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Compensation for emotional distress appropriate in FMLA lawsuit

A welder prevailed in federal court against an employer that refused to rehire him following his taking of a medical leave. The court ruled on May 12 that this individual was entitled to liquidated damages pertaining to provisions under the Family Medical Leave Act.

The welder worked at a community's wastewater lift station. He was forced to undergo surgery in January 2010 due to problems with his pancreas and gallbladder. He was compensated for his time off through paid sick leave and FMLA leave. The welder did not return to work after his leave expired in July 2010. His doctor apparently did not clear him to return to work until the following month and at that time he reapplied for his position. 

He received high ratings when he reapplied for this position and was recommended for rehiring by his former boss. His hiring supervisor, however, stated that hiring him again would be a "mistake." Though a jury awarded him $56,000 in compensation along with $25,000 for emotional distress, the emotional distress award was vacated by a federal district court.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reversed a denial of the liquidated damages claim by a trial court. The appellate court found that no evidence was presented that the employer acted either in subjective good faith or had any objective reason to believe its refusal to rehire the worker was not in violation of the FMLA.

The federal appellate court took the lower court to task for its ruling that the employer met its burden "without providing any factual support for this finding." The appellate court called this an abuse of discretion by that lower court.

As attorneys in Boca Raton representing clients in FMLA type of cases, we understand that the FMLA contains a number of complex provisions for which wronged employees can seek recovery. The FMLA deals with more than just taking of leave or getting one's job back. It also concerns protections for workers from the wrongful acts of employers.

Source: Bloomberg BNA, "City Welder Not Rehired After FMLA Leave Entitled to Liquidated Damages, Court Rules," May 14, 2014

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