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Biden Judge Casts Deciding Vote to Allow Woman to Bring Her Medical Leave Discrimination Case to a Jury

News and Analysis
Biden Judge Casts Deciding Vote to Allow Woman to Bring Her Medical Leave Discrimination Case to a Jury

Judge John Lee, nominated by President Biden to the Seventh Circuit court of appeals, cast the deciding vote in a 2-1 decision that reversed summary judgment for an employer and allowed a woman to bring to a jury her case charging discrimination under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Trump judge Thomas Kirsch dissented.  The February 2024 decision was in Wayland v OSF Healthcare System..


What is the background of this case?                        

Marianne Wayland worked for OSF, a healthcare provider in multiple sites, for more than twenty years. Most recently, she managed a company unit that helped integrate new operations into the system.

Beginning in late 2018, OSF approved her request for intermittent and other medical leave. She estimated that during the leave period, which lasted through April 2019, she missed approximately 20% of scheduled work time. During that same period, OSF expanded significantly and placed more demands on her. She contended that she met those demands consistent with her approved medical leave, but OSF was dissatisfied. OSF fired her in July 2019.

Wayland filed suit against OSF for violating her rights under the FMLA by firing her because she took approved leave. The lower court granted summary judgment to OSF. Wayland appealed to the Seventh Circuit.


 How Did Judge Lee and the Seventh Circuit Rule and Why Is It Important?

Judge Lee cast the deciding vote in a 2-1 ruling that vacated the decision below and sent the case back so that Wayland could present her case of FMLA discrimination to a jury. Judge Diane Wood, who wrote the majority opinion, explained that there was clearly a dispute of material fact as to how much leave Wayland took. If a jury belived her contentions, Wood went on, it would likely find that OSF improperly failed to adjust its performance expectations in light of her approved leave and improperly fired her. Trump judge Kirsch agreed with the lower court in favor of the employer.

Judge Lee’s deciding vote was obviously important to the efforts of Marianne Wayland to get justice for the discrimination she suffered at the hands of her employer. The ruling also sets an important precedent concerning the FMLA and corporate efforts to penalize workers who exercise their FMLA rights. This is particularly so in the Seventh Circuit, which includes Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin.  The decision is also a reminder of the importance of promptly confirming fair-minded nominees like Judge Lee to our federal courts.