Robert Esselborn had a blessed life. He was a proud former Army instructor, a successful chef at the prestigious Crosby Street Hotel, a devoted husband to his beautiful wife Barbara and a doting father to two children. Then, last December his life changed when his wife of 17 years suffered a sudden stroke.

He requested leave on December 15 to care for his wife and his kids. Four days later, the head chef, Anthony Paris — made famous by his appearance on the Food Network program “Chopped” — emailed Mr. Esselborn demanding that the grieving husband commits to a return date. Mr. Esselborn responded that he would reassess his wife’s condition on January 1st to provide a more definite date. His wife was on life support and he wanted to remain by her side. Unfortunately, Mr. Paris considered the absence too long and fired Mr. Esselborn. A day later, Barbara died.
Mr. Esselborn filed a lawsuit accusing Mr. Paris of violating the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which grants eligible employees the right to take unpaid, job-protected leave for up to 12 workweeks in a 12-month period to do any of the following:

  • Care for an immediate family member — including a spouse, a child or a parent — who has a serious health condition
  • Give birth or to care for a newborn child up to one-year-old
  • Adopt and care for a child
  • Obtain treatment or recovery of a serious health condition that affects the employee’s ability to perform essential job functions
  • Attend to an urgent circumstance related to the employee’s spouse, child or parent on active duty military status or to care for an injured military member

Workers should not have to decide between emergency family matters and work. Mr. Esselborn appears to have followed the rules regarding FMLA leave — namely, he notified his employer as soon as reasonably possible and kept his employer apprised of the circumstances of his absence.
Starting April 1st of this year, New York City employees also have a new layer of protection in the paid sick leave law. The city now requires certain employers to pay for sick leave, which also includes caring for an injured or ill relative.

If you were terminated because you attempted to exercise your rights under the FMLA, let a qualified NYC employment discrimination lawyer help you pursue the justice you deserve.