Colin Walsh
Texas Employer Lawyer Colin Walsh

Yes.  At least, in the Seventh Circuit.

Wanna know more?  Of course, you do!

So let’s talk a little about the exciting (as employment law cases go) new case of Ziccarelli v. Dart, 35 F.4th 1079 (7th Cir. 2022). 

In Ziccarelli, the plaintiff had worked at the Cook County Sheriff’s office for 27 years as a corrections officer.  In September 2016, Ziccarelli spoke to the office FMLA manager about taking additional FMLA leave that year.  At that time, Ziccarelli had already used about two-thirds of his available FMLA leave.  According to Ziccarelli’s account of the conversation, the FMLA manager told him not to take any more FMLA leave that year or he could be disciplined.  Of course, the FMLA manager hotly disputes this.  However, for lawsuits at the summary judgment procedural stage, all evidence and testimony must be viewed in favor of the plaintiff.  Therefore, Ziccarelli’s account of the conversation is the only one that matters.  I told you this was exciting!  After that conversation, because he feared he would be fired if he took FMLA leave, he retired.  It is important to note that he retired without taking FMLA leave or being disciplined in any way, shape, or form.

So the question presented to the Seventh Circuit was is whether or not it is unlawful interference with FMLA rights even if FMLA rights or benefits were never actually denied.  The Seventh Circuit says yes, discouraging someone from using rights they have is interreference.  The court reached that conclusion by analyzing the statutory text and the Department of Labor’s FMLA regulations as well as the FMLA’s purpose and context.  For example, the statute states that it shall be “unlawful for any employer to interfere with . . . the exercise of or the attempt to exercise” FMLA rights.  29 U.S.C. § 2615(a)(1) (emphasis added).  Therefore, the court concluded, interference does not require an actual denial of benefits.

Now, to be sure, a plaintiff must still show harm from being discouraged to exercise such FMLA rights even if the benefits were not denied.  In Ziccarelli, the Seventh Circuit said said such prejudice was shown because the plaintiff decided not to ask for FMLA leave because of the discouragement: “Evidence of a link between Shinnawi’s alleged discouragement and Ziccarelli’s decision not to take his remaining FMLA leave for 2016 is sufficient to require a trial.”  Ziccarelli, 35 F.4th at 1090.

After all that excitement, I feel I must mention that the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals does not have jurisdiction over Texas or other courts in the Fifth Circuit, which is our federal court of appeals circuit.  That means the Ziccarelli opinion is not binding precedent here.  However, opinions issued by the court can be used as persuasive authority and the Fifth Circuit has often cited to Seventh Circuit cases. 

So the million dollar question is will this hold up in the Fifth Circuit?  There is reason to hope this reasoning could be extended to the Fifth Circuit.  Both Circuits use a similar formulation of the prima facie elements.  Specifically, both the Fifth Circuit and the Seventh Circuit have described in some cases the final two elements as “the employer interfered with his exercise of FMLA rights, and . . . he was prejudiced as a result.”  Compare  Park v. Direct Energy GP, LLC, 832 Fed.App’x 288, 293 (5th Cir. 2020) with Ziccarelli, 35 F.4th at 1084.  Further, the Fifth Circuit has said, citing regulations, that discouraging FMLA is interference.  See Cuellar v. Keppel Amfels, LLC, 731 F.3d 342, 346 (5th Cir. 2019).

If you think your FMLA rights have been interfered with, you should contact an employment lawyer to discuss the facts of your case and what options you might have moving forward.  The board certified attorneys at Wiley Walsh, P.C. have handled numerous FMLA interference cases.  You can book a consultation online at or by calling 512-271-5527.  

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Photo of Colin W. Walsh Colin W. Walsh

We asked Colin W. Walsh, an experienced Trial Attorney in the Austin office of Wiley Walsh, P.C., to impart his candid answers to a range of questions.   After reading, you will be more more informed on the well-respected reputation that Mr. Walsh

We asked Colin W. Walsh, an experienced Trial Attorney in the Austin office of Wiley Walsh, P.C., to impart his candid answers to a range of questions.   After reading, you will be more more informed on the well-respected reputation that Mr. Walsh carries.

1. What do you like most about being an employment lawyer?

I enjoy getting tangible results for my clients and being involved in an area of law that affects everybody every day.

2. What is the most important issue to you of being an advocate?

One of the most important issues to me as an advocate is to not only zealously represent my clients, but also the law.

3. What kind of clients do you like best?

I like the clients that I am able to help who were not able to find help elsewhere.  On a couple of occasions now, a client has told me that my firm is the first one that has listened to his or her issue and offered any kind of assistance.

4. What do you think is the most important part of a good case?

The client.  If the client is not invested, then the other side won’t take it seriously and neither will the jury.

5. What labor and employment issues do you think are currently trending?

The biggest employment discrimination issues I see right now are related to age, disability, and pregnancy discrimination.  For some reason, these types of discrimination seem to be acceptable to employers.  The other issues right now are minimum wage and overtime pay.

6. Who is your favorite Supreme Court Justice?

Justice William Brennan.

7. What would you say to HR of a company about how to treat employees?

It would be to listen to your employees.  Most employees are not looking to sue when he or she goes to Human Resources.  These employees are sincerely looking for help.  Nothing makes an employee seek legal counsel like when he or she complains about something and HR starts investigating the employee instead of the complaint.

8. Besides Rob Wiley, P.C., what is the most interesting job that you have had?

The most interesting job I’ve had is working as an extra in film and television.  I should have known that I was destined to be a lawyer at that point because two of my biggest gigs were the TV show “Boston Legal” and the film Charlie Wilson’s War.

9. What is your favorite food?

Meat pies.  I first discovered them when I studied abroad in undergrad.  I can’t believe these have not caught on in the U.S. because they are brilliant.

10. What’s the best part of living in Austin?

All of the outdoor festivals.  And the Longhorns.

Colin W. Walsh is a Trial Attorney in the Austin office of Wiley Walsh, P.C.  He graduated from The University of Texas at Austin with a bachelor’s degree in theatre in 2006.  Mr. Walsh then graduated from The University of Texas School of Law with honors in 2011.