James Breneisen worked at Motorola Service Center in Rockford, Illinois. During his nine-year career at Motorola, James had previously taken leave at least a dozen times without incident. However, the thirteenth time he took leave, his new supervisor transferred him to a new, more strenuous job because his prior position was eliminated and his tasks distributed to other employees. James worked in the new position for eight days before taking leave for esophageal surgery. After the surgery he complained to his supervisors that the new position was a demotion, even though his supervisors stated it was a lateral move. He eventually applied, and was accepted, for a new position where he found himself under a very difficult boss. This treatment caused him to suffer from severe stress, high blood pressure, and stomach reflux. Soon afterward he took another medical leave to undergo a total esophagectomy. He filed his lawsuit approximately one month after his surgery. According to the court, “The test for equivalence is strict. Jobs are only ‘equivalent’ within the meaning of the FMLA if they entail ‘equivalent employment benefits, pay, and other terms of employment.’ For instance, the jobs must involve the same or substantially similar responsibilities.” Simply receiving the same pay and benefits is not enough.
Motorola’s argument that his job was eliminated and distributed to other employees also created an issue of fact. According to the court, “When an employer claims that the employee’s position would have been eliminated even if the employee had not taken leave and provides some evidence to that effect, the employee must convince the trier of fact that his position would not have been eliminated had he not taken leave.” In this case, James provided evidence that his position would not have been eliminated if he had not taken leave.
This case came down to whether the new position was the “equivalent” of his former one. According to the court, “Motorola had no business justification for eliminating his position apart from the need to work through the fact he had taken leave. An employee is entitled to … reinstatement even if the employee has been replaced or his or her position has been restructured to accommodate the employee’s absence.”
Read more about Breneisen v. Motorola here.