Family Medical Leave Abuse Case Summary
FMLA Abuse: Antoinette Pirant v The United States Postal Service
Does the time spent putting on a uniform count toward an employee’s hours worked? It might seem trivial, but a recent federal FMLA case hinged on that very question.
In the case of Antoinette Pirant v The United States Postal Service, the USPS argued that it did not breach Pirant’s right to take leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) because she did not work the necessary 1,250 hours to qualify. Payroll records showed she only worked 1,249.8 hours, or just 12 minutes shy of qualifying.
Pirant argued, among other things, that the time she spent putting on her postal uniform should be added to her hours worked – putting her over the 1,250-hour threshold. The United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit did not agree.
FMLA Abuse: Case background
Hired in 1993, Pirant’s time with the Postal Service appeared to have been quite tumultuous. The USPS tried to terminate her employment in 1994, 1995, 1999, and in 2000. In 1997 and 2000, the post office also suspended her for multiple days. Each time Pirant was at risk of termination, she was able to argue a case for a suspension instead.
In March 2001, Pirant signed a “last chance” agreement, which stated that any violation of the agreement will result in termination. The letter emphasized that this was to be Pirant’s “absolute last chance” to fix any conduct and attendance problems.
On September 25, 2001 and August 14, 2001, Pirant missed work without a reason. On Friday September 28, she was presented with a 30-day notice of termination. However, once again, she persuaded one of her supervisors to delay the start of the 30-day termination period to December 10. The extension did not entitle Pirant to restoration of her job after the 30-day period.
On October 5, 2001, Pirant’s supervisor told her to clock out two hours early due to insubordination. She did punch out early, but then complained to Darrow Andrews, a dispute resolution worker with the USPS.
After missing work on both December 5 and 6, just days before her 30-day termination period was to start, Pirant came into work on December 7 and said she wasn’t feeling well. On December 10, Pirant reportedly went to the hospital for symptoms related to carpal tunnel and arthritis in the knee. Doctors there told her not to report to work until December 17.
Having concluded an investigation, Andrews informed Pirant on December 21 that she could file a grievance to restore back pay for the two hours that she missed on October 5. She had 15 days to file a grievance, but this window passed without a complaint being filed.
On January 4, 2002, the post office finally fired Pirant based on the violation of her last-chance agreement.
On January 23, Pirant filed a complaint to get back pay for that missed time on October 5. Andrews submitted a report on April 8 that said the filing was too late. Pirant did not challenge that report, but did file a grievance over her termination.
On May 6, 2002, an arbitrator found that the USPS had good cause to terminate her employment.
FMLA Abuse: District court case
When Pirant took the case to district court, she argued that the USPS violated the FMLA by terminating her after missing work on December 6, 2001 – which she said was missed due to an arthritic knee.
The Postal Service argued that Pirant had not put in the necessary 1,250 hours in the 12 months before her unscheduled absence, making her ineligible for FMLA leave. For the 12 months before December 6, 2001, Pirant’s payroll records showed that she worked 1,248.8 “Paid Hrs” and 1,249.8 “TACS Hrs” (USPS’s time-clock system), both just shy of the 1,250 hours needed. The district court stated that payroll records showed Pirant had not put in the necessary hours.
Pirant also contended that the two hours she lost on October 5 should be counted because her supervisor incorrectly ordered her to leave, but the court saw this only as Pirant’s opinion. The court also held that the time Pirant spent on work clothes did not qualify under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and for that reason was excluded from the hours of service under the FMLA.
FMLA Abuse: Appellate court case
In upholding the district court’s decision, the appellate court emphasized several points as to why Pirant’s FMLA rights were not violated by the United States Postal Service.
One of Pirant’s main arguments was that time spent putting on her uniform should be counted as hours worked and cited a case that found that a battery making company had to compensate its employees for putting on unique protective clothing and bathing at the factory for health and safety reasons.
The appellate court noted that the case cited by Pirant was specific to special work environments only and normal changing or showering would not be compensated. Pirant didn’t need to wear “extensive and unique protective equipment,” only a standard work uniform.