CFMLA Court Case Summary

Barta V. Yale-New Haven Hospital

When an employee needs to take leave, either under the FMLA or a state leave law, their absence can sometimes create tension that can potentially escalate to disputes or even a termination/resignation.
This was the situation in the case of Paula Bart v. Yale-New Haven Hospital, ultimately culminating in Barta's resignation from her job as a senior medical abstractor.

Case Background

Barta began working for Yale New Haven in February 2005 in the hospital’s tumor registry. The bulk of her job duties included summarizing and abstracting information from medical cases at the hospital and entering this information into the hospital database. Barta’s job also included abstracting old cases with later malignancies, reviewing finalized treatment records, quality control responsibilities and meeting with staff regarding coding changes or training issues.

In an April 2006 performance review, Barta was told she was “proficient” in abstracting cases, but that her attendance needed to improve. During this review, Barta was also told that she had gone through almost all of her paid leave time and if she missed any more work, progressive disciplinary steps would follow, as outlined by hospital policies.

On May 16, 2006, Barta officially passed the 12-month, 1,250-hour threshold necessary to qualify for unpaid leave under the Connecticut Family and Medical Leave Act (CFMLA). The next day, she applied for CFMLA leave to care for her ailing mother and spouse, which the hospital approved for a 16-week period. However, Barta returned to work on July 19, using only 9 weeks of CFMLA leave time.

On July 21, 2006, two days after returning to work, Barta applied for CFMLA leave on an intermittent basis. In placing the leave request, she noted an intermittent schedule would allow her to take both her mother and husband in for medical treatment.

The request for intermittent leave was also approved by Yale-New Haven. Barta’s supervisor, Teresita Vega, told her that she could work the hours that best fit into her schedule between 5:00 a.m. and 11:00 p.m.

Less than a month later, on August 11, Jennifer Cantillo-Mena was hired to work alongside Barta in order to handle an uptick in the volume of work and one week later, the hospital hired Sandra McGovern as an abstractor to replace a departed employee. Barta was assigned to help McGovern learn the ropes at her new job. It was the first time Barta was ever asked to help train a new employee; however, she had assisted other workers with complex coding issues in the past as a part of her regular job duties.

In a September 22 meeting, the abstractors were told that they were behind in their work by about 10 weeks. They were also told that their department was fully staffed, and therefore overtime was no longer available.
Escalating Tension

In that meeting, Barta was also asked by her supervisor Vega about her intermittent leave schedule and told that her time away affects the entire department. This was the first of many times that Barta's leave became a source of friction between the two women.

At some point after coming back from her first CFMLA leave, Barta was also told by Vega that the supervisor above her was a “numbers guy” who was worried about abstractors falling behind in their work. Vega tied this concern directly to Barta’s leave under the CFMLA.

In fact, ever since Barta began taking CFMLA leave, Vega started making periodic comments disparaging Barta's absence from work. In one instance, two other abstractors working with Barta told her about an email from Vega that she never received. Barta took this as a sign of a campaign by Vega to exclude her from workplace proceedings.

However, whether they were warranted or not these comments and actions never prevented Barta from taking or requesting leave and her leave requests were never denied.

The entire situation came to a head when Barta was excluded from a training class that was attended by Vega and two less-senior abstractors. Barta said she felt that she was being marginalized and confided to a fellow abstractor Jean Rodgers: “Maybe if I were Costa Rican (like Vega and Cantillo-Mena) I would get privileges too. Maybe if I were pretty, I would be treated better.”

She also told Rogers, “Maybe when I am 65 and my mother is dead (referring to Rogers herself), I can work overtime too.”

The conversation between the two workers escalated to the point where they could be heard arguing loudly and culminated with Barta threatening to resign. When Vega subsequently confronted Barta about the argument, she told her the matter was being taken to human resources and that she may want to talk to a lawyer. That confrontation escalated until Barta announced that she quit. Hospital security had to be called at one point during the conversation.

Hearing of the Case

Barta eventually filed a complaint with Connecticut’s labor department that alleged the hospital interfered with her right to take leave under the CFMLA and that she was discharged and retaliated against for taking leave.
The State Hearing found that the hospital did not interfere with Barta’s exercising of her right to take CFMLA leave.

The State pointed out that Barta had the burden of proof to show that an employer did, in fact, interfere with the taking of leave. Barta contended that she was effectively replaced by Cantillo-Mena. However, that job was not posted until after Barta came back from her nine-week leave, and the job was posted in response to an increased workload. Therefore, an extra position had been added, and Barta had not been replaced.

The state also pointed out that all of Barta’s requests for leave had been granted, and she had never been actively discouraged from taking leave. It added that rude or disparaging comments have not been found to constitute interference in past court cases.

Barta also charged that she had been discriminated and retaliated against because she took leave. Despite some of Vega's comments establishing a causal connection between the leave and her discharge, Barta failed to establish that her employer materially changed something in regards to her terms of employment. Notably, Barta was never officially disciplined for her absences from work.

While Barta may have grounds for some other kind of legal action, the state determined that Yale-New Haven did not violate any regulations with respect to leave under the CFMLA.

