Cincinnati area employees may be entitled to various forms of relief if their FMLA rights are violated. Even if you do not suffer lost wages, you could be entitled to other forms of relief for the damages you do suffer. The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently reminded employers they cannot prevent a violation by paying an employee while they are on FMLA leave.
In Evans v. Books-A-Million, the Eleventh Circuit explained employees are entitled to equitable relief under the FMLA. The plaintiff in Evans was a payroll and insurance manager for the defendant, Books-A-Million (“Books”). In January 2006, the plaintiff informed Books she was pregnant. At the time, she was preparing to implement a new payroll system. In June, the plaintiff asked her supervisor about FMLA maternity leave. In response, the plaintiff’s supervisor told her she should work from home while on leave. Plaintiff’s supervisor also repeatedly told plaintiff she needed her to work on the new payroll system after the birth of her child.
The plaintiff gave birth on August 30, 2006. She returned home from the hospital on September 1, 2006 and began answering work-related calls immediately. Thereafter, her supervisor began emailing her additional work assignments. The plaintiff worked from home almost full time, and sometimes more than eight hours a day, until October 31, 2006. She also attended meetings about the payroll system at the Books office during her leave. Plaintiff was paid her full salary during her leave.
Plaintiff returned to work on October 31, 2006. Plaintiff’s supervisor was cold and hostile toward her. The following month, her supervisor and Book’s Chief Financial Officer decided to reassign the plaintiff to a new position of Risk Manager. The position did not have clear responsibilities at the time and it did not include payroll responsibilities. Books advertised and interviewed candidates for the position of Payroll Manager, which included all of the plaintiff’s payroll duties. The plaintiff was not given the opportunity to interview for the position. The plaintiff was told she was not permitted to fill the position because she was not satisfied with the implementation of the new payroll system, which occurred mostly while the plaintiff was on FMLA leave. In March 2007, plaintiff was informed she could either accept the reassignment or resign. Plaintiff refused to accept the position and Books terminated her employment at the end of March 2007.
The plaintiff filed suit against Books, alleging, among other claims, FMLA interference. The district court dismissed the FMLA claim on the grounds that plaintiff was paid her full salary while she worked at home and therefore did not suffer any damages. On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit found the district court erred in dismissing the claim because the FMLA provides for two categories of remedies:
1) Damages, including:
- benefits, and
- other monetary losses sustained by reason of the violation; and
2) Such equitable relief as may be appropriate, including
- reinstatement, and
The Eleventh Circuit, relying on Supreme Court precedent, found that a plaintiff need only show some prejudice as a result of the violation. In other words, the plaintiff must show she was harmed and the harm can be remedied by either damages or some other equitable relief. As to the merits of the plaintiff’s claim, the court held, “[i]t seems plain to us that if an employer coerces an employee to work during her intended FMLA leave period and, subsequently, reassigns her based upon her allegedly poor performance during that period, the employee may well have been harmed by the employer’s FMLA violation.”
The FMLA was enacted to help employees balance work and family, and to protect the economic security of families. If your employer is attempting to interfere with FMLA leave to which you are entitled, we may be able to help you pursue your rights before litigation becomes necessary. If you have been harmed in any way by your employer’s actual interference with FMLA leave to which you are entitled, you should contact an attorney at Robert A. Klingler Co., L.P.A. to discuss your potential rights and remedies.