A Capitol Police officer who sued the department in April 2012 with allegations of Family and Medical Leave Act interference and retaliation won a small victory in District of Columbia appeals court on Feb. 20 when the court reinstated her claim.
Judy Anne Gordon, a private first class assigned to the Capitol Division, applied for 240 hours of FMLA leave in May 2011, about six months after her husband's suicide. The Indian Hill, Md., resident filed medical papers explaining she was experiencing intermittent periods of severe and incapacitating depression as a result of the suicide.
According to court documents, a police captain later told Gordon that an upper level manager said he was "mad" about FMLA requests generally, and vowed to "find a problem" with hers. In July 2011, two months after her leave request was granted, police superiors ordered Gordon to undergo a "fitness for duty examination," on the basis of her FMLA request.
While Gordon was waiting to take the 900-question written exam and undergo an interview to determine if she was fit for duty, Capitol Police revoked her police powers and assigned her to administrative duties. She claims the revocation and assignment deprived her of the opportunity to earn $850 by working two days of scheduled overtime, and that she spent $50 traveling to and from the exam.
Gordon ultimately passed the test and her police powers were reinstated. But the exam remains on her record, and she alleges that will hurt her prospects for pay increases, promotions and transfers.
In September, as the one-year anniversary of her husband's suicide approached, Gordon's sister died. She needed to reschedule a therapy appointment in order to attend the funeral — and the new date conflicted with a three-day active shooter training.
Gordon said in her claim that she explained to a supervisor that due to the recent death and upcoming anniversary, she was not in the best mental condition. She requested to use some of her FMLA leave and reschedule her training to accommodate the appointment. Her manager initially "became irate," refused the request and demanded a "doctor's note," she said in the claim. The manager later relented and approved the request, she said.
The appeals court's 14-page ruling states the $900 financial losses "were the equivalent of three days' pay — not an overwhelming fraction of her annual wages, perhaps, but not one easily characterized as trivial or 'de minimus,' as Capitol Police suggest."
Gordon's claim that Capitol Police interfered with FMLA does not contend that she suffered any actual deprivation of leave, only that her employer attempted to discourage her from seeking or using such leave and that this attempt caused unquantifiable harm to her future career prospects.
A District Court judge dismissed the case in February 2013. The three-judge appeals panel was unanimous in reversing the lower court's ruling. The appeals court will issue a mandate on how to proceed later this week.
Related: Roll Call's coverage of FMLA for Capitol Hill staff Answers on Paid Leave Hard for Staffers to Find Even Among Supporters, Paid Parental Leave for Capitol Hill Staff Varies Paid Maternity, Paternity Leave Coming for Congressional Staff? The 114th: CQ Roll Call's Guide to the New Congress Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.