Terry Tilley v. Kalamazoo County Road Commission et al.

Employer May be Bound by its Misrepresentation of Employee’s FMLA Eligibility
United States Court of Appeals, 6th Circuit, No. 14-1679
Monday, January 26, 2015

The plaintiff, Terry Tilley, was an employee of the Kalamazoo Road Commission. There had been a number of disputes between Tilley and his supervisors regarding his job performance. He then suffered a medical condition, and his wife informed the Commission that Tilley could not return to work for a period of time. The Commission then sent Tilley a letter, informing him that he was eligible for FMLA leave and that it was important that he use the leave while he was out of work. Enclosed with the letter was a “Notice of Eligibility and Rights & Responsibilities” form, on which the box titled “eligible for FMLA leave” had been checked and the “not eligible for FMLA leave” box was not checked. In addition, the personnel manual stated that all full-time employees who had accumulated 1,250 hours in the past 12 months were eligible for FMLA leave. Thereafter, the Commission terminated Tilley for alleged insufficient job performance.

Tilley filed suit in federal court, alleging that he was terminated in violation of FMLA because he was eligible for leave.[1] In the alternative, Tilley argued that even if he were not eligible, his employer was equitably estopped from denying its previous representation that he was entitled. The U.S. District Court dismissed the suit, determining that Tilley was not eligible because his employer employed fewer than 50 employees and that Tilley failed to establish that he detrimentally relied on his employer’s representation that he was entitled to FMLA leave to substantiate his equitable estoppel claim.

On appeal, the Circuit Court first confirmed that public employers are covered by the so-called “50/75 Employee Threshold,” which applies the requirements of FMLA only to those employers with 50 or more employees who work at or within 75 miles of the employer’s worksite, meaning that the Commission was not required to provide Tilley FMLA leave. Second, the Court held that Tilley plead sufficient facts to establish his equitable estoppel claim. The Commission’s incorrect statements in its manual could qualify as a misrepresentation. Tilley also presented evidence that he reasonably relied on that misrepresentation and such that he would not have sought medical treatment and failed to finish certain assignments on-time, which led to his termination. Finally, Tilley presented evidence that he suffered a detriment because he was terminated.

[1] Tilley also alleged an age discrimination claim that is not discussed in this summary.