Home > Blog > Blog > Benefits Interference > Fourth Circuit Finds Company Did Not Violate ERISA When It Terminated 67 Employees Who Submitted Similar Medical Leave Forms Following Notice of Furlough

Fourth Circuit Finds Company Did Not Violate ERISA When It Terminated 67 Employees Who Submitted Similar Medical Leave Forms Following Notice of Furlough

In Adkins v. CSX Transportation, Inc., No. 21-2051, __F.4th__, 2023 WL 4035811 (4th Cir. June 16, 2023), Plaintiffs-Appellants are several former employees of Defendant-Appellee CSX Transportation, Inc. (“CSXT”), who CSXT terminated following its determination that they violated its workplace rule against dishonesty. The terminations arose in the context of CSXT receiving over 65 submissions of medical leave forms following its issuance of furlough notices to employees at its facility in Huntington, West Virginia. These forms were completed similarly and signed by one of two chiropractors who called for medical leave of eight weeks or more. If an employee is furloughed while on medical leave, they would receive health and welfare benefits for up to two years, rather than only four months. Suspecting benefits fraud, CSXT terminated these employees. The Plaintiffs remaining in the case on appeal have alleged various violations of their rights under federal and state law, including ERISA § 510, which makes it “unlawful for any person to discharge, fine, suspend, expel, discipline, or discriminate against a participant or beneficiary for exercising any right to which he is entitled under the provisions of an employee benefit plan.” 29 U.S.C. § 1140.

In deciding the ERISA and related claims, the Sixth Circuit applied the burden-shifting framework set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973). The court assumed for its analysis that the Plaintiffs carried their initial burden of establishing a prima facie case of discrimination, that is, that they were disabled or engaged in protected activity, the employer took adverse action against them, and the adverse action was casually connected to the plaintiff’s disability or protected activity. The court concluded that CSXT provided a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for terminating the Plaintiffs and that the Plaintiffs failed to present evidence to create a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the reason was pretextual. Vice President Barr made the decision to terminate the employees “based on suspected fraud as evidenced by the pattern of similar leave requests in the context of the furlough notices and the employees’ failure to submit additional documentation from other medical providers to substantiate their medical claims in response to the disciplinary investigations. And the plaintiffs have failed to put forward any evidence to suggest that this was not the actual reason for Barr’s decision.” The court need not determine whether the Plaintiffs engaged in dishonesty or fraud. They had to adequately challenge that the suspected dishonesty was not CSXT’s actual reason for terminating their employment, but they have not done so. Affirmed.


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*Please note that this blog is a summary of a reported legal decision and does not constitute legal advice. This blog has not been updated to note any subsequent change in status, including whether a decision is reconsidered or vacated. The case above was handled by other law firms, but if you have questions about how the developing law impacts your ERISA benefit claim, the attorneys at Roberts Disability Law, P.C. may be able to advise you so please contact us.

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