On March 17, 2008, a federal jury recently awarded a Chase Manhattan regional manager more than $2.2 million for violations of the FMLA. The complaint alleged, and the jury found, that the employee was shown the door after making several requests for FMLA leave due to a serious health condition the company was aware of. Chase disputed the claim, alleging that the manager voluntarily resigned.
The case took several years to wind its way through the courts. With prejudgment interest, double (liquidated) damages for a willful violation, front pay, and attorneys fees, Chase could easily be looking at a total payout of more than $8 million dollars.
For more information on the case, see the attached link. http://www.law.com/jsp/article.jsp?id=1207133081980&rss=newswire
Comment: The large damage award in this case is somewhat unusual and largely attributable to the employee's $600,000 annual salary. More typically an employer should anticipate damages in the high six or low seven figures for an employee's FMLA claim that goes all the way through a jury trial. Class action FMLA claims could multiply that amount considerably.
High damage awards have contributed to an increase in FMLA litigation. Other factors contributing to the increase in FMLA litigation include greater employee awareness of FMLA rights, the increased use of FMLA leave, the relative ease of proving a "serious health condition" compared to a "disability," and a greater awareness of the FMLA as a means of securing big judgments by the professional employment law bar.
To avoid being on the receiving end of a multi-million dollar adverse jury verdict, employers would be well advised to periodically audit their personnel policies to ensure that they comply with the FMLA. Employers also need to provide up-to-date FMLA training to those involved with decisions involving FMLA leave, including discipline. Courts and the DOL are always interpreting the FMLA in ways that are not obvious. Simply knowing the regulations is not enough to avoid a costly violation of the FMLA; employers must stay current with FMLA developments.
Civil service employees covered by Title II of the FMLA do not have the right to sue for money damages for violation of their FMLA rights. Civil service employees are limited to whatever damages are available in the grievance process. Title II of the FMLA also does not provide for double damages for a willful violation or attorney fees.