Issue: Did the employer interfere with employee’s FMLA rights by not explaining to employee how her FMLA was to be calculated and how much time she had left?
In Highlands Hospital Corporation v. Preece, 2010 WL 569745 (Ky.App.), the Kentucky Court of Appeals held that the employer did violate the employee’s FMLA rights. The reasons are as follows.
Ms. Preece began working for the defendant as a Certified Nursing Assistant in July of 2000. Id. In April of 2004 she discovered she was pregnant. Id. She went to her HR person and was told she had 12 weeks of leave available but was not told how that leave was to be calculated. Id. Plaintiff was never informed she could use her accumulated vacation and sick days instead of FMLA leave. Id. Beginning June 16, 2004 up until the birth of her child on October 21, 2004, Plaintiff took intermittent leave. Id. She did not know that her time off was going towards her FMLA leave. Id.
After the baby was born, on October 28, 2004, Plaintiff went back to HR and signed some more papers regarding her FMLA leave. Id. A short time later she received a paper informing her that her FMLA leave time began on October 21, 2004 a week before she signed the FMLA paperwork and she testified that she was unaware that the FMLA application would be back dated. Id.
Plaintiff returned to work on December 30, 2004. Id. She then took off work on January 18, 2005 and February 15, 2005 due to postpartum depression. Id. Defendant pursuant to its excessive absenteeism policy took it upon themselves to use the two subsequent work absences from Plaintiff as a valid reason to terminate her for excessive absenteeism. Id. Plaintiff found a Kentucky FMLA lawyer and sued.
“The FMLA permits eligible employees of a covered employer to be absent from work for twelve weeks during a twelve-month period for specified reasons, including the birth of a child. Upon return to employment, the employee is entitled to be restored to the same or an equivalent position.” (cites omitted). Id.
In order to prevail on her FMLA interference claim Plaintiff was required to establish that: “1) she was an eligible employee; 2) HHC was an employer; 3) she was entitled to leave under the FMLA; 4) she gave notice of her intention to take leave; and 5) HHC denied her FMLA benefits to which she was entitled.” (cites omitted). Id.
Plaintiff’s FMLA case focused on defendant’s failure to give her sufficient information regarding the calculation of her benefits and the time used prior to her 2005 absences. Id. There are different ways to calculate a “calendar year.” “If an employer fails to choose an option specified, the court must measure the twelve-month period by the option that provides the most beneficial outcome for the employee.” (cites omitted). Id. “In addition to providing information regarding the method selected, the employer is required to inform the employee of leave designated as FMLA leave.” (cite omitted). Id.
During this FMLA trial, Plaintiff had a budget manager from the Defendant’s employment testify as to how things were done. “She explained that HHC planned to eliminate senior employees to reduce costs and the costs associated with FMLA leave, such as employee replacement.” Id. This testimony was held to be relevant as it went to establish “that the employer acted in bad faith for the purpose of liquidated damages.” (cite omitted). Id.
Further, during the trial it was self evident that the Defendant’s records were not kept in the best of ways. They were not accurate and confusing. The award of liquidated damages is valid under the FMLA statute. “The doubling of the jury’s award is premised upon a finding that the employer acted in bad faith and that it did not have objectively reasonable grounds for its act or omission.” (cite omitted). Id. Based on the facts of the case, the trial court held that the award of liquidated damages was valid and not an abuse of discretion.
As to front pay, generally reinstatement is considered the preferable remedy but front pay is appropriate when reinstatement is not feesable. Id. In this case, the trial court awarded Plaintiff $27,000 in front pay which was equivalent to one year’s worth of salary. Id. The trial court considered that Plaintiff did try to find another job but could not and that during this search her nurse’s aide certificate had expired and required recertification. Id.
And finally, as to Plaintiff’s claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress, the Court held that the FMLA does not provide for that. Id. Further, FMLA does not provide for punitive damages. (cite omitted). Id. Thus, this claim was not sustainable. Though Plaintiff did try to argue that her intentional infliction of emotional distress claim came from her firing and state law, the Court after reviewing the law determined that such a claim was not supportable.
If you have been involved in a Kentucky FMLA case that you would like to find out the answers to, please call and speak to Kentucky FMLA attorney Andrew S. Alitowski at 888-ASK-ANDREW (275-2637). We are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
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