Proximity In Time Does Not Necessarily Mean Retaliation

Patricia Karaffa was formerly employed as a police dispatcher by Montgomery Township, Pennsylvania. On February 1, 2011, she took approved FMLA leave for the birth of her daughter and later for the care of her newly-born daughter. Just prior to her return to work in April 2011, Karaffa was informed that she was assigned to work only overnight dispatching shifts. When Karaffa informed the Police Chief and Deputy Chief that she desired a different schedule, the Township altered her assignment to evening shifts with two weekends of overnight shifts per month. Karaffa returned to work pursuant to this schedule.

On May 17, 2011, Karaffa was injured in a car accident and sought to take leave for her recovery. The Township’s HR Director informed Karaffa that her FMLA leave had been fully exhausted in her maternity care, but that her new leave would be covered instead under her short-term disability policy.

Karaffa returned to work on August 4, 2011, and was assigned by her supervisor to tasks such as organizing documents and shredding paper rather than her previous dispatcher duties. Karaffa claimed that throughout this time she faced a pattern of “ostracism and antagonism,” which included being moved away from the other dispatchers, having her mail bin lowered below other junior employees, and allowing her dispatcher’s certification to expire.

After Karaffa worked for approximately one week, on August 11, 2011 the Township told Karaffa that she did not need to report to work until she had undergone an independent medical evaluation as part of her short-term disability coverage. Karaffa never returned to work after that date, and sued the Township, alleging harassment and retaliation for her taking FMLA leave.

The essence of Karaffa’s claim was that one could infer that the Township’s actions were motivated by retaliation because they followed so close in time Karaffa’s use of FMLA leave. The federal Third Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, and upheld the dismissal of Karaff’s lawsuit.

The Court concluded that “Karaffa had not suffered an adverse employment action when she returned from her FMLA-covered maternity leave in April 2011, given that her position and schedule were equivalent to those she enjoyed when she first took leave. There was no causal link between any later alleged adverse employment actions and that FMLA leave. Importantly, because Karaffa fully exhausted her 12 weeks of FMLA leave for her maternity care, her recovery from the subsequent car accident was not covered under the FMLA.

“Karaffa has claimed that the adverse employment actions suffered after her return from leave following the car accident, such as assignments of filing and shredding, were in retaliation for her taking of maternity leave approximately three and half months earlier. However, such temporal proximity does not raise an inference of causation.”

Karaffa v. Township of Montgomery, 560 Fed.Appx. 133 (3d Cir. 2014).