Texas women sue Girl Scouts for violating FMLA

By Michelle Massey, East Texas Bureau | Sep 9, 2009

SHERMAN � A Girl Scouts group in Texas is accused of violating the Family Medical Leave Act and terminating the employment of two of its workers.

SHERMAN � A Girl Scouts group in Texas is accused of violating the Family Medical Leave Act and terminating the employment of two of its workers.

Christy Ann Bennett and Phyllis Martin filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas on April 28 in the Dallas Division of the Northern District of Texas.

After a request by the Girl Scouts, the case was transferred to the Sherman Division of the Eastern District of Texas on Sept. 3.

Throughout the United States, the Girl Scouts maintains 133 local councils, including the Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas, which governs 32 counties.

According to the complaint, Bennett has been an active Girl Scouts member, volunteer and professional staff member for 27 years. In 2005, she was hired as the training and adult volunteer director and became the director of adult development in May 2007.

Bennett alleges she was terminated after requesting time off under the FMLA due to her pregnancy.

The plaintiff claims she notified the Scouts that she intended to take the full 12 weeks leave permitted under the FMLA for her pregnancy, beginning in January. The first six weeks would be paid sick leave and four weeks of accumulated personal time off.

According to Bennett, shortly after announcing her pregnancy, she was assigned more projects and an increased workload. She claims she requested an adjusted work schedule to accommodate her pregnancy and her health.

According to the lawsuit, the defendant denied these requests and "actually reduced the assistance previously provided to Bennett's department."

In her position, Bennett oversaw the criminal background checks for volunteers and she states that the Girl Scouts had no formal guidelines or policies regarding the criminal background processing procedure.

Due to the staff shortage and increased workload, Bennett states her processing time for the criminal background checks increased and on one occasion, an individual began volunteer work with the organization despite a disqualifying background check.

When Bennett completed the check, she immediately notified the volunteer of the disqualification and removed the volunteer from service, according to the suit.

Although she states she was never counseled or disciplined for any background check she processed, Bennett was terminated from her position one month before her medical leave was scheduled to start.

Martin, the other plaintiff, was hired in June 2007 as senior director of membership. She alleges that in early 2008, she discovered "apparent fraud" in a United Way program administered by the Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas.

According to the suit, Martin notified her supervisors but claims they failed to act on the fraudulent activity. She then notified the Texas Attorney General's office.

After that, Martin alleges her supervisors created a hostile work environment that caused her to suffer severe stress and anxiety. After a severe anxiety attack, Martin claims her psychiatrist recommended that she work from home two days a week.

Martin states that she asked for an adjusted work schedule pursuant to the FMLA. However, according to court records, the same day the defendant received the psychiatrist's fax regarding the work schedule, her employment was terminated for "overall failure to meet the duties and responsibilities of her position."

The plaintiffs allege that the defendant interfered with FLMA rights by denying repeated requests for FMLA-protected leave and accommodations and then terminated the plaintiffs for exercising their rights.

The women are seeking damages for lost wages, lost employee benefits, actual damages, prejudgment and post-judgment interest, attorneys' fees and costs.

The defendant denies the plaintiffs' allegations.

The Girls Scouts of Northeast Texas states that its actions were based on "legitimate, non-discriminatory, non-retaliatory reasons, including the legitimate exercise of managerial discretion and legitimate business needs and were unrelated to the Plaintiffs' allegations concerning the Family Medical Leave Act."

The defendant also states the plaintiffs were employed at-will.

Attorneys Michael E. Coles, Dustin A. Paschal and Paul W. Simon of The Coles Firm PC in Dallas are representing the plaintiffs.

U.S. District Judge Michael H. Schneider will preside over the litigation.

Case No 4:09cv00443

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