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Tenth Circuit rules against fired Utah professor

By Michael P. Tremoglie | Apr 9, 2012

DENVER (Legal Newsline) - A University of Utah professor sued the university claiming he was fired because he was on Family Medical Leave and this action violated the Family and Medical Leave Act.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit recently ruled he was fired because he was insubordinate.

Professor Michael Sabourin sued his employer, the University of Utah, claiming it eliminated his position and then fired him while he was on childcare leave in 2006. The district court ruled for Utah.

The plaintiff appealed to the Tenth Circuit. The three-judge appeals court panel affirmed the district court's opinion. It said the undisputed facts showed that Utah's decisions were not based on Plaintiff's taking FMLA leave.

The Appeals Court said, "(Sabourin) was informed that his position was being eliminated in a reduction in force because of inadequate funds." Sabourin said that there was enough money to support his position and that the true reason for the reduction in force was the outrage of his superior -- Ms. Shaub.

But the appeals court said, "The flaw in Mr. Sabourin's reasoning is that the uncontradicted evidence shows that Ms. Shaub decided to lay off Mr. Sabourin before she learned that he might take FMLA leave. There is no dispute that Ms. Shaub submitted a request to eliminate his position on May 31, 2006, yet she did not learn that he was seeking FMLA leave until June 5."

It also said that Sabourin claims that Utah retaliated against him for taking FMLA leave by converting the reduction in force into a termination for cause was also not proven. It said, "... the decision to fire Mr. Sabourin is supported by extensive undisputed evidence of his efforts to impede and obstruct efforts by his employer to perform his job in his absence."

When he left on FMLA leave, Sabourin took all tangible files from his office, removed all his electronic files from the university server, and kept the laptop on which he maintained files electronically.

When this was discovered on the morning of his first day of leave, his superior requested the return of the files. Sabourin did not respond until a meeting at which time some paper files were returned.

The appeals court said that Sabourin's responses to the request for two specific documents "unequivocally demonstrated his insubordination." Therefore it affirmed the district court.

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