BOSTON -- A federal appeals court has ruled in favor of the Dracut School Department and against a former 12-year veteran middle-school teacher who claimed the School Department interfered with his application for the federal Family Medical Leave Act.
Raymond C. McArdle, 51, of Chelmsford, claimed in his 2011 federal lawsuit that Dracut violated the FMLA by interfering with his attempt to seek FMLA leave, and fired him because he tried to seek job protection under FMLA.
"We have an unusual case in which McArdle was fired while taking leave, but he does not argue that he was fired for taking leave, nor could he successfully so argue because, in his case, taking leave was not a right protected under the FMLA,'' wrote U.S. Appeals Court Judge William Kayatta Jr.
McArdle told The Sun his life has been "devastated'' by what happened.
"I'm frustrated and upset by the decision of the court, not because I didn't win, but because it made no sense to me,'' he added.
McArdle said his attorney has recommended he take his case to the U.S. Supreme Court. McArdle is mulling his next move.
McArdle said because he won two unemployment hearings, which were upheld by the State Board of Revenue, he felt he was on solid ground when he filed the federal lawsuit against Dracut in 2011.
"I wasn't fired. I resigned due to my employer's actions,'' McArdle stressed.
Dracut school officials argued that McArdle, a former Lakeview Middle School English teacher, had essentially "abandoned'' his job in 2008 and had not worked enough days during the 2008-2009 school year to qualify for FMLA.
The FMLA guarantees that an eligible employee has the right to take 12 weeks of unpaid leave because of, among other things, a serious medical condition that prevents the employee from doing his or her job.
It is illegal for any any employer to interfere with, restrain or deny anyone from seeking a leave of absence under the FMLA. To be eligible for FMLA leave, an employee must have at least 1,250 hours of service during a 12-month period.
The Dracut schools demonstrated that McArdle attended school for only 82 days in 12 months of the 2008-2009 school year. While the number of hours he worked is in dispute, McArdle claims he worked 975 hours because he was paid for 130 days.
McArdle argued, through his attorney, that teachers are exempt from the 1,250-hour requirement because they work a 10-month school year.
McArdle began working as a middle-school English teacher for Dracut in 1997. In 2007, McArdle was struggling with personal problems and began to miss work.
School officials argued that McArdle only reported to work 10 of 21 school days in September 2008 and did not appear at all in October, November or December, court documents state. His record improved somewhat from January through May 2009, but he did not work at all in June of 2009.
In total, McArdle came to school for only 82 days in the 2008-2009 school year, the decision states.
Throughout the 2008- 2009 school year, McArdle provided explanations for his absences that he had a "medical condition" and was unable to work for "medical reasons."
On Sept. 1, 2009, the first day of school for the 2009-2010 school year, McArdle did not report for work.
McArdle told school officials he wanted to apply for FMLA leave. McArdle was sent the necessary paperwork, which included a requirement that he had to notify the superintendent in writing. He failed to notify the superintendent in writing and did not return the completed medical certification, the decision states.
McArdle told The Sun he thought he was already on unpaid leave.
"All they had to do is notify me that I wasn't eligible for FMLA, and I would have returned to work,'' McArdle said.
On Sept. 28, 2009, McArdle was sent a letter terminating his employment for "abandoning his position.'' But McArdle said there was a procedural error, so he was rehired.
On Oct. 5, McArdle was sent a second letter notifying him of termination and giving him 10 days to respond.
Nine days later, McArdle resigned after school officials indicated that everything related to his termination would be removed from his record if he resigned. In 2011, he filed a federal lawsuit against Dracut.
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