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Lars Olofsson v. Mission Linen Supply

December 13, 2012


Super. Ct. No. DR060417) Trial Court: Humboldt County Superior Court Trial Judge: Hon. Joyce Hinrichs

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reardon, Acting P.J.


(Humboldt County

Lars Olofsson appeals from the judgment entered in favor of respondent Mission Linen Supply (Mission Linen) after the court, in a bifurcated trial of his wrongful termination case, ruled against him on the issue of equitable estoppel. The events in question take place in the context of the employee's request for family leave under the federal and state family leave laws. We conclude that substantial evidence supports the trial court's findings that the employer (1) did not misrepresent by deed that the employee's leave had been approved; and (2) was not silent when it had a duty to speak under the applicable regulations. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment.


A. Statutory Background

California's Moore-Brown-Roberti Family Rights Act (CFRA)*fn1 and the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)*fn2 compel an employer of Mission Linen's size to grant a leave of absence to an employee, and preserve that employee's right to continued employment, if the employee worked 1,250 hours in the year preceding the leave and the leave is for a recognized reason, such as to care for a family member who has a serious health condition. (Gov. Code, § 12945.2, subds. (a), (b), (c)(3); 29 U.S.C. §§ 2611(2), (4), 2612(a), 2614(a).) The family leave laws also impose on employers a legal duty to inform employees of the conditions that must be met to qualify for family leave. (Cal. Code Regs., tit. 2, § 7297.9; 29 U.S.C. § 2619.) It is undisputed that Mission Linen complied with these posting requirements.

Under the CFRA, where the employee's need for leave is foreseeable, the employee must provide the employer with reasonable advance notice of this need. (Gov. Code, § 12945.2, subd. (h).) Indeed, the employer may require that employees provide at least 30 days' advance notice before the CFRA leave is to commence if the need for leave is foreseeable based on planned medical treatment for a serious health condition of a family member. (Cal. Code Regs., tit. 2, § 7297.4, subd. (a)(2).) Further, if the need for leave is foreseeable due to a planned medical treatment or supervision, the employee must make a reasonable effort to schedule the treatment or supervision to avoid disruption to the employer's operations, subject to approval of the health care provider. (Ibid.) It is undisputed that Olofsson knew that July and August were the busiest months for Mission Linen.

The employee must "provide at least verbal notice sufficient to make the employer aware that the employee needs CFRA-qualifying leave, and the anticipated timing and duration of the leave." (Cal. Code Regs., tit. 2, § 7297.4, subd. (a)(1).) The employer in turn is charged with responding to the leave request "as soon as practicable and in any event no later than ten calendar days after receiving the request." (Id., subd. (a)(6).)

Additionally, under the CFRA and implementing regulations, an employer may require that an employee's leave request for a family member's serious health condition be supported by a certification from the health care provider for that member. (Gov. Code, § 12945.2, subd. (j)(1); Cal. Code Regs., tit. 2, § 7297.4, subd. (b)(1).) As well, the employer may require that the employee provide such certification within 15 calendar days of the employer's request. (Cal. Code Regs., tit. 2, § 7297.4, subd. (b)(3).)

B. Factual Background

Olofsson was a regular route driver for Mission Linen. In April 2004,*fn3 he visited his parents in Sweden for four or five weeks. He got the time off by seeking permission from the plant manager, Jack Anderson, Sr. (Anderson). Anderson immediately said Olofsson could go, but he had to fill out a form. On two earlier occasions, Olofsson had gotten nonvacation time off by asking Anderson and filling out a request form, which he submitted to payroll clerk Ruth Clark. Clark managed payroll, and Anderson relied on her "a lot."

As payroll clerk, Clark figured out employee time cards, kept employee attendance records and the like. Her duties included communicating with employees about benefit questions, and she had a role in family leave requests. Clark understood that an employee could take family leave to care for an immediate family member. To qualify, the employee must have worked a certain number of hours over a year's time and must provide a note from the family member's doctor. Once the employee filled out the proper paperwork, the final step was authorization by the company.

During his April visit to Sweden, Olofsson observed that his mother was having a lot of back pain. Fifteen years earlier she had back surgery, and suspected she might have to have the procedure redone. However, his mother was hesitant because of the difficult recovery and the risks involved. Olofsson's 75-year-old father was himself in poor physical condition.

After returning from Sweden, Olofsson learned, on June 12 or 13, that his mother had decided to have the surgery. It was scheduled for July 5, and she would leave the hospital approximately July ...

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