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Second Circuit Rules Undocumented Hours Count Toward FMLA Eligibility

Donnelly v. Greenburgh Central School District, No. 7 (Second Circuit, August 10, 2012)

In Donnelly, the Second Circuit found undocumented “hours worked” could count toward the 1,250 hours required for FMLA eligibility. 

Plaintiff teacher (Donnelly) sued defendant School District, claiming he was not granted tenure in retaliation for taking leave pursuant to the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).  Defendant School District alleged, in part, that Plaintiff Donnelly was not eligible for leave because he had not worked 1,250 hours in the 12 months prior to his leave request, as required by the FMLA to be eligible for leave.

The governing Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) acknowledged the District’s and the Union’s “recogni[tion] that teachers have responsibilities which they readily and willingly perform that extend beyond the pupil’s regular school day. Among these responsibilities are classroom preparation, correction of papers, clerical work, record keeping, tutoring, parent-teacher and student-teacher conferences, staff meetings, curriculum planning and development, and in-service training.”

The parties agreed that Donnelly worked approximately 1,247 hours –during the twelve- month period prior to his leave. Donnelly claimed that he worked three additional hours outside of the classroom; he presented no documentation or clear description of the hours.

The District Court granted summary judgment to the School District, concluding, in part, that Donnelly was not eligible for FMLA leave as a matter of law. Donnelly’s assertion that he worked 1,250 hours failed because Donnelly “ha[d] not provided any evidence of exactly what activities he accomplished before or after the designated work day, or of how such activities were necessary.” Accordingly, Donnelly could not “show that these activities were an ‘integral part of and indispensable to’ [his] work.” Mitchell v. King Packing Co., 350 U.S. 260, 263 (1956).

Donnelly appealed, and the Circuit Court reversed.  While acknowledging that Donnelly’s testimony was “thin,” the Court looked to the MOU, which indicated that, at times, teachers were expected to perform work outside of the classroom.  In addition, the Court considered Donnelly’s claim that “most teachers” in the District “regularly work in excess” of the one hour beyond the students’ day provided for in the MOU, and that he himself “typically worked a total of 1.5 hours before and after class every day.”  The Court also considered Donnelly’s performance review, in which his supervisor acknowledged that Donnelly regularly arrived at work early, and “often stays late into the afternoon working with his kids to ensure their success.”  Considering these factors, the Court found that Donnelly had raised a triable issue of fact as to whether he worked the requisite 1,250 hours to be eligible for FMLA leave.

This case highlights the importance of the FLSA standard for hours worked in determining FMLA eligibility (although it does seem the Court applied a more lenient standard to Donnelly’s claims than it may have under a straight FLSA analysis) and, crucially, how MOU provisions and performance reviews acknowledging the possibility of extra work can have significant implications for agencies.  As with other FLSA cases, Donnelly also reiterates the importance of agencies requiring documentation and advance approval of all hours worked.