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Voices from the Heartland: While I May Have Sympathy for Jason Myers, If I Were the Judge…

I’m sure I’m going to take a lot of flak for this one, but nonetheless, here goes…

Jason Myers, former car chief for the No. 99 Aflac Ford, was fired back on February 17th of this year by Roush Fenway Racing for failure to show up for work, failing to notify anyone that he would not be there on February 13th. Myers has now sued RFR for wrongful termination as a result, citing the Family Medical Leave Act as his protection. In light of that claim, the case is now pending within the federal court system with a trial date TBD. To defend itself, RFR has recently submitted documents, Myers’s contract among them, and has asked that the case be dismissed citing that Myers was “not employed with Roush as an employee at-will as required to state a claim of wrongful discharge under North Carolina law. In this case, Myers was employed with Roush pursuant to an employment agreement dated January 11, 2008.”

The reason Myers failed to show up for work that day, according to court documents, was because he was in the hospital recovering from a failed suicide attempt in which he ingested 25-30 Tylenol tablets and an estimated 200 units of insulin. That was Myers’s third most successful unsuccessful attempt at ending his life in less than a year, part of a pattern that’s related to some serious mental health issues. Jason Myers suffers from depression, which he says started about halfway through the 2007 season. His first suicide attempt was in March of 2008, and the second was what is called in court documents as a “partially aborted attempt,” whatever that is, in October of the same year. While some of those attempts were unknown to some of his teammates, it is obvious that the brass at RFR were aware of what was going on.

Some quick background on Myers before going forward; he had been with RFR since 2002, starting out as the rear tire changer for Jeff Burton on the No. 99 team. He then was the rear tire changer for title contender Carl Edwards until suffering an injury, after which he was promoted to car chief, a title that ranks just under the top-dog crew chief at the track. Myers made a base salary of over $110,000 per year, with an annual increase of $4,400 throughout the life of his contract which ran through December 31st, 2010. He was also eligible for team bonuses and prize money, had a company car with paid gas and insurance (or the option for a monthly monetary allowance to procure a vehicle). He is 31 years old, dashingly handsome, married and the father of two.

RFR President Geoff Smith would not go into specifics surrounding Myers’s release, but did say that the suit is frivolous and that given the economic times and the litigious society we live in, people are more likely to sue nowadays upon termination.

Based on the information I know on the case, I personally agree with Mr. Smith on all counts.

First of all, let me say that I do know a bit about depression and living with its effects and aftermath (as well as “wrongful termination”). It is partially responsible for the dissolution of my marriage of over two decades (despite those of you who think I’m just an “ass!”) and is something members of my immediate family deal with on a daily basis. Up until little over a year ago, the aftermath of depression is responsible for me having what I call “a bad day for a couple of years now.” But the long and short of it is, while I do have sympathy for Jason Myers and his family, that is no reason to claim wrongful termination by your employer.

Of course, that’s not taking into consideration that Myers may not even be eligible to make his claim under the FMLA statutes as RFR suggests. However, it is obvious that RFR had given him every chance and every opportunity within the company to succeed despite two previous failed suicide attempts. What more is an employer supposed to do? Couple that along with the third attempt being just days before the “Super Bowl” of your sport, and it becomes painfully obvious that anyone with common sense has to question the ability of the man to perform the duties of his job. At what point does an employer have the right to say, “enough is enough?”

Recent changes to the FMLA that went into effect January 16th, 2009, now “require employees to follow their employers’ call-in procedures for reporting absences when notifying employers of their need for FMLA leave. In the past, employees had up to two days to inform their employers that they would be taking FMLA leave. Employers also now have five days, increased from two, to grant or deny leave.” Unfortunately, that’s something that Myers apparently did not do.

These new changes also “require employees who take intermittent leave to complete ‘fitness for duty’ evaluations before returning to work.” Whether Myers took “intermittent leave” or not, I honestly do not know; but if I were an employer, I certainly would be “evaluating” an employee before returning him to his job – especially considering this particular employee’s past history.

Like I said earlier on in this column, I do not wish ill for Jason Myers. In fact, the opposite is true. I sincerely hope that he continues to seek and find the help he needs, and will even include him in my daily prayers. But on the other hand, I also wish he would realize that his lawsuit is indeed frivolous, and it is no one’s fault but his own that he lost what many consider to be a “dream job.”

If I were the judge… “Case dismissed!”

Stay off the wall,

Jeff Meyer

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