In Deffenbaugh v. Winco Fireworks Int., LLC, No. 06-2516-CM, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 69350 (D. Kan. Sept. 18, 2007), the employee sued her employer alleging violations of the FMLA, and a state common law claim for wrongful discharge in violation of Kansas public policy. Under Kansas law, an employee may not bring a common law wrongful discharge claim for violation of a public policy when there is an adequate statutory remedy.
The employee argued that the FMLA did not provide an adequate statutory remedy because of the unavailability of emotional distress or punitive damages under that law. Such damages are available under the state wrongful discharge law. The employer argued that the availability of liquidated damages provided an adequate statutory remedy thereby precluding the state wrongful discharge claim.
The court agreed with the employer. The FMLA allows an employee to recover actual damages for any economic loss suffered. It also allows for the recovery of liquidated damages if the employer acted in bad faith. Liquidated damages under the FMLA, the court held, serve as a deterrent.
The court went on to distinguish the decision of the Kansas Supreme Court in Hysten v. Burlington N. Santa Fe Ry. Co., 277 Kan. 551, 108 P.3d 437 (Kan. 2004). There, the court found that the federal statue did not provide an adequate remedy because, in part, the statue did not permit recovery for compensatory or punitive damages, noting that such damages deterred violations. Because it found that the liquidated damages provisions of the FMLA was also intended to deter violations, the court in Deffenbaugh held that the FMLA provides an adequate statutory remedy. The plaintiff, the court concluded, cannot bring a common law wrongful discharge claim.
Comment: Note that the court based its decision because liquidated, punitive, and emotional distress damages all have the same purpose: to deter violations. The fact that liquidated damages may not result in the same level of award as punitive or emotional distress damages was not a factor.