(CN) – Pfizer Inc. wrongfully fired an employee for using his Family Medical Leave Act benefits to adopt a child from Russia, the 4th Circuit ruled.
James Dotson had to make two trips to Russia to complete the adoption. On the first trip, he brought samples of the antibiotic Zithromax as a gift to the orphanage.
Pfizer Vice President Steve Harper believed that Dotson’s gift could be seen as an illegal quid pro quo. Three weeks after returning from Russia with his baby girl, Dotson was fired.
Dotson sued for retaliation for using his FLMA benefits. He alleged that the issue of using the Zithromax was used as a pretext to fire him, and that the Pfizer executives who fired him are the only ones who knew of the policy cited in his termination.
The district court ruled in Dotson’s favor, and Judge Cacheris of the Richmond, Va.-based federal appeals court upheld the court’s denial of Pfizer’s motion for judgment as a matter of law. The company had asserted that Dotson did not specifically request FMLA time off when he traveled to Russia.
“Pfizer’s argument fails because the FMLA does not require Dotson to specifically invoke its protections in order to benefit from it,” Cacheris ruled.
“The requirement that employer and employee must agree on intermittent leave does not clash with the generally accepted position that no ‘magic words’ are necessary to invoke the protections of the FMLA.”
Cacheris also ruled that Dotson’s firing could be seen as pretextual because the other employees involved in Dotson’s procurement of the Zithromax were not disciplined.