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Media Alerts - Fredrick Capps v. Mondelez Global LLC - Third Circuit
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February 1, 2017
  Fredrick Capps v. Mondelez Global LLC - Third Circuit
Headline: FMLA retaliation claim fails because employer had an honest belief that employee was misusing the FMLA

Area of Law: Employment Law

Issue(s) Presented: Did the employer's honest belief that an employee was misusing the FMLA justify summary judgment to the employer on a retaliation claim?

Brief Summary:

Frederick Capps appealed the District Court's summary judgment in favor of his former employer, Mondelez Global, LLC. Capps argued that Mondelez: (1) interfered with his rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"); (2) acted in retaliation to Capps' proper use of FMLA leave; and (3) violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Third Circuit affirmed, holding the employer's honest belief that Capps was misusing FMLA leave defeated his FMLA retaliation claim.

Extended Summary:

Nabisco, who was Mondelez's predecessor, hired Capps in November 1989. At all relevant times to this action, Capp held the position of mixer, which required him to operate a mixing machine that makes dough. Mondelez's policy entitles an employee to FMLA leave for " a serious health condition of the employee that makes the employee unable to perform one or more of the essential functions of his/her position." The employee may use intermittent FMLA leave when it is a medical necessity and the employee must provide notice of the leave as soon as practicable. An employee who wishes to take FMLA leave due to his own serious health condition must provide the company with a certification from his health care provider. Mondelez also maintained a policy entitled "Dishonest Acts on the Part of Employees." This policy is considered a major rule and violation of such rules are considered inexcusable offenses that will result in immediate suspension pending investigation, which could lead to termination.

Capps suffers from Avascular Necrosis (AVN), and, as a result, developed arthritis in both hips, which necessitated bilateral hip replacement in 2003. Capps has experienced severe pain in the pelvic region, which sometimes lasted for days or weeks at a time. Therefore, he requested intermittent time off from work when flare-ups occurred. Capps was certified for intermitted FMLA leave following his hip replacements, and was continuously recertified every six months for his condition until his employment was terminated in 2014. In February 2013, Capps took FMLA leave on several days. On one of those days, he was arrested for drunk driving.

Upon returning to work he performed the same work and received the same salary and benefits as before taking FMLA leave. He did not report his arrest to anyone at Mondelez, nor was he required to do so. In August 2013, Capps pled guilty to a DUI. In early 2014, a Human Resources (HR) manager at Mondelez became aware of Capps' DUI conviction through a newspaper article. The HR manager and other HR employees investigated Capp's attendance record to determine if Capps had any absences during the time frame of Capp's arrest and conviction. They noticed that Capp's arrest date and court dates appeared to coincide with days on which Capps had taken FMLA leave. HR confronted Capps with this information on February 2014. Mondelez then received a letter from Capp's physician confirming that on the aforementioned dates Capps had taken FMLA leave due to his "hip pathology." Capps also submitted to Mondelez a copy of a letter dated May 31, 2013, addressed to Capps from his attorney in the DUI matter, confirming some of the dates related to his DUI action.

Capps was terminated in February 2014. The letter confirmed that Capp's termination was based on his violation of the Dishonest Acts Policy. Capps completed a Grievance form on March 2014 claiming he was unlawfully terminated. Mondelez offered Capps reinstatement without back pay on April 2014, which Capps rejected. Capps initiated this lawsuit. He alleged claims of interference and retaliation in violation of the FMLA, violations of the ADA, and violations of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA). Mondelez filed a motion for summary judgment, which the District Court granted. Capps appealed to the Third Circuit for review.

The Third Circuit analyzed Capps' claims of FMLA interference and retaliation. Capps claimed that Mondelez discriminated against him in violation of the FMLA by terminating his employment in retaliation for taking FMLA leave. The Court stated that FMLA retaliation claims require proof of the employer's retaliatory intent. The Court concluded that Capps could not establish a prima facie case of FMLA retaliation, and that Mondelez met its burden of demonstrating a legitimate, nondiscriminatory justification for Capps' discharge. Where an employer provides evidence that the reason for the adverse employment action taken by the employer was an honest belief that the employee was misusing FMLA leave that is a legitimate, nondiscriminatory justification for the discharge.

Capps' FMLA interference claim also failed. The Court stated that an interference claim requires an employee to show that he was not only entitled to FMLA benefits but also that he was denied those benefits. Capps argued that his termination amounted to a deprivation of benefits and therefore interference under the FMLA. The Court held that Capps was unable to show that FMLA benefits were actually withheld as he was unable to point to evidence in the record indicating that he was denied a benefit to which he was entitled under the FMLA.

Capps also argued that requests for intermittent leave may be protected by the ADA and that a request for FMLA leave does not bar an ADA retaliation claim. The Court recognized that a request for FMLA leave may qualify, under certain circumstances, as a request for a reasonable accommodation under the ADA. However, the court concluded that the record in this action did not support the view that Mondelez discriminated against Capps under the ADA or refused to accommodate any such request. The Court stated that there was a lack of evidence to show that Mondelez did not make a good faith effort in accommodating Capps's request for intermittent leave. The Third Circuit affirmed the District Court's order granting summary judgment in favor of Mondelez.


The full opinion can be found at http://www2.ca3.uscourts.gov/opinarch/153839p.pdf

Panel: Fuentes, Shwartz, Restrepo, Circuit Judges

Argument Date: July 12, 2016

Date of Issued Opinion: January 30, 2017

Docket Number: No. 15-3839

Decided: Affirmed

Case Alert Author: Cynthia C. Pereira

Counsel: Christine E. Burke, Ari R. Karpf, Counsel for Appellant; Leslie M. Greenspan, Joe H. Tucker, Jr., Counsel for Appellee; Jeremy D. Horowitz, Counsel for Amicus Appellee.

Author of Opinion: Circuit Judge Restrepo

Circuit: Third Circuit

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor: Prof. Susan L. DeJarnatt

    Posted By: Susan DeJarnatt @ 02/01/2017 03:12 PM     3rd Circuit  

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