Police Chief Can Be Individually Sued Under FMLA

Daniel Rasic was a police officer with the City of Northlake, Illinois. In May 2007, Rasic informed the City that he would need time off work for the birth of his child. The City approved Rasic’s Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave request, and Rasic took leave beginning in July 2007.

Rasic’s child was born with the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck and required extended hospitalization after her birth. In addition, during Rasic’s FMLA leave, his father required several unexpected surgeries which were potentially life threatening due to advanced age and prior medical history. When Rasic asked to extend his FMLA leave so he could care for his father and his newborn child, the Department granted his request.

While on FMLA leave, Rasic complied with the City’s requirements by calling weekly to discuss the status of his leave. During a telephone call on July 23, 2007, the Police Chief asked Rasic when he was planning to return to work. Rasic responded that he was planning to return on September 1, 2007. The Chief responded, “Yeah, well, we need you back before then so start making some plans, okay?” The Chief told Rasic he would not let Rasic take the summer off, observing that “everybody else had kids,” and that he needed to make some plans to come back to work.

Things got worse from that point forward. Eventually, the City suspended Rasic prior to the completion of his FMLA leave. Rasic appeared before the Police Commission for a hearing, at which the Commission refused to consider his FMLA defense to the disciplinary charge and terminated Rasic. Rasic then filed a lawsuit against the City, the Police Chief, and the members of the Police Commission. The Chief filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit on the grounds that individual supervisors cannot be sued under the FMLA.

A federal trial court disagreed with the Chief, and allowed Rasic’s lawsuit to proceed not only against the City, but against the Chief on an individual basis. The Court reasoned that “in our view, a plain reading of the text of the FMLA leads to the conclusion that supervisory government employees may qualify as ‘employers’ under the FMLA, and thus can be sued individually. Subparagraph (4)(A)(ii)(I) defines employer to include ‘any person who acts, directly or indirectly, in the interests of an employer to any of the employees of such employer.’ On its face, this language includes supervisory personnel whose responsibilities involve acting in the interest of the employer to any of the employees of the employer.

“In so holding, we acknowledge – but do not find persuasive – a contrary interpretation offered by some courts. For example, the Sixth Federal Circuit Court of Appeals has held that public employees cannot be sued individually under the FMLA. We disagree with these decisions. The structure of the FMLA makes clear that the definition of employer includes both individuals who act in the interests of an employer, and public agencies. The structure does not lead us to conclude that the individual liability provision applies only to private employers.”

Rasic v. City of Northlake, 2008 WL 2619758 (N.D.Ill. 2008).

This article appears in the November 2008 issue