“Why Can’t Your Wife Stay Home and Take Care of the Child?”: Asserting Your Right to Family Leave in California
Unlike many states, California state law provides certain “family leave” rights for eligible employees. Under the California Family Rights Act (CFRA), if you have worked for your present employer for at least one year, with 1,250 hours working hours during that year, and your employer employs at least 20 employees within a 75-mile radius of your worksite, you are entitled up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave due to (i) the birth of a child or adoption of a foster care placement of a child, (ii) to care for an immediate family member (spouse, child, or parent) with a serious health condition, or (iii) when the employee is unable to work because of a serious health condition. CFRA prohibits an employer from terminating or otherwise discipline any employee for taking CFRA leave.
California Appeals Court Revives Ex-Apartment Manager’s CFRA Lawsuit
Of course, that does not stop some employers from trying. In some cases, a California employer may discharge an employee under the cover of a seemingly legitimate business reason, even when there is evidence that is actually retaliation for taking CFRA-protected leave.
A lawsuit now pending before the California Sixth Appellate District, Villanueva v. Midpen Property Management Corp., Calif. Ct. App., No. H044066 (Oct. 4, 2019). , offers a common example of how these cases play out. In this case, the employee worked for the employer as an apartment complex manager. The employee sought to take CFRA leave after his wife delivered their baby. According to the employee, his supervisor opposed the request for leave, asking him, “Why can’t your wife stay home and take care of the child?”
In the lawsuit, the employee asserted that despite taking leave, he was still “required to continue performing job duties and be available by phone and email.” He was subsequently fired on the day he returned from leave. The employer maintained it fired the employee for “misconduct in the workplace” and failure to follow company procedures (due to allowing a tenant to move in).
The employee brought claims for violations of CFRA. While the case was initially dismissed by the trial court, on appeal, California Sixth District Court of Appeals ruled the employee could proceed with his lawsuit, noting that the employee presented circumstantial evidence to rebut the employer’s claim that was the actual or only reason it fired him, including evidence that:
- Before taking leave, he generally received favorable performance evaluations.
- His supervisor expressed disapproval that he was taking leave.
- He was required to work during leave.
- He was fired the day he came back to work.
- He was not told until much later after his firing that he was let go for allowing the tenant to move in.
At a minimum, the appeals court said the claims involved issues for a jury to resolve.
Contact an Attorney If You Need Help Understanding Your CFRA Rights
If you have further questions about how CFRA protects your employment, or what you can do if you believe your employer has violated those rights, contact a qualified California employment law attorney right away.