Pursuit of medical leave claims may become more difficult

When the Supreme Court decided Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), lawyers representing employers and other defendants declared that Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8 had essentially been nullified. According to these employment and civil rights defense lawyers, a supposedly heightened pleading standard now governs such that employment and civil rights claims can be dismissed under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12 for failure to set forth the facts and claims with sufficient detail in a given complaint filed in court.

The defense bar’s prediction about Iqbal’s impact generally has not come to pass, fortunately from the standpoint of aggrieved employees and civil rights plaintiffs. In at least one area of employment law, however, several recent decisions suggest that some Judges on the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals believe claims under the Family and Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 2601, et seq. (“FMLA”), require pleading with particularity. See, e.g., Hager v. Arkansas Dept. of Health, 735 F.3d 1009 (8th Cir. 2013). In those cases, the court rejected the FMLA claims on the grounds that the plaintiff did not plead facts with adequate specificity.

A legislative fix may be in order if courts continue to make such rulings, as occurred regarding the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101, et seq. (“ADA”). As to discrimination claims under the ADA, Congress rebuked the courts – the Supreme Court in particular – for applying the law in an unduly narrow fashion and, therefore, contravening the broad remedial purposes of the statutory regime. Time will tell whether Congress intervenes in the FMLA context concerning retaliation and other claims like Congress did in the ADA context.