On January 9, 2017, the 7th Circuit affirmed a jury verdict in favor of an employee in a lawsuit in which the employee alleged that her former employer violated her rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”). Wink v. Miller Compressing Company, No. 16-23365, 16-2339 (7th Cir. 1/9/2017). After a three-day trial, the jury reached a verdict in favor of the employee on her claim that the company unlawfully retaliated against her for exercising her FMLA right to take leave necessary to care for her sick child. She had asked the employer’s human resources department to allow her FMLA leave to enable her to work from home two days a week, which would give her enough time to care for her child.
Subsequently, the employer disallowed her from working at home and gave her an ultimatum to report to work on its premises full time. After she pleaded with the human resources officer, the officer falsely informed her that the FMLA covers leave from work only for doctors’ appointments and therapy. The first day that the employee did not report to work on the employer’s premises, the human resources officer terminated her employment. The FMLA entitled the employee to take leave necessary to care for her sick child. At trial, she established and the jury determined that the employer had retaliated against her for asserting her FMLA rights. The phony line that the FMLA cannot be used for leave to care for a sick child, even when obtaining day care for the child is difficult or even impossible, supported an inference that her supervisors were angry with her for her lawful requests. Indeed, the FMLA is explicit that an eligible employee is entitled to take up to 12 working weeks of unpaid leave per year in order to care for a family member with a serious health condition, including a child. The employee was awarded liquidated damages–double the amount of her actual damages for lost wages–for which an employer is liable for violating the FMLA, unless it can show that it acted in good faith.