FMLA Court Case BOKON V BOZZUTO’S

BOKON V BOZZUTO’S

The Connecticut Family and Medical Leave Act (CFMLA) allows employees to take unpaid time off from their job, however these absences can be a source of conflict between the employee needing leave and their direct supervisor, who may be under pressure to meet goals of the business with a short-handed staff.

Conflict related to CFMLA can be particularly prevalent surrounding intermittent leave, or CFMLA leave taken in the form of partial days or a reduced regular work schedule. Qualifying employees are eligible to take intermittent CFMLA if their serious illness or treatment regimen for the illness makes it medically necessary according to a doctor’s professional opinion. Though employees are advised to schedule intermittent time off to avoid workplace disruption, many intermittent occurrences can be due to unforeseen flare ups. Regardless of scheduled or unscheduled intermittent occurrences, once an employee is determined as CFMLA eligible, it is prohibited for employers to interfere, restrain, or deny the eligible employee’s rights under the certified parameters. Furthermore, CFMLA prohibits employers from discharging or discriminating against employees exercising these CFMLA rights.

In the case of Bokon v. Bozzuto’s Inc., a employee’s medical need to regularly leave work for medical treatment became a source of conflict and, as an appellate court later found, led to the employee’s eventual unlawful dismissal.

Case Background

Kristina Bokon began work for Bozzuto’s Inc., a wholesale distributor, in September 1999. Working first as an equipment repair administrator and then as a slot-it coordinator, Bokon started her tenure at the company with a string of positive performance reviews, a few raises, and a performance bonus. In a February 2000 memo regarding a pay raise, manager Scott Sample wrote that Bokon “continues to excel in her work.”

About a year later, in February 2001, Bokon began full-time work as a slot-in coordinator, which entailed setting up computer system software designed to improve the efficiency of various clients’ warehouse operations. The position also required Bokon to contact clients’ warehouse managers regarding data input.

In May 2001, Bokon was in a serious car accident in which she injured her back, neck, and chest. The accident caused her to miss a few days of work immediately after it happened, but the following week she resumed a normal schedule. Bokon also began a regular treatment regimen to cope with pain she was experiencing.

Sometime before September 2002, Douglas Puza became Bokon’s supervisor, and that’s when the conflict seemed to begin.

Soon after he was appointed as Bokon’s supervisor, Puza told Bokon she had to report to work at 6:00 am. and work until 2:30 pm. He did not permit her to work hours outside of her normal schedule to makeup for hours she missed due to physical therapy appointments.

Puza also asked Bokon to plan her healthcare appointments as late in the afternoon as she possibly could to avoid interrupting work hours. She was normally able to do so; however, she occasionally awoke feeling discomfort in her back or chest that required her to miss work due to drop-in appointments.

As Puza and Bokon attempted to work through their growing conflict, Bozzuto’s began to make downsizing cuts to its workforce. In November 2002, Bokon asked Puza if the company planned to eliminate her job, and he told her that Bozzuto’s had already eliminated all of the jobs in its warehouse that it planned to.

That same month, Puza changed the starting time of Bokon’s shift from 6:00 am. to 6:30 am. and the ending time of her shift from 2:30 pm. to 3:00 pm.

In December 2002, Bokon married another employee at Bozzuto’s – before which Puza said to her fiancé that she is “falling apart.” He also asked her if she had any plans to become pregnant.

In early 2003, Puza discussed eliminating Bokon’s job with the HR manager. As part of a company-wide reduction in force, Puza said the job could be eliminated because it was not full-time work and other employees could easily absorb her duties.

In February, Puza met with Bokon and changed her work hours from 7:00 am. to 3:30 p.m. This was done, Puza said, because an inspector was unable to find her on a recent afternoon. While she never complained about the change to her Puza, Bokon did meet with the HR manager and tell him that Puza was “out to get her.” The HR manager assured Bokon that he would speak with Puza to accommodate Bokon’s absences as they were qualified under CFMLA.

An email titled “Kristi Bokun Mtg.” discussed by the court detailed a meeting between the HR manager and Puza in which the details of Bokon’s position were discussed in relation to her potential release as a result of downsizing. One of the bullet-points in that email stated that Bokon’s “position is part-time only if everything goes 100%” – in reference to the software operations.

On March 18, 2003, Bokon received a letter telling her that her position had been eliminated. She would eventually file a complaint against Bozzuto’s through Connecticut’s Department of Labor for interference of her right to take intermittent time off and unlawful displacement due to discrimination.

The Labor Department’s Decision

While Bokon asserted that Bozzuto’s had both interfered with her leave rights and terminated her employment for taking leave, the state found that the company was only guilty of discriminatory termination. Bozzuto was unable to prove that Bokon’s termination was due to a company-wide reduction in force and that Puza had intentions to eliminate Bokon’s position before she was taking CFMLA leave. The decision to terminate Bokon was only made after she had started taking intermittent CFMLA leave and after Puza inquired about Bokon’s plans to become pregnant and take off more time under CFMLA leave.

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