FAIRFIELD, Ohio — The federal government plans to sue a local company for firing an employee who took unpaid leave to care for her sick niece.
The U.S. Department of Labor announced Tuesday it filed a complaint in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati on Nov. 27 on behalf of Danielle Perdue who was fired by Fairfield-based DNA Diagnostics.
According to the labor department, the Fairfield woman asked to take temporary unpaid leave in April 2013 to care for her 12-year-old niece’s asthma and obstructive sleep apnea.
Beginning that month, the complaint filed by the government reads, Perdue had day-to-day responsibilities to care for and financially support her niece.
However, the company denied the request.
Perdue decided to take the leave anyhow. She was fired when she did not return to work for more than a week, the Journal-News reported .
An excerpt from the termination letter sent to Perdue on or about April 29 indicates the company believes she "abandoned her position."
“You have been absent from work since April 17, 2013. Because your absence has not been approved and we have not heard from you since April 18, 2013, we have determined that you abandoned your position.”
Government attorneys say DNA Diagnostics unlawfully denied the leave request under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) .
“Our investigation found that DNA Diagnostics Center denied this worker her right to unpaid, job-protected leave under (the Family and Medical Leave Act) and then fired her for attempting to exercise that right,” George Victory, wage and hour district director of the labor department’s Columbus office, in a statement.
Under the FMLA, eligible employees are entitled to take up to 12 workweeks of unpaid, job-protected leave in a 12-month period for specified family and medical reasons. That includes both biological and adopted children, as well as foster children, a stepchildren, legal wards or children of a person standing in place of a parent.
“This particular case was unique in that this employee was serving as a temporary guardian or her seriously ill 12-year-old niece,” said Rhonda Burke, spokesperson for the labor department.
As the government’s complaint reads, the company’s human resources director denied Perdue leave “because she did not have legal guardianship of her niece ‘through the courts.’”
However, Perdue says she provided the company with a completed copy of a form verifying her as the family member’s health provider, according to the government’s description of the event. The government says she also provided a copy of a guardianship agreement, appointing her the legal guardian of her niece.
“We're committed to ensuring that workers have the rights that are protected for them under this law,” Burke said. “We do actively investigate complaints of wrongful termination on Family Medical Leave Act.”
WCPO reached out to officials with DNA Diagnostics, located at One DDC Way in Fairfield. They chose not to comment on the matter.