Pilgrim’s Pride Removes Suit Alleging FMLA and FFCRA Violations

On Wednesday, Pilgrim’s Pride filed a notice of removal in a pending sick leave suit in an effort to remove the lawsuit from the Second Circuit of Florida to the Northern District of Florida, citing the court’s jurisdiction over federal claims.

The complaint was originally filed in August by a former employee in the Second Circuit of Florida against Pilgrim’s Pride Corporation alleging the company violated the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA).

According to the complaint, the defendant is a Florida corporation in the food production business. Additionally, the complaint states the plaintiff is a resident of Florida, who worked for the defendant as a Lift Operator/Stacker from June 2013 until her wrongful termination on September 10, 2020. Further, the plaintiff asserts that she suffers from several serious medical conditions .

The complaint states the defendant implements a point-based attendance system for its employees in which an employee receives a point each time they call out or leave early. According to the complaint, when an employee receives three points, they would receive a written warning and at seven points, the employee would be fired. The complaint purports that this point-based system was combined with the defendant’s FMLA policy so if an employee’s children are not listed on their FMLA forms, the employee is not allowed to take care of their children even if they had a legitimate serious medical need without receiving a point. 

The plaintiff states that she is the mother of school-aged children whose learning was affected by COVID-19 and that her younger daughter was born with a diaphragmatic hernia that has resulted in persistent breathing problems and visits to the doctor’s office and hospital. Further, the plaintiff notes that at the time of her employment and termination, her children had yet to be added to her FMLA forms. 

According to the plaintiff, despite her “stellar work performance” during her employment, the defendant interfered with her legitimate leave requests for self and attendant care and retaliated against because she took time off to care for herself and her children. The plaintiff contends that on several occasions she would have her requested FMLA/FFCRA or sick leave to care for herself or her daughter denied by the defendant. 

The plaintiff argues she was wrongfully fired by the defendant as retaliation for taking the FMLA/FFCRA leave she had a legal right to take. According to the complaint, on September 3, 2020, the plaintiff and her daughter were experiencing coronavirus symptoms and she was instructed to stay home and get tested by the defendant’s nurse. The complaint goes on to state that while the plaintiff was waiting for coronavirus test results during this FMLA/FFCRA leave, she was fired for being a “three day no call/no show” despite keeping the defendant informed of all the developments related to her medical conditions and test results. The plaintiff argues that the alleged reason for termination is pre-textual and she was really fired because she requested leave for her disabling conditions and to care for her school-aged children. 

The plaintiff is requesting compensatory damages, equitable and injunctive relief and attorney’s fees and costs for the defendants interference with the FFCRA, FFCRA retaliation, violation of the FMLA and disability and associational disability discrimination. The plaintiff is represented by Mattox Law Firm.

In the notice of removal, Pilgrim’s Pride cites the plaintiff’s FFCRA, FMLA and federal disability claims as falling under federal jurisdiction, adding that the district court has supplemental jurisdiction of the plaintiff’s state disability claims. The defendant notes that the Northern District of Florida is the proper federal venue as the Second Circuit of Florida falls within its jurisdiction.