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Can You be Fired for Taking FMLA Leave to Care for Sick Parent?

February 9, 2015 Family and Medical Leave Act Claims

Employee terminated for not meeting sales quotas during leave of absence

It’s something no one likes to think about – an aging parent becomes ill and you need to take time off to care for him or her. While prioritizing family in that scenario is a no-brainer for most people, many employees may still be concerned that their jobs could be at risk.

So the question is this: If you have to take time off to care for a family member, is your job protected while you’re on leave?

Generally, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows workers to return to their prior positions after such situations. Unfortunately, some employers find creative ways to illegally penalize staffers for using FMLA leave.

Set Up to Fail

That’s what happened to Dixie Gostola, a sales account executive for the cable company Charter Communications. She had been in charge of sales for same geographic area for more than 15 years and two of the largest billing accounts in the state were part of her portfolio.

However, one of the accounts was terminated when the client decided to start booking advertising through a national agency. Gostola’s sales numbers declined significantly and she was put on a performance improvement plan.

While on the plan, Gostola took approximately one month of full-time leave under FMLA to tend to her mother, who was recuperating from back surgery.

After the leave period, Gostola returned to work but applied for intermittent FMLA leave so she could work half days and continue caring for her mother. Her request was denied, although she was permitted to take time off to take her mother to doctor’s appointments.

When Gostola’s sales records for the previous quarter – including the month she was off for FMLA – were calculated, she was well below the goal that had been spelled out in the performance improvement plan. She argued that it wasn’t fair to include the month that she’d been absent in the total, but her supervisor insisted that it had to be factored in. Gostola was terminated.

Gostola spoke to an attorney. She sued the company for illegally interfering with her right to take FMLA leave, and retaliating against her for taking time off to care for a family member.

The company attempted to have the case thrown out, but the court refused. The court stated that no reasonable juror could dispute that the company had penalized Gostola for taking FMLA leave. By computing Gostola’s sales numbers based on a time period in which she was absent for an entire month, the company was, in effect, setting up Gostola for failure.

The court ordered a trial to determine damages that should be paid to Gostola.

(The case discussed here is Gostola v. Charter Communications.)

Contact the Murphy Law Group Now for a Free Consultation

As this fact sheet shows, determining what’s allowable under FMLA can be complicated. If you believe that your rights under FMLA have been compromised, it’s a good idea to speak to an attorney.

Email us at, or call (267) 273-1054 for a free consultation.