The plaintiff worked for Providence Hospital. ?He used a lot of FMLA leave and leave donated by other employees.? ?The employer ordered the plaintiff to take a drug test. ?He tested positive for methadone, for which he had a prescription. ?The employer ordered the plaintiff to go to a doctor of its choosing for a fitness for duty evaluation. ?The employee?s?? own?? physician?? submitted?? a? ?letter saying he was fit for duty. ?The employer?s doctor said the plaintiff was not fit for duty due to the methadone.? ?On July 31 the hospital wrote the employee ?a ?letter ?saying ?it?? was?? retroactively placing him on FMLA leave as of July 16.?? The employee had only six weeks of leave left, and the employer? said ?it ?would ?terminate? him ?once? his leave ran out.
The employer neglected? to obtain a certification from the employee?s own physician justifying the FLMA leave. ?On August 10, he certified that the plaintiff needed only two to four weeks of FMLA leave (running from July 16) and was ?ok to return to work as soon as the employer allows.?? ?On August 16 the employee asked to return to work. The employer insisted that the physician it had retained ?had ?to ?sign ?off? on ?the? return ?to ?work, which was contrary to the FMLA. ?He refused and the employer fired the employee the day his FMLA leave expired.
The? employer? prevailed ?at ?trial.?? ?The? Superior Court refused to grant the employee?s Rule 50 motion. ?The court of appeals disagreed and ruled that the employee was entitled to judgment as a matter of law.??? The ?employer ?appealed? and? the Supreme Court affirmed 5-4.? ?The employer argued that the because the employee?s physician?s statement authorizing two to four weeks of medical leave was not made contemporaneously with the plaintiff?s ability to return to work.?? Justice Chambers held that the employee?s physician?s August 10 statement that as of July 16 the employee needed two to four weeks leave meant that by the date of the letter, the physician was stating that the employee could return to work as of August 10.? ?The majority said that the if the employer had any concerns about the statement ?ok to return to work as soon as the employer allows,? under the FMLA it should? have returned? him? to? work? and? sought clarification.?? The majority held that there were no genuine material factual disputes.
Justice Charles Johnson wrote the dissent, joined by Justices Owens, Jim Johnson and Madsen. They said it was up to the jury to decide whether the August 10 statement was prospective or retroactive to July 16.?? (The majority held the statement wasn?t ambiguous).?? The dissent also would ?have ?left ?it ?up? to ?the ?jury whether ?the August 10 statement was really a fitness for duty determination,? ?which? ?would? ?seem? ?to? ?be?? a question of law.
Chaney v. Providence Health Care, 176 Wn.2d 727, 295 P.3d 728 (2/21/13).