CFMLA Court Case Summary

Barta V. Yale-New Haven Hospital

When an employee needs to take leave, either under the FMLA or a state leave law, their absence can sometimes create tension that can potentially escalate to disputes or even a termination/resignation.
This was the situation in the case of Paula Bart v. Yale-New Haven Hospital, ultimately culminating in Barta's resignation from her job as a senior medical abstractor.

Case Background

Barta began working for Yale New Haven in February 2005 in the hospital’s tumor registry. The bulk of her job duties included summarizing and abstracting information from medical cases at the hospital and entering this information into the hospital database. Barta’s job also included abstracting old cases with later malignancies, reviewing finalized treatment records, quality control responsibilities and meeting with staff regarding coding changes or training issues.

In an April 2006 performance review, Barta was told she was “proficient” in abstracting cases, but that her attendance needed to improve. During this review, Barta was also told that she had gone through almost all of her paid leave time and if she missed any more work, progressive disciplinary steps would follow, as outlined by hospital policies.

On May 16, 2006, Barta officially passed the 12-month, 1,250-hour threshold necessary to qualify for unpaid leave under the Connecticut Family and Medical Leave Act (CFMLA). The next day, she applied for CFMLA leave to care for her ailing mother and spouse, which the hospital approved for a 16-week period. However, Barta returned to work on July 19, using only 9 weeks of CFMLA leave time.

On July 21, 2006, two days after returning to work, Barta applied for CFMLA leave on an intermittent basis. In placing the leave request, she noted an intermittent schedule would allow her to take both her mother and husband in for medical treatment.

The request for intermittent leave was also approved by Yale-New Haven. Barta’s supervisor, Teresita Vega, told her that she could work the hours that best fit into her schedule between 5:00 a.m. and 11:00 p.m.

Less than a month later, on August 11, Jennifer Cantillo-Mena was hired to work alongside Barta in order to handle an uptick in the volume of work and one week later, the hospital hired Sandra McGovern as an abstractor to replace a departed employee. Barta was assigned to help McGovern learn the ropes at her new job. It was the first time Barta was ever asked to help train a new employee; however, she had assisted other workers with complex coding issues in the past as a part of her regular job duties.

In a September 22 meeting, the abstractors were told that they were behind in their work by about 10 weeks. They were also told that their department was fully staffed, and therefore overtime was no longer available.
Escalating Tension

In that meeting, Barta was also asked by her supervisor Vega about her intermittent leave schedule and told that her time away affects the entire department. This was the first of many times that Barta's leave became a source of friction between the two women.

At some point after coming back from her first CFMLA leave, Barta was also told by Vega that the supervisor above her was a “numbers guy” who was worried about abstractors falling behind in their work. Vega tied this concern directly to Barta’s leave under the CFMLA.

In fact, ever since Barta began taking CFMLA leave, Vega started making periodic comments disparaging Barta's absence from work. In one instance, two other abstractors working with Barta told her about an email from Vega that she never received. Barta took this as a sign of a campaign by Vega to exclude her from workplace proceedings.

However, whether they were warranted or not these comments and actions never prevented Barta from taking or requesting leave and her leave requests were never denied.

The entire situation came to a head when Barta was excluded from a training class that was attended by Vega and two less-senior abstractors. Barta said she felt that she was being marginalized and confided to a fellow abstractor Jean Rodgers: “Maybe if I were Costa Rican (like Vega and Cantillo-Mena) I would get privileges too. Maybe if I were pretty, I would be treated better.”

She also told Rogers, “Maybe when I am 65 and my mother is dead (referring to Rogers herself), I can work overtime too.”

The conversation between the two workers escalated to the point where they could be heard arguing loudly and culminated with Barta threatening to resign. When Vega subsequently confronted Barta about the argument, she told her the matter was being taken to human resources and that she may want to talk to a lawyer. That confrontation escalated until Barta announced that she quit. Hospital security had to be called at one point during the conversation.

Hearing of the Case

Barta eventually filed a complaint with Connecticut’s labor department that alleged the hospital interfered with her right to take leave under the CFMLA and that she was discharged and retaliated against for taking leave.
The State Hearing found that the hospital did not interfere with Barta’s exercising of her right to take CFMLA leave.

The State pointed out that Barta had the burden of proof to show that an employer did, in fact, interfere with the taking of leave. Barta contended that she was effectively replaced by Cantillo-Mena. However, that job was not posted until after Barta came back from her nine-week leave, and the job was posted in response to an increased workload. Therefore, an extra position had been added, and Barta had not been replaced.

The state also pointed out that all of Barta’s requests for leave had been granted, and she had never been actively discouraged from taking leave. It added that rude or disparaging comments have not been found to constitute interference in past court cases.

Barta also charged that she had been discriminated and retaliated against because she took leave. Despite some of Vega's comments establishing a causal connection between the leave and her discharge, Barta failed to establish that her employer materially changed something in regards to her terms of employment. Notably, Barta was never officially disciplined for her absences from work.

While Barta may have grounds for some other kind of legal action, the state determined that Yale-New Haven did not violate any regulations with respect to leave under the CFMLA.