Ragsdale v. Wolverine World Wide, Inc.

PETITIONER: Ragsdale
RESPONDENT: Wolverine World Wide, Inc.
LOCATION: York County Court

DOCKET NO.: 00-6029
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

CITATION: 535 US 81 (2002)
ARGUED: Jan 07, 2002
DECIDED: Mar 19, 2002

ADVOCATES:
Ann Elizabeth Reesman - for the Equal Employment Advisory Council et al. as amici curiae urging affirmance
Daniel V. Yager - for the Equal Employment Advisory Council et al. as amici curiae urging affirmance
Heather L. MacDougall - for the Equal Employment Advisory Council et al. as amici curiae urging affirmance
Jack Whitacre - for Human Resource Management as amicus curiae
L. Oneal Sutter - argued the cause for petitioners
Luther O. Sutter - Argued the cause for the petitioners
Malcolm L. Stewart - Argued the cause for the United States, as amicus curiae, by special leave of the court, supporting the petitioner
Richard D. Bennett - Argued the cause for the respondent
Robin S. Conrad - for the Equal Employment Advisory Council et al. as amici curiae urging affirmance
Stephen A. Bokat - for the Equal Employment Advisory Council et al. as amici curiae urging affirmance

Facts of the case

The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) guarantees qualifying employees 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year and encourages businesses to adopt more generous policies. In 1996, Wolverine World Wide, Inc. granted Tracy Ragsdale 30 weeks of medical leave after she was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease. Wolverine did not notify Ragsdale that 12 weeks of the absence would count as her FMLA leave. After Ragsdale sought another 30-day extension, Wolverine refused her request and terminated her when she did not return to work. Ragsdale filed suit, alleging under Labor Department regulation 29 CFR section 825.700(a), which provides that if an employee takes medical leave "and the employer does not designate the leave as FMLA leave, the leave taken does not count against an employee's FMLA entitlement," that Wolverine was required to grant her 12 additional weeks of leave. The District Court granted Wolverine summary judgment, finding that the regulation was in conflict with the statute and invalid because it required Wolverine to grant Ragsdale more than 12 weeks of FMLA-compliant leave in one year. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Question

Does Labor Department regulation 29 CFR section 825.700(a) require employers to grant an employee additional leave after granting more than 12 weeks of leave, if the employer failed to notify the employee that the original leave counted against the employee's Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 entitlement?

Media for Ragsdale v. Wolverine World Wide, Inc.

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 07, 2002 in Ragsdale v. Wolverine World Wide, Inc.

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - March 19, 2002 in Ragsdale v. Wolverine World Wide, Inc.

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the court in number 00-6029 Ragsdale versus Wolverine World Wide will be announced by Justice Kennedy.

Anthony M. Kennedy:

This case involves an employee and employer who were covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act -- that is Federal statute is which sometimes referred to as FMLA -- under the act, the employees are guaranteed 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year for certain specified purposes and the employer here, Wolverine World Wide Inc. granted its employee and her name is Tracy Ragsdale 30-weeks of leave when her cancer condition kept her out of work in 1996.

So, the act requires 12 weeks the employer granted 30 weeks.

The employer however did not designate in advance that the leave she took would count as FMLA leave as a regulation of the Department of Labor requires the employer to do.

Ragsdale sued the employer containing that because no advance notice was given to her, she was entitled to 12 more weeks of leave.

Under her theory this additional leave and not the leave she had taken would be the FMLA leave.

A specific regulation issued by the Secretary of Labor supported her position.

The employer asserted that the regulation requiring the additional leave in every case where notice is not given but without any injury to the employee was invalid because it was beyond the secretary’s authority under the act.

The District Court agreed that the regulation was invalid and granted summary judgment to the employer.

The Court of Appeals also agreed with the employer disposition and we now affirm.

The Secretary’s regulation is inconsistent with the structure of the Act.

The Act allows employees to sue employers but it requires that the employees show that their rights under the statute were violated and that they suffered some specific injury.

In the case at hand, the employee’s rights were not violated and she suffered no injury.

She would have taken the entire 30-week absence even if the employer had complied with the notice requirement.

The regulation nevertheless transformed the company’s failure to give notice along with its refusal to grant her more than 30-weeks of leave into an actionable violation of the statute.

Furthermore the Secretary’s penalty amends that FMLA's most fundamental substantive guarantee the employee’s entitlement to a total of 12-work weeks of leave during any 12 month period.

The 12 week figure was the result of compromise between groups with marked but divergent interests.

The Secretary’s chosen penalty subverts the careful balance, for it gives certain employee a right to more than 12 weeks of FMLA compliant leave.

In defense of the regulation, the Government notes that a categorical penalty requiring the employer to grant more leave is easier to administer than one involving a fact specific inquiry into what steps the employee would have taken had the employer given the required notice.

Regardless of how serious the problem an administrative agency seeks to address, however, it may not exercise its authority in a manner inconsistent with the administrative structure Congress enacted into law.

These and other considerations explained in the opinion persuade us that the regulation cannot be within the Secretary’s priority issue rules necessary to carry out the act.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals was affirmed.

Justice O’Connor has written a dissenting opinion in which Justices Souter, Ginsburg and Breyer have joined.