salesman for the defendant, Lee Auto Malls in Maine.
He left the dealership in 1999 and had no further affiliation
with the company until June 2004, when he returned to work there.
About seven months after resuming his employment, the plaintiff
ruptured a disc in his back and began receiving medical treatment.
At various times, the pain prevented him from working. As a result,
he was required to take time off and went on medical leave.
In March 2005, the dealership terminated his employment. At that
point, the plaintiff's injury had caused him to miss a total of 13
days of work and he was still out on medical leave.
In January 2006, he filed a complaint in U.S District Court in
Maine alleging that the dealership had fired him for taking medical
leave in violation of the FMLA.
A District Court judge granted a motion to dismiss filed by the
dealership after concluding that the salesman could not combine his
previous period of employment with his more recent term and thus
could not satisfy the statute's 12-month employment requirement.
In reversing the lower court's decision and ruling in the
salesman's favor, Lynch wrote that the legislative intent of the
statute was unclear and that the issue before the court was whether
the salesman, at the time he took medical leave, was an eligible