In Mistrow v. Verizon Communications, Inc., No. 3:05cv64, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 28829 (M.D.Pa. April 19, 2007), the Court allowed the plaintiff to proceed with her FMLA lawsuit for denial of FMLA leave notwithstanding the fact that the employer had complied with a settlement of the claim reached with the employee and the U.S. Department of Labor.
The employee alleged that Verizon had interfered with her FMLA rights by denying her FMLA leave from May 2 to July 30, 2005. She obtained a settlement with the assistance of the U.S. Department of Labor. The settlement retroactively granted her FMLA leave for the period at issue. The employee then sued Verizon for violation of the FMLA. Plaintiff moved for summary judgment against Verizon on her FMLA claim.
Verizon opposed summary judgment. It argued that, because the matter was resolved with the assistance of the U.S. Department of Labor, the plaintiff had retroactively obtained FMLA coverage for the period in question. As a result, plaintiff had already received the coverage required for the period at issue and, therefore, she was not entitled to summary judgment. Doing otherwise, Verizon argued, would render the DOL supervised settlement meaningless and would discourage other employers from participating in the DOL-supervised conciliation process. The Court disagreed.
The Court rejected Verizon's argument as unfounded that awarding summary judgment to the employee would discourage employers from engaging in settlement discussions through the Department of Labor. The Court observed:
We therefore fail to see how the administrative process would have any meaning if we did not adopt the Department's finding that plaintiff was entitled to benefits for the period. We also find that defendants interfered with the plaintiff's FMLA rights, since they prevented her from exercising then until forced by her complaint.
The Court allowed the matter to proceed on damages. The Court opined that, even though plaintiff was retroactively awarded FMLA leave, she might still be able to demonstrate indirect losses and expenditures as a result of the denial of her FMLA leave.
Comment: The Court's decision, if widely adopted, will undoubtedly chill the willingness of employers to resolve matters with the assistance of the DOL. Why go through the time and expense to settle a matter through the auspices of the DOL if the resolution reached wil not preclude a lawsuit on the same issue? The decision effectivley holds that an employee can maintain a lawsuit even though they agreed to take less than what they may have ultimately be entitled to receive in a DOL-supervised settlement. If settlement has any meaning it means that all parties agree to take something less than what they may be legally entitled to recieve af full compensation in order to end the matter